Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Orange You Hungry? Savor summery citrus this cold winter month

I often think of Sicily and our brief trip there back in 2010. The memory of its sun-drenched landscape and gorgeous blue seas will never leave me.

Sicily’s food is quite different from the red-sauced pasta of Italy’s southern mainland or the meat dishes of Umbria, Italy’s “green heart.” I savored the classic dishes I had in Sicily: pastas with swordfish and eggplant, pistachio and almond desserts, and most of all, the beautiful citrus fruits that grow in abundance there.

Many different cultures settled in this island paradise early in its history, and their influence can be found in Sicily’s cuisine today. Citrus fruits play a prominent role in Sicilian cooking, in salads, beef stews, seafood, marmalades and jams and sweets such as cannoli. We can credit the Arabs for that, along with a popular method of food preparation called agro dolce or “sweet and sour.”

Every year around this time, I become tired of mushy blueberries, tasteless melon and plastic container strawberries that taste like erasers. But citrus fruits are in their glory, piled high on grocery store and farm market tables—beautiful navel oranges, honey bells, tangerines, mandarins, white and pink grapefruit, and the newcomer for some of us, blood oranges. I have become enamored of Meyer lemons, which I have discovered at my farmers market. They are plump, thin-skinned, juicy, sweet and wonderful for any recipe calling for lemon.

One of my favorite citrus recipes to make during this gloomy time of year is a Sicilian orange salad. I usually make it for brunch, but I’m thinking it would pair nicely with a fish entrée, as well. The version I make is a rather unexpected mix of ingredients at first glance, but they work surprisingly well together. If you want to give it a try, here are a few important tips:

  • Use small red onions rather than large ones. They should be sweeter.
  • Italians use oil-cured black olives in this salad. If you can’t find them or don’t like them, you can substitute other Mediterranean black olives.
  • When peeling oranges, remove all the white “pith” underneath the skin as it is very bitter. Slice them shortly before serving.
  • As with any recipe, use high-quality ingredients—fresh, juicy oranges and very good olive oil.


Sicilian Orange Salad


  • 6 large navel oranges
  • 1 or 2 small red onions, very thinly sliced, crosswise
  • ½ cup oil-cured or other black Mediterranean olives
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ¼ cup good extra virgin olive oil (more, if desired)
  • Salt to taste


  • Using a sharp knife, peel the oranges and remove all the white pith under the skin.
  • Slice the onions crosswise, about ¼ inch thick.
  • Arrange the oranges on a pretty platter.
  • Scatter the onion slices, olives and red pepper over the oranges and drizzle the olive oil on top.
  • Season very lightly with salt.
  • Serve at room temperature.

This salad is as colorful as the island of Sicily itself. You can have a lot of fun with it by adding or substituting the following:

  • Thinly slice a fennel bulb, tops removed, and substitute the slices for the onion.
  • Drizzle with a fruit-based vinegar along with the olive oil. (Williams and Sonoma has a wonderful collection of fruit and white balsamic vinegar blends.)
  • Scatter some chopped nuts on top. (Pistachios are very Sicilian!)
  • Crumbled goat cheese, blue cheese or Stilton cheese add a savory touch.
  • Chopped mint adds lovely color.
  • Substitute sliced blood oranges for some of the navel slices.

Celebrate Sicily this cold winter month. Enjoy the color and unexpected edge of Sicilian food. Try making a nice caponata from that eggplant you usually pass by at the store. Simmer some swordfish steaks with tomatoes, onions and capers. Try making a lemon or orange tart for dessert. And grab that forgotten bottle of limoncello liqueur out of the freezer!

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