Here is a reprint from last year, by special request. It utilizes a fruit and a vegetable most abundant this time of year. Use an extra special olive oil for best results. There are many small-production organic brands to choose from. They cost more than the olive oil you're used to cooking with, but the flavor and high-quality monounsaturated fatty acids make them well worth the splurge. Keep a bottle on hand for raw uses, such as the one described here.Over the years, I have learned to cook many strange fruits and vegetables. Strange to me, that is. In some parts of the world, such things as starfruit and lotus root are perfectly ordinary. Anyhow, being a rather fanatical foodie, I'm interested in all members of the vegetable kingdom and forage for the unusual at my favorite produce market. It has expanded my culinary horizons to invite peculiar produce into my kitchen and see what I can make of it. My inspiration might come from cookbooks, TV chefs, the Internet, or restaurant meals I have relished. My experiments aren't always successful, but sometimes they're stellar. Case in point: blood orange and fresh fennel salad. I've been enjoying it for years, since I ate a mind-blowing version one Spring afternoon at the birthplace of "California cuisine," Berkeley's Chez Panisse, which is now an all-organic (though not all-vegetarian) restaurant. [Speaking of splurges, this one is a must for serious foodies.] The dish is based on very simple Mediterranean flavors and is light and refreshing, yet somehow deeply satisfying. I use an Asian mandoline to slice the fennel very thinly. It is made out of hard plastic and comes with various metal blades for cutting different shapes. If you don't have such a tool, simply use a sharp knife and slice the fennel as thinly as you can. If you can't find blood oranges, you can use tangerines or naval oranges instead. The salad will still be very, very good to eat. The one shown here includes no onion-y flavor note, but you can snip on some chives or sprinkle on some minced shallots, if you so desire. Sometimes I arrange a handful of Nicoise olives on the plate, as Chez Panisse did, which provides another delicious layer of flavor. Some shavings of Parmesan or a bit of crumbled blue or feta cheese are other great additions. Play around and see what you like.
Here is the process:
1. Trim off the base of a fennel bulb and discard the outer layer, which is usually discolored and rather tough. At the other end, trim off the leafy stalks. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice the remaining bulb crosswise into very thin shreds. Make a bed of the fennel on a large serving plate or platter.
2. Slice off both ends of 2 or 3 (depending on their size) blood oranges . Using a very sharp paring knife, cut off the peel of the oranges, along with the white layer and the membrane that covers the orange segments. Slice the blood oranges into about 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange them in concentric circles atop the bed of fennel.
3. Sprinkle on a bit of salt and grind on some black pepper. Drizzle a really good olive oil evenly over the oranges and fennel. You don't want a big puddle of it on the plate, but don't skimp.
4. Scatter some whole leaves of flat-leaf parsley over the salad and serve at room temperature.