When Nick and I went to Sicily last year, we had very little knowledge of what Sicilian food is like. We naively assumed it will be just like any other Italian food we’ve had. Boy, were we so wrong! Sicilian cuisine is very distinct and different from the mainland’s. Their flavors were stronger and more assertive, but the preparation is simple and rustic for the most part. There are no culinary acrobatics involved, no complicated thirty ingredient sauces; just fresh and carefully selected produce.
For this recipe, what you need to put emphasis on is the quality of your balsamic vinegar. While most balsamic vinegars out in the market could reproduce the overall flavor profile for this dish, investing in good quality Modena vinegar will make a world of difference. It’s sweeter and more nuanced, and closer in flavor to the one we had in Sicily, so it’s well worth it to invest the best Modena vinegar you can afford.
(Makes 2 servings as a side, 1 as a main)
1 navel orange
2 tbsp good olive oil
¼ cup + 1 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
Wash the fennel thoroughly under running water, making sure to get any grits or dirt out. Trim the top and bottom part, and peel off the outermost layer. Slice the fennel into even thin slices, use a mandolin if you have one and set it on the middle setting. Place sliced fennels in a bowl.
Peel the orange and break apart into individual segments. Peel the segments and take out as much of the pith as you can. You want the segments to look like this.
Toss the orange segments in the bowl with fennel.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Pour on top of fennels and oranges and toss thoroughly. Add the remaining tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and toss again but just very lightly. The final splash of vinegar will give the dish an extra fresh jolt of tang, but the dish itself will slowly reveal a gentler, more nuanced, and sweeter licorice flavor.