As the aphorism goes, when life throws you lemons, make lemonade — but when Sicilians give you oranges, make a salad.
For the past few months, since Ben’s passing, I’ve largely immersed myself in my writing. There has been the occasional burst of photography, but mostly I’ve been immersed in my writing. That’s because with the loss of Ben, my cooking mojo took a serious hit …though it is slowly returning. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking, but I’ve spent a lot less time creating. Instead, during this time I’ve turned increasingly to comfort foods, my favourites of the past few decades. And with each reprisal, I’ve been filled with memory and love and the dishes have kept both my body and soul nourished while I heal.
And so a few weeks ago while shopping at Costco, I was presented with bag of Tarocco oranges from Sicily. Yes, if you’re new to my blog, I’m often presented with ingredients that I too must figure out. That’s part of the fun. However, some of you probably knew long before me that the tarocco orange is a type of “blood orange” — in Italian, it is the arancia rossa di Sicilia, the “red orange of Sicily.” While these oranges look to be about half the size of a mutant Floridian naval orange (have you noticed how GMO oranges like strawberries and blueberries have gotten enormous?), once you peel them of their relatively thin skins, they’re not much smaller at all. Here are a few other quick facts about the tarocco: they are among the sweetest and juiciest of all oranges in the world and they are reputed to have the highest concentration of vitamin-C of any type of orange.
What sets the tarocco apart from many other blood oranges, the Spanish ones in particular, is that it is unevenly pigmented — as blood oranges go — with many showing little or no sign of being red or ‘bloody’ and some are only partially red, inside and/or out. It’s for this reason I thought this would be an interesting and submission to not only my readers wondering where all the recipes have gone, but also as my submission to this week’s photographic challenge as part of the Daily Post: Orange. Click on the link to see others’ less food-oriented photographic submissions on the theme … but mine, yes, mine is most definitely about the food.
This insalata has long been a favourite of mine. And the truth is, it is more an ‘idea’ than a recipe. I say that because there are literally six (yes, 6) ingredients in it: salt, pepper, olive oil, olives, oranges … and the watercress. It’s a “recipe” that came from one of my favourite cookbooks in all the world: La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio. Over the nearly 20 years I’ve been making it, I have internalized it, made it my own by adding the watercress (I know — I’m bold and crazy) and it has become a “feeling” more than a recipe: I just keep adding the ingredients together until they’re in balance.
Ok — now I know some of you have slammed shut your computers and have already unfollowed my blog: who on earth — other than Sicilians — combines olives and oranges? Who the hell puts salt and pepper on an orange? Well, it’s really not as strange as all that and the better adjective would be freakin “yummy” anyway. Truly, together, these ingredients are the epitome of Italian fare — not the specific ingredients themselves, but the simplicity of adding premium, ripe ingredients together and letting them communicate together as unadorned lovers.
The goal is simple: use the juice from the orange to make a vinaigrette with the olive oil. That’s not so strange, right? Sweet and salty together — ham and pineapple? Peanut butter and chocolate? Salted caramel ice cream? Salt in a pie crust or pastry filled with sweetness? No, that’s not strange — it’s heaven. In this case, we’re going to use the sweetness of the olive to balance the sugar in the orange and we’ll then build off pepper and the earthiness of the olives by adding in the fresh pepperiness of the watercress. In addition to the flavour, the watercress adds a beautiful contrast of colour and a mat to capture the juices you won’t want to let get away … and it adds in some nutrients that just make this an incredibly balanced salad.
Cooking Note: Expand the recipe easily to whatever amount you want. Add more oranges for a larger serving or more people. My general rule is simply one orange per person and 4-5 olives per orange and about 1 tablespoon of olive oil per orange (give or take). The rest is really to taste. The key to preparing the oranges is to “supreme” them — cutting the skin and pith off to leave the orange flesh naked to the tongue (tell me a better way to describe it than that?).
NOTE: Don’t discard the skin. There is essential oils and juice aplenty in those skins you’ve just removed, so squeeze them well into the bowl with the the rest of the oranges: this is your vinaigrette when combined with the other ingredients. Trust me when I say this vinaigrette is so yummy, you won’t leave any on your plate when done. I promise … you’ll love this forever.
- 4-5 Tarocco oranges, “supremed” and segmented
- 16-20 Kalamata or Gaeta olives, pitted and quartered (lengthwise)
- 4 tablespoons high-quality extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher sea salt (to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bunch (4 cups) watercress, washed, dried, and large stems removed
- “Supreme” the orange with a sharp chef’s knife and remove the skin all the way down to and including the white pith on the orange. Cut it in half lengthwise and cut out each of the segments so that you have a ‘naked’ segments only. Add the oranges to a medium sized glass/ceramic bowl. Squeeze the skins of their juice into the bowl as well.
- Slice the olives and add to the bowl. The ration is 4-5 olives per orange.
- Give a couple of good drizzles of olive oil over the oranges and toss.
- Throw in a couple of good pinches of salt and taste. The salt should be ‘salted’ to taste … but not ‘salty.’
- Add freshly grated pepper and let salad stand for 30-60 minutes for flavours to marry.
- Just before serving, wash the watercress and spin dry. Pull the stems apart and discard any large, and ‘woody’ stems and breaking up the bunches in the process so that you don’t have pieces more than a couple inches in length.
- To serve, place about 1/2 cup of watercress on each plate, top with a half cup of oranges, and spoon over a few tablespoon fulls of the vinaigrette.
Sounds wonderful! I will definitely try!