Citrus Salad

About this time of year, we begin missing the halcyon days of summer, when we don’t have to plan for wet weather, and an array of delicious stone fruit and fresh berries is always within easy reach. However, winter brings its own rewards —a respite from the heat, and a bounty of colorful, versatile citrus.

Whether you prefer tart grapefruit, pink-fleshed Cara Cara oranges, Cutie clementines or bittersweet blood oranges, you can find a citrus for every palate and occasion at the Napa Farmers Market. The year-round market features vendors like J & J Ramos who offer a variety of citrus. J & J Ramos, growers in Stanislaus County, specialize in Cara Cara and navel oranges.

While most of us eat citrus at breakfast or brunch, these juicy fruits can also serve as a savory side dish later in the day. On a recent tour of Sicily, I experienced it nearly everywhere in refreshing salad form. Like many dishes from the region (pasta con le sarde comes to mind), Sicilian citrus salad has a bold and distinctive character.

There are many riffs on this dish, but the main elements are fresh citrus (one type or several), olives, onions and some ingredient that adds an herbal punch, such as fennel, arugula or celery. Some recipes call for a vinaigrette, but the juice from the citrus provides plenty of acid. All you really need is a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of your favorite olive oil to finish the dish.

Of all the variations on Sicilian citrus salad that I got to sample, my favorite was at a restaurant on the tiny island of Ortigia. Ortigia is the historic heart of one of the greatest cities in the ancient world, Siracusa. Today, it remains one of the gems of Sicily, featuring great local cuisine and charming medieval streets.

What made the version I had in Ortigia special, beyond the setting, was the use of breadcrumbs and dried oregano to boost the savory side of the dish. With the recipe below, I aim to replicate my experience and celebrate California citrus’s peak season.

You can serve variations on this salad all winter long — as a starter, a side dish for a fish course, or a refreshing contrast to a rich stew. If you are grappling with an overabundance of just one type of citrus, no worries. Your salad will be even more like the one I enjoyed in Ortigia.

Kids Activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Saturday, Feb. 9, for Story Time at 10:30 a.m.

On the KVYN Music Stage: Kendall Osbourne will perform at the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday, Feb. 9.

Sicilian-Style Citrus Salad

The recipe is from the forthcoming e-book series, Wanderlust Supper Club, courtesy of Deirdre Bourdet.

4 Cara Cara or navel oranges

1 blood orange or pink grapefruit (optional)

1/2 sweet white onion, thinly sliced (about ¾ cup)

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

1/4 teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano

Pinch of red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley, separated

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, separated

Large pinch flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

2 to 3 tablespoons toasted breadcrumbs

8 to 10 black oil-cured olives, or your favorite variety

Peel and segment all the citrus: start by cutting a thin slice off the top and bottom of the fruit to expose a cross-section of the fruit, and to provide a flat base and easy access to the top. Cut along the curve of the fruit from top to bottom, removing all of the peel and white pith. Hold the exposed fruit in your hand above a small bowl to catch the juice, and cut out the citrus segments one by one, slicing along the membrane dividers of each segment to free the pieces and leave the dividing membrane behind. Squeeze out the juice from the “core” that remains, and store the segments in the juice until ready for use. (Note: Keep blood orange juice and segments in a separate container to avoid staining the other citrus.)

In a salad bowl, toss together the sliced onion, fennel, oregano and red pepper flakes with half the parsley and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Transfer this mixture to a serving platter. Arrange the citrus segments over the fennel, season with sea salt, and scatter the breadcrumbs on top. Garnish with the olives and the remaining parsley and olive oil.

Serves 4 to 6

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Marilyn O’Connell is a full-time advocate for healthy children, local food and great wine. She is on the board of directors of the Napa Farmers Market.

The Napa Farmers Market takes place on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa. For more information or a schedule of upcoming events, visit www.napafarmersmarket.org.