A Dining With the Saints Christmas Eve Salad

A Salad to be served after Christmas Eve Dinner, Southern Italian Style

Christmas Eve, according the the Catholic church, is a fast day. Catholics interpret this in many ways. Usually it means eating meagerly and avoiding meat. Southern Italians, always up for a grand food celebration, view this fast day as an opportunity to cook as many types of seafood as they can, often thirteen, symbolizing Jesus and his apostles. If you’re Italian-American, or have eaten Christmas Eve dinner with an Italian-American family, you know what kind of abondanza these feasts can be, with not a speck of meat in sight.

I have favorite Christmas Eve dishes I always make, such as baccala with potatoes and white wine, and spaghetti with clam sauce, but I always include at least one new one each year. Another constant is a variation on the classic Sicilian orange salad. It’s the best palate cleanser after so much fish. If you can find blood oranges, use them, but the salad is just as delicious with regular oranges. This year I’m adding mint, which is customary, but basil also goes really well with oranges, if you prefer.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Orange, Fennel, Black Olive, and Mint Salad

(Serves 4 or 5)

4 oranges, peeled and cut into thin rounds (include 2 blood oranges if you can find them),
2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced,
½ a red onion, cut into thin slices, a handful of black olives (I like the wrinkled Moroccan type for this salad),
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, your best extra-virgin olive oil, and a handful of fresh mint leaves

Arrange the orange and fennel slices on a large, pretty serving platter. Scatter on the red onion and the black olives. You can cover and chill this until you’re ready to serve it.

Right before serving, season with sea salt and black pepper. Drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil, and garnish with the mint leaves. Serve right away.

(Erica De Mane is a chef and food writer specializing in the Mediterranean diet. She has a popular blog at http://www.ericademane.com).

Image: A Neapolitan angel from a Christmas creche.

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