What inspires the combination of fennel, blood oranges, and anchovies in a salad? The bounty of Sicily! Today’s post includes a quick and easy Italian Fennel Salad recipe. Plus, the story of what it’s like to discover wild fennel and eat this Sicilian dish in Sicily.
Italian Fennel Salad Recipe
Use the table of contents below to jump straight to the Italian fennel salad recipe, photo gallery, or Q&A section for the answer to questions like why add anchovies and how to cut fennel.
Fennel Grows Wild in Sicily
Come spring and summer, Sicily is blessed with a lush crop of wild fennel in the countryside and mountains.
I first noticed it on a hike through the Zingaro Nature Reserve in San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily. From that moment on, some serious Baader–Meinhof Phenomenon kicked in.
I noticed wild fennel on every hike for the rest of our trip!
Wild fennel isn’t the same as bulb fennel called for in the recipe below. However its fragrant smell and anise/licorice flavor it’s no doubt the inspiration for Sicilian fennel and blood orange salad.
What about the other two components?
Ask a Sicilian Chef about blood oranges and you’ll catch a look of pride in their eye. Not only did blood oranges originate in Sicily, but their health benefits, crave-worthy crimson color, and adaptability for savory dishes make them a favorite with Chefs.
The last ingredient, anchovies, are the kicker in this fennel salad recipe. Sicily has a long history tied to fishing and preserving fish like anchovies. Anchovies are caught in the open sea between Sicily and North Africa, then salted or marinated. Thus conserving them for long periods.
Consequently, anchovies are a staple in many Sicilian dishes.
Italian Fennel Salad Recipe Photo Gallery
Italian Fennel Salad Recipe With Blood Orange and Anchovy
I will never forget sitting down to my third fennel orange salad in Sicily. We were at a restaurant in Syracuse. Looking down, I saw four plump anchovies on top of a beautiful bed of fennel and segmented blood oranges. At first, I thought huh. Will that work?
After my first bite, my eyes opened wide with shock. “No way! That’s delicious!” I exclaimed. This was my new favorite version of fennel orange salad.
Fennel Salad with Blood Oranges & Anchovies
Fennel Salad with blood oranges and anchovies will transport you to Sicily. Here fennel grows wild, and blood oranges are cultivated in the plains of Catania.
While fennel is the star of this salad, Sicilian blood oranges add sweetness, and salty, umami-packed anchovies add drama.
Few ingredients mean you can move from prepping to eating in under 20 minutes.
Fennel salad is perfect on its own or as a side dish for grilled fish and meats.
- 1 Fennel Bulb (Sliced in half, cored, then sliced thin.)
- 2 Blood Oranges (Cleaned, peeled, and segmented. )
- ¼ Red Onion (Thinly Sliced *Optional)
- 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Sicilian if possible)
- Salt & Pepper (To taste)
- 4 Anchovy Fillets (*Optional)
Wash fennel, blood oranges, and the red onion.
Slice fennel bulb in half, remove core, then slice the two halves finely.
Thinly slice 1/4 of the red onion. Add both the fennel and the onion to a bowl with a pinch of salt and mix well. The fennel and onion will release their liquids and maximize their flavor as you move on to the next step.
Segment the oranges over the bowl with fennel and onion to capture all the juices.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Don't forget anchovies are salty. So if you're planning to use them, be sparing with the salt.
Plate the salad and dress with four or five anchovy fillets if desired. Please try!
- Fennel fronds make a beautiful addition to the salad as well!
Save your fennel stalks! They are wondering for making soup stock later.
Fennel can be stored in the freezer for up to six months once properly cleaned and dried. I always have a bag of stock veggies in my freezer for bits and ends like these. Once a month, I make a fresh batch of veggie broth from the discarded bits and bobs.
- Navel oranges, mandarins, or Valencia oranges are good substitutes if you cannot find blood oranges.
Why Add Anchovies to Food?
If putting anchovies on a salad other than Caesar seems strange, I’ll give you three reasons to try before you knock it.
First, anchovies are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. What’s better than a heart, and brain-healthy meal? One that helps fight cancer!
Getting a dose of cancer-fighting selenium is the second reason to add anchovies to food. One serving of anchovies contains 31 micrograms (mcg) of selenium. Over half the suggested daily amount is needed for teens and adults.
Finally, anchovies pack a salty, savory, umami punch to any dish. In the case of this salad recipe, they balance out the bright, sweet blood oranges and anise-like flavors.
How to Cut Fennel for Salad?
Bulb fennel is sadly not an easy ingredient for beginner cooks to work with in my book. It is, however, as we say in Italy “vale la pena.” It’s worth it!
The following steps are how I learned to cut fennel for a salad.
Those who prefer to watch instructions will find a video below.
- First, wash and dry the fennel.
- Then cut off the stalks just above the fennel bulb.
- Remove the fronds and reserve them for plating the salad.
- After, slice the fennel bulb in half lengthwise.
- Next, remove the core by cutting along it. You’ll make a V-shaped cut in the fennel bulb.
- From there, you can slice the fennel any way you like.
- For eating fennel raw in salads, I prefer thin lengthwise slices, as seen in the photo gallery below.
Fennel Salad Recipe Video Playlist
Can Fennel Be Eaten Raw in a Salad?
Yes, fennel can be eaten raw in a salad. In fact, fennel is edible from fronds to roots. Although fennel roots are best braised, the fronts and the bulb are safe to eat raw once cleaned.
The bulbs themselves are the most versatile part of fennel. Shaved or sliced thin, they are delicious raw. Larger slices can be steamed, braised, grilled, or roasted.
One of my favorite tricks is to roast potatoes, fennel, and lemon together in the oven. Then mash the potatoes and fennel together. Add butter and a squeeze of the lemon (after you’ve let it cool) for an easy yet flavorful side dish.
Final Thoughts on Fennel Salad
For its versatility and flavor, fennel is one of the unsung garden heroes. Fennel, anchovies, and Sicilian blood oranges have each earned their place in regular rotation in my kitchen here in Italy. Give this Italian fennel salad recipe with oranges and anchovy a try and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Together, they make a quick and easy salad that I turn to often for lunch or as a side for fish dishes.
How I Learned to Cut Fennel
My first experience working with fennel was at a cooking class in Sur La Table in Columbus, Ohio back in 2004!
This was pre-moving to New York, pre-working at Food Network, and a full five years before meeting and marrying my Italian husband.
At the time, I’d never eaten fennel, let alone worked with fennel.
Thankfully, our instructor was a kind, Italian Nonna. She inspired even the most skittish student (me!) to grab a bulb of fennel, and a knife and get to work.
I’ll never forget her patience as she walked me through cutting fennel the first time step-by-step. There was no judgment, just guidance and I will forever be grateful for her warmth.
Thinking back on it now, it makes me smile.
I signed up to take her class because, for some reason, I had this far-off fantasy of tasting red sauce from a wooden spoon in a kitchen in Italy. Don’t ask me why. I must have seen it in a movie and internalized the dream.
If you had told me that day in Sur La Tabla in Ohio that I would one day be living in Italy, making a fennel salad with Sicilian blood oranges and anchovies… there’s no way I would have believed you! Yet, here I am sharing my love of it with you from Italy.
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