Winter finally seems to be making the transition to spring, which I could not be more ready for. Starting around March, I go to the farmers market as often as possible, my eyes peeled for the season’s latest additions. Though we still have a while before the markets reach their peak bounty, I’m already excited for the spring fruits and vegetables that hopefully growing in big asparagus stalks and cute green peas as we speak.
But before rushing to spring, it’s worth spending a bit more time on winter produce, which often gets short shrift.
I think for many people citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits are associated with the summer, and we now think of citrusy flavors, like those in lemonade and orange popsicles, as summery.
But citrus has traditionally been more of a fall and winter fruit, with peak season spanning from September to May depending on the fruit. And I am glad that we have some kind of fruit to turn to in the coldest months, when we still have several long months between us and our plums, strawberries, and apricots.
Fennel is another of my favorite winter vegetables, mostly for its versatility. Fennel tastes very different when raw compared to when cooked. When roasted or braised, it takes on an earthy tone, almost like a mellow onion. But raw it has a lightly medicinal (in a good way) and perfumey taste, making it a great companion to the tart sweetness of citrus fruits.
Orange & fennel salad
cook time 20 minutes
This recipe is inspired by a Spanish salad, ensalada de naranja y hinojo. But I’ve seen variations of this salad in many forms. Italy also has a very traditional salad of orange and fennel with additions of red onion and olives.
If you stick to the the components of this salad, you can make various substitutions and still end up with something really interesting and appeal. Just incorporate something citrus (orange or grapefruit), crunchy and delicate (fennel or celery), and nutty (hazelnuts, pine nuts, or walnuts). I also like a touch of bitterness, which in this case comes from the endive.
When choosing fennel, look for bulbs that are bright with limited bruising. In case bruised fennel is all that’s left, remove the first layer so that you’re left with the sweetest and most tender parts.
Though the recipe really makes use of the bulb of the fennel, save the little fronds at the top for garnish.
2 small fennel bulbs, or 1 large, plus some of the fronds for garnish
2 small heads of endive
2 medium oranges (I like to use one blood orange for color)
¼ cup hazelnuts
½ cup roughly chopped mint
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
- Cut off the tops and bottom of the oranges. Stand oranges upright and cut away the rind and white pith from the oranges. Cut the oranges crosswise into round slices about ¼ inch thick and set aside. Save any orange juice remaining on the cutting board for the dressing.
- Toast chopped hazelnuts in a small, heavy bottomed pan over medium heat until browned, tossing frequently to prevent burning. Once toasted remove from the pan and set aside.
- Thinly slice the fennel bulbs. I prefer using a mandoline to ensure the slices are even. Remove tough inner core.
- Cut endive into pieces about 1 inch wide. Combine fennel, endive, and chopped mint in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, and any remaining orange juice in a small mixing bowl. Drizzle the dressing over salad with salt and pepper to taste, and lightly toss.
- Arrange salad mix and oranges in layers on a large platter. Top with hazelnuts and fennel fronds.