Citrus-fennel salad an easy alternative to greens

Our friends had to hand it us. My husband and I pulled off a Sunday-style dinner of roast chicken and potatoes on a busy weeknight.

Hands-off dishes were the primary strategy. Once we seasoned both the bird and potato wedges, our pellet smoker did all the work. A balsamic-vinegar sauce simmered away on the stovetop while I stirred up a faux aioli with minced garlic and lemon zest and juice in Best Foods mayonnaise.

I craved a leafy green salad on the side but didn’t want to spend precious minutes washing and tearing greens. So I carved up some of the largest fennel bulbs I’ve found in local stores for braising in wine and stock, secure in the conviction that our plates would be delicious if monochromatic in color.

With a bit more foresight and just a few more minutes with knife in hand, I could have served the fennel thinly sliced as a salad with citrus segments and maybe a few toasted nuts. This one, courtesy of Tribune News Service, is an ideal example of that concept and calls for ingredients that I happened to have on hand.

Rather than segmenting the citrus into supremes, I would simply peel and section it, particularly if using clementines, tangerines or other fruits with thin membranes and little pith. Marinating the feta cheese is a nice touch, but the cheese could just as well be crumbled on top.

Note that the following recipe is a large batch. Cut it in half for serving four to six people. Unlike most salads, however, leftovers would be just as good the next day.

Tribune News Service photo

Orange, Fennel and Olive Salad With Marinated Feta

2 cups sliced fennel (halved lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise with a sharp knife)

3/4 cup chopped feathery fennel fronds

1 3/4 cups pitted whole Italian oiled-cured black olives (substitute Kalamata if desired)

8 navel oranges, divided

6 blood oranges or ruby red grapefruit

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red-wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

In a large mixing bowl, place the sliced fennel, chopped fronds and olives.

Place a navel orange on a cutting board; slice off both ends, then using a sharp knife, peel the away from flesh of fruit following the contours, removing pith or white part with skin. Using a paring knife, segment orange by removing flesh from membrane. Place in mixing bowl; repeat process with 6 more navels and all the blood oranges or grapefruit.

Juice 1 navel orange. In a small bowl, whisk orange juice with the olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Drizzle dressing over salad, tossing gently to combine. Salad can be made in advance and tossed before serving. Serve at room temperature or chilled with marinated feta alongside.

Makes 8 to 12 servings.

MARINATED FETA: Cube 1 pound of feta cheese into ½-inch squares; place in a mixing bowl. Pour 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil over feta. Add 1/4 cup roughly chopped or torn, fresh basil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon black pepper; gently toss and set aside.

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