If ever there was a Mediterranean match made in California heaven, it’s pulpy citrus and sweet fennel. From Sicily to Silver Lake, both need sun and warmth to thrive. And like an old married couple, they are never far from one another at the farmers market.
Blood oranges are especially plentiful and juicy this season; they'll be available for about another month. The crimson flesh comes from antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which are common in flowers but not citrus fruits, and which make them even healthier for you than their orange cousin. They come in three varieties, tarocco, sanguinello and moro; the moro is what you're most likely to find at your local market. The juice is blood red and tastes like a cross between raspberry and tangerine.
A fixture at the Tuesday market in Culver City, Arnett Farms from Fresno has the blushed orbs by the basketfuls, as well as dehydrated slices, which make an appetizing garnish to a tall glass of iced tea or an Aperol spritz. I’ve even crushed and crumbled the wedges over lemon sorbet for a cooling dessert.
Speaking of palate cleansers, nothing does it better than the bulb. Fennel is at its peak right now and can be eaten cooked or raw. It has a mild licorice taste, which mellows and becomes even sweeter when roasted. Toss quarters with halved onions, olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme and bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. It’s veggie candy and a sweet companion to roasted lemon chicken. Fennel is packed with potassium, fiber, Vitamins A, B and C and magnesium, and it comes in at 27 calories a cup.
But back to the perfect marriage — I like it raw. Blood Orange and Fennel Salad with Olives and Apples is one of my favorite dishes. It combines sweet, salty, tart and crunchy and works solo or as a bed for grilled fish or chicken. You can use any greens you like, but be sure to include some peppery arugula, which gives the salad yet another dimension.
Gabriella Mlynarczyk, Accomplice Bar beverage director and Arnett Farms regular, is a huge fan. “Orange and fennel salad is one of my favorites; mix it with Moroccan olives and I’m in heaven,” she tells me. “I love the combination of sweet citrus, bright crisp fennel and salty olives, it’s pure perfection.”
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Here’s my version:
1 fennel bulb
2 blood oranges (or any sweet citrus)
¼ cup Kalamata olives
10 oz. mixed arugula and romaine
6 oz. goat cheese (optional)
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
¾ tsp. salt
Core the fennel bulb and finely slice (or mandoline) into a bowl. Zest and juice one orange and add to the fennel with salt and vinegar. Cover and refrigerate for at least a half hour.
When ready to serve, cut apple into cubes, and peel and segment the remaining orange. Add olive oil to fennel mixture. Toss all ingredients together and top with goat cheese if desired. Serves four.