(= Grandma Lucia’s Orange and Fennel Salad)
Cut off the green fronds at the top of the fennel bulbs and put a few stalks of these “whiskers” – the small green, fern-like leaves – on one side to use as a garnish and to mix into the salad. Cut the fennel bulbs in half, eliminate the tougher external layers, and cut the bottom of the core off level with the bulb. Divide each half into two pieces again and wash well under running water, opening out the layers a little so that the jet of water washes out any earth. Put the wedges of fennel into boiling water, with a pinch of coarse salt, and “blanch” them for 5 minutes, without putting the lid on the saucepan. Strain well and leave to cool down. In the meanwhile peel the oranges with a knife, removing peel and pith, and cut them into slices about 1 cm thick. Divide the slices in half. Carry out these steps over the bowl or serving dish in which you intend to dress your salad, in order to “save” the orange juice, which you will then transfer into a cup.
Thinly slice the fennel segments, which are now cold, and place them in the bowl (or on the serving dish); add the black olives, pitted and chopped into pieces, and the slices of orange. Now add the pine nuts, the raisins (previously soaked in warm water for 7-8 minutes and dried with kitchen paper) and a few of the small, green fern-like fennel leaves. Sprinkle with freshly-ground pepper or powdered or chopped chilli pepper (choosing the quantity according to your taste), oregano and, if you like it, a finely chopped clove of garlic (or even just half!). Emulsify the extra virgin olive oil with a little balsamic vinegar, the orange juice you set aside previously (plus that from the segments that are left over from the orange used to garnish the salad) and a pinch of salt. Mix and garnish again with sprigs of the leaf fronds, 4-5 orange segments and, if you wish, a few whole black peppercorns.
This is a Sicilian recipe, revisited by Nonna Lucia (Piero Lo Franco’s grandmother), a genuine Sicilian and a great food lover... in all senses! As a cook and as the taster of the daring delicacies that, with great passion, she prepared (and ate!) every day. The cheerful, extrovert gourmet enhanced every dish with one or two personal touches, much to the delight of her family and friends. And this also goes for this special salad, which stands out among her recipes for its “lightness”.