Fennel and citrus salad

This salad mashes up two memorable dishes from different periods of my life. I enjoyed the first one back during my college years, when my friend Gigi and I visited a restaurant in Milan that specialized in southern Italian cuisine. We must have spent two hours in that place stuffing our faces. When the waiter brought us a simple salad of fennel, blood oranges, and vinaigrette, I waved my hand no. He left it anyway. Gigi and I dug in, and it was the perfect ending to a rich meal. I ate the second dish in February 2019 at my friend Monifa Dayo’s Oakland-based supper club. For the second course, she presented a life-changing salad that brilliantly melded the flavors of tart-sweet, perfectly ripe citrus fruits, bitter black olives, candy-sweet dates, and buttery almonds and almond oil. I could never replicate the brilliance of either of those moments, but I hope this salad brings a little sunshine (and raspberry-forward flavors from the blood oranges, plus subtle hints of sweet grapefruit from the Cara Caras) to your table during the winter months, when citrus fruits are at their peak.

Ingredients :

1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and cored

1 large shallot, minced

½ cup apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds

2 large navel oranges

2 large Cara Cara oranges

4 large or 8 small blood oranges

1 teaspoon amber agave nectar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Freshly ground black pepper

Light gray Celtic sea salt, for finishing

4 large dates, pitted and torn into small pieces

7 cilantro sprigs

Directions :

Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, thinly slice the fennel halves lengthwise and transfer to the bowl of ice water to chill for about 10 minutes before draining.

Put the shallot in a small heatproof bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar and the kosher salt and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring, until all the salt has dissolved, about 30 seconds. Pour the vinegar over the shallot and set aside.

In the same saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat until just starting to shimmer. Remove from the heat, add the almonds, and set aside.

Finely grate 1 teaspoon of the zest from 1 navel orange and set aside.

Using a sharp knife, cut a slice off the top and bottom of each navel orange so they sit flat. Working with one orange at a time, stand the fruit on a cutting board and, using a sharp knife, slice off all the peel and white pith, following the curve 

of the fruit and reserving the trimmings. Set a strainer over a medium bowl and squeeze the trimmings over the strainer to extract their juice. Discard the trimmings. Thinly slice the oranges crosswise and transfer them to a bowl. Repeat with the Cara Cara oranges. Set aside.

Cut the sections from the blood oranges using the technique , catching the juice in the bowl with the navel and Cara Cara orange juices. Set the sections aside.

Drain the almonds through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl, reserving the olive oil, and set aside.

Transfer all but ¼ cup of the citrus juice to a small bowl to save for another use. Add the orange zest, agave, and mustard. While whisking, pour in 2 tablespoons of the reserved olive oil and whisk until emulsified. Taste and season the dressing with kosher salt and pepper.

To serve, arrange the orange slices and segments on a large plate and sprinkle with Celtic sea salt. Spoon the dressing over the citrus, then artfully arrange the fennel over the orange slices and segments. Top with the dates and the almonds, then lightly drizzle with some of the reserved olive oil. Garnish with the cilantro sprigs and finish with Celtic sea salt.

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