It is a pleasure to sit down to a meal that begins with something bright and colorful.
The sheer physical beauty of a dish, enhanced by vibrant produce, may arouse the appetite before the aroma and flavor can confirm its excellence.
Colorful fruits and vegetables are easy to come by in the summer, when there are all manner of tomatoes, zucchini, melons and berries in every hue. In winter, it is more difficult. Pomegranate and persimmon are options to offset the seasonâ€™s yellow-fleshed sweet potato or squash and dull greens and browns.
The bounty of winter citrus offers the most colorful assortment. We have grapefruits in white, pink and ruby red. There are sunny, bright navel oranges and blood oranges. Named for an interior that can range from streaky sunset vermilion to deep scarlet or burgundy, blood oranges have a red blush on the peel and a heady, almost tropical flavor. A slightly acidic variety of navel orange called Cara Cara is a pale salmon when you cut into it. Mandarins, satsumas, and Minneola tangelos add even more color to the citrus spectrum.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, as they say. When it gives you a rainbow of citrus, make a salad. Fruit salad may sound like dessert, always a good idea, or something to accompany breakfast or brunch, but it can also veer savory. Avocado and citrus â€” usually grapefruit or orange â€” is a classic combination, and a good one, dressed with a shallot vinaigrette.
Citrus may be the treated the same way as a sweet, ripe tomato, with its natural affinity to salt and oil. Here, for instance, is a traditional Sicilian approach to a savory orange salad.
An assortment of multicolored oranges can be quite beautiful, though for this salad it is fine to use just one kind of orange, with blood orange as the classic example. Arrange citrus slices on a large platter. Add thinly sliced fennel, celery and red onion for a tasty bit of crunch. Surround it with sturdy winter salad leaves, like escarole, if you like, or choose sharp arugula or watercress sprigs. It will still be great with no greens at all. Dress it assertively with fruity olive oil and tangy wine vinegar, and scatter over briny olives and flaky sea salt before serving.
A harmonious combination of sweet and salty is what youâ€™re going for. To take it up a notch, add some chopped anchovy or capers and a pinch hot of crushed red pepper, or some shavings of salty aged pecorino cheese.
By David Tanis