The following is the unedited copy of our column from the December 26, 2012 edition of The Forum. Our column appears every Wednesday in the SheSays section.
We celebrate Christmas Eve with my family and extended family from my mother’s side. Our tradition has always been to feature a large buffet of holiday appetizers, showcasing family favorites which often include pickled herring, lefse, clam dip, crackers, cheese, olives, smoked oysters, chips, and onion dip. And of course, the famous Green Jello Christmas Wreath.
When my Uncle, Tom Hance, joined the family back in 1982, he brought his family’s tradition of Christmas Ribs to our holiday buffet. This shift in tradition was met with some skepticism, but the ribs were so good that everyone decided they were a welcome addition to the menu. Tom passed away in April 2007, but his daughters have continued to make the Word’s Best Ribs for us ever since.
For the past six or seven years, Tony, Gio and I have hosted Christmas Eve at our home. During the first couple years, we made very few, if any, changes to the menu. However, as Gio grew beyond the baby stage, Tony and I wanted to bring some Italian flair to our Christmas Eve buffet, something that would reflect his heritage. We wanted to create a dish that our guests would look forward to year after year, just like Tom’s Ribs, or the Famous Green Jello Christmas Wreath. But what would we serve?
After studying what’s in season this time of year, we decided that our signature dish would be a salad. We took particular inspiration from the arrival of blood oranges in our local grocery stores, and wanted to make them the star of our recipe. I had never eaten a blood orange before, but Tony was very familiar with this special fruit. Blood oranges are commonly grown in Sicily, and Tony’s Uncle Pepe even grows them in his orange groves near Rosolini.
To make this dish truly Sicilian, Tony suggested adding fennel, mint and olives to the recipe, and our Sicilian Christmas Salad was born. It’s been a favorite on our holiday buffet ever since.
“I love this salad,” Tony says, “because it showcases what’s in season: the citrus and fennel, which are just so Sicilian together, and the mint, which is also common in Sicilian cooking and adds some holiday flavor. It just sings.”
The blood oranges are dynamic in this salad, not only for their beautiful crimson color, but also because of their unique flavor. With terrific bursts of citrus, a blood orange is typically sweeter than other oranges, and even offers notes of raspberry.
The slightly sweet, anise flavor of the fennel is a perfect compliment to this fruit, and its white color provides a nice contrast to the crimson and orange on the platter.
To make this salad, we use both Blood and Navel oranges. On a large platter, place a layer of oranges over the entire surface, alternating between red and orange slices and overlapping each other. Next, evenly distribute the sliced fennel and red onion around the oranges, then do the same with the mint. Randomly place green olives around the salad, season with salt and pepper, and complete by drizzling the salad with the very best extra virgin olive oil you can find. Serve and enjoy.
For the recipe, click here: Sicilian Christmas/Winter Salad Recipe