Blood oranges are one of the bright stars of the citrus world, arriving from the Mediterranean – and Sicily in particular – between winter and early spring. There is a growing trend to rebrand them as “blush” oranges, for reasons I don’t quite understand. Perhaps it is to spare the nerves of the haemophobic – or perhaps because the degree of bloodiness varies quite wildly depending on the crop and the variety. Moros tend to have the darkest colour, at times delivering a crimson so intense it is almost black. Others, such as sanguinellos, are often only speckled or streaked with scarlet. But they differ from other oranges in more than just colour. The flavour, though sweet, has a balancing acidity that at times seems almost raspberry-like. Or perhaps that’s just the colour playing tricks on the mind.
Either way, this invigorating winter salad teams them with the pale crunch of fennel and the delicate lactic notes of mozzarella. Try to find the best cheese you can – certainly not the rubbery kind you might melt on a pizza.
4 blood oranges
2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed (keep the fronds)
4 skinny spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
A handful of mint leaves
Juice of 1 ½ lemons
Fine sea salt and pepper
250-350g milky buffalo mozzarella
Extra virgin olive oil
Cut off the ends of each orange, then slice down around the curve of the fruit to remove the remaining peel and pith. Slice the oranges into rounds and place in a bowl, then squeeze in any juice from the bits of peel.
Halve the fennel bulbs lengthways, then thinly slice across the grain. Add to the oranges, together with the spring onions and ¾ of the mint leaves.
Mix the lemon juice with ¾ tsp salt and few grinds of black pepper, then add to the fennel and oranges. Add 4 tbsp olive oil and toss together. Taste and add a pinch more salt if needed.
Pile onto plates and tear the mozzarella over the top. Add a few more mint leaves, plus any fennel fronds, and finish with an extra grind of black pepper and a trickle more oil.
Lucas Hollweg is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and cook. A former Sunday Times journalist and cookery columnist, he writes for a wide range of food publications. His most recent book is Good Things to Eat.