The arrival of the gruesome sounding blood orange in January is a happy moment for anyone that’s been seduced by the deep crimson flesh and distinct citrus flavour with a raspberry edge. They can be deliciously sweet such as the beautiful red-streaked Sanguinello, to the more bitter deep-red Moro variety. They are smaller than navel oranges with pitted skin and some have a dark-red rind; a hint to the alluring vivid interior. The colour is influenced by how far into the season the fruit was picked – more orange at the beginning and then more red towards the end – but when cutting into one, the element of wonder and surprise never ceases to amaze me.
Blood oranges have a season of only a few months so grab them by the crate load and use abundantly while you can. Fortunately, they are incredibly versatile and it’s not a problem to think of a multitude of mouthwatering uses: beautiful salads with simple, clean flavours; zingy feel-good juices; classy cocktails; citrus singing cakes and tarts; elegant puddings such as soufflés and Panna Cotta; and jewel-toned marmalade. And don’t get me started on icecream and sorbet. Just like asparagus and Jersey potatoes, their special status is preserved by their swift season and my excitement would definitely not be so palpable if available all year round.
Although grown in California, most of the oranges in our shops come from southern Mediterranean and Italy in particular. The best fruits are meant to grow in the volcanic rich soils of Sicily, where the classic winter salad of blood orange, fennel and olive oil is popular – throw in some plump olives and you’ve got heaven on a plate. This stunning Sicilian salad of blood oranges and fennel provides the inspiration for the recipe here.
It’s a simple salad with vibrant colours and palette-awakening flavours; perfect for a weekend lunch or light starter. The earthy sweet beetroot provides a perfect platform for the slightly tart orange, salty feta, delicate aniseed from the fennel and distinctive taste of the walnuts. Toasted hazelnuts or almonds are also particularly good. There’s a mix of textures to keep things interesting and a scattering of mint gives a lovely freshness to the whole dish. With one bite of this salad, you will forget the grey winter outside and be temporarily transported to the sunshine blessed island of Sicily with azure seas, stunning coastlines and majestic mountains.
2 medium cooked beetroot, cut into rounds
1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
2 blood orange, peeled and cut into rounds
70g feta, cut into cubes
30g walnuts toasted and roughly chopped
Handful of mint leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp orange juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Half tsp runny honey
- Steam the beetroot for about 1 hour, depending on size. Allow to cool and, with gloves on your hands, slide off the skin. Cut into thin rounds and set aside.
- Remove any tough exterior of the fennel bulb and cut in half lengthways. Using a mandolin carefully shave the fennel into thin slices. Alternatively, use a sharp knife and cut as thinly as possible. If preparing in advance, squeeze some lemon juice over to prevent it going brown.Toast the walnuts in a frying pan over a low-medium heat until golden. Keep shaking the pan so they don’t burn. Roughly chop.
- Cut the top and bottom off the oranges so they are flat, then using a sharp knife cut the peel and pith from each orange. Cut into thin rounds.
- Cut the feta into cubes and set aside. Then for the dressing, put all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until emulsified.
- Assemble by laying the beetroot on the bottom and then the fennel and oranges. Scatter over the feta and walnuts, finishing with a drizzle of the dressing and a handful of mint leaves.