For the past six or seven years, Tony, our son, Gio and I have hosted Christmas Eve at our home. During the first couple years, we made very few, if any, changes to the traditional menu with which I grew up.
However, as Gio grew beyond the baby stage, Tony and I wanted to bring some Italian flair to our holiday buffet, something that would reflect his heritage. We wanted to create a dish that our guests would look forward to year after year.
After studying what's in season this time of year, we decided that our signature dish would be a salad. We took particular inspiration from the arrival of blood oranges in our local grocery stores, and wanted to make them the star of our recipe.
I had never eaten a blood orange before, but Tony was very familiar with this special fruit. Blood oranges are commonly grown in Sicily, and Tony's Uncle Pepe even grows them in his orange groves near Rosolini.
To make this dish truly Sicilian, Tony suggested adding fennel, mint and olives to the recipe, and our Sicilian Holiday Salad was born. It's been a favorite on our buffet ever since.
While we enjoy this salad for Christmas Eve, it's also a great addition to a New Year's spread because of its seasonal ingredients. The citrus and fennel, which are just so Sicilian together, and the mint, which is also common in Sicilian cooking, adds some holiday flavor.
The blood oranges are dynamic in this salad, not only for their beautiful crimson color, but also because of their unique flavor. With terrific bursts of citrus, a blood orange is typically sweeter than other oranges, and even offers notes of raspberry.
The slightly sweet, anise flavor of the fennel is a perfect complement to this fruit, and its white color provides a nice contrast to the crimson and orange on the platter.
To make this salad, we use both blood and navel oranges. On a large platter, place a layer of oranges over the entire surface, overlapping and alternating between red and orange.
Next, evenly distribute the sliced fennel and red onion around the oranges. Then do the same with the mint. Randomly place green olives around the salad, season with salt and pepper, and complete by drizzling the salad with the very best extra virgin olive oil you can find. Serve and enjoy.
Sicilian Christmas Salad
Serves 4 to 6
4 large oranges, peels removed and sliced into rounds
If available, use half blood oranges, half navel; Cara Cara oranges may also be used
1 bulb of fennel, cut julienne style
1 medium red onion, cut into thin slices
1 cup green Italian or Greek olives, pitted if available
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (use best quality you can find)
2-3 small bunches fresh mint, cut chiffonade style
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the top and bottom off of each orange, then stand the orange up on a cutting board. Use a serrated or very sharp knife to remove the peel by gently cutting down the length of the orange, making sure to follow the curve of the orange. Leave no white pulp on the fruit.
Once the peel and pulp have been removed, lay the orange lengthwise on the cutting board, and cut into round slices, about ¼-inch thick.
To prepare the fennel, cut the stalk off and use only the bulb. Cut off the base of the bulb and peel the outer layers. Cut the fennel bulb lengthwise into ¼ inch strips.
On a serving plate or individual plates, begin by layering the orange rounds, alternating between the red and orange slices, then evenly distribute the fennel, red onion, and mint. Randomly place the green olives around the salad for added color. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the entire salad. Serve and enjoy!
You can prepare the orange rounds a day in advance and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
This column was written exclusively for The Forum.
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com