A bittersweet melange

This blood orange salad could star in your Valentine’s Day dinner.

Photograph by Jonathan Lovekin

Yotam Ottolenghi, the popular London chef and cookbook author, says he doesn’t usually celebrate Valentine’s Day.

“This is due to cowardly cynicism,” he admits in his book Plenty, “combined with the firm belief that you cannot just create a momentous intimate occasion, especially when millions of other couples are trying to do exactly the same. It just feels a bit claustrophobic.”

But then he goes on to introduce this delicious, sour-sweet, multi-textured salad, which would make a fabulous V-Day dinner with some sautéed salmon or the beet-and-carrot pancakes in this column last week.

“If you twisted my arm and forced me to, I guess I would choose this salad to celebrate the day,” he says, noting that it represents “the more realistic flavours of love: bitter and sweet.”

The red-themed salad is timely in more ways than one: blood oranges are in season — look for them in stores such as Farm Boy, Herb & Spice and La Bottega Nicastro. Treviso, a longer, thinner, version of radicchio, is available at specialty green grocers, such as Herb & Spice, or substitute red endive, available at Byward Fruit Market.

At least two Ottawa-area farms grow red micro-greens (which sounds like a contradiction in terms). You can get Bryson Farms’ “triton” and “china rose” micro-greens (both are types of radish sprouts) Saturdays at the Field House at Parkdale Park. Butterfly Sky Farms’ red micro-greens (from Swiss chard and red cabbage seeds) are usually snapped up by chefs, but you can special order them by emailing butterflyskyfarms(at)gmail.com.

And you can find orange-flower water at the Mid-East Food Centre on St. Laurent at Belfast, but, when I interviewed him in the fall, Ottolenghi said that because his recipes have so many vibrant ingredients, don’t worry if you’re missing one or two.

Get a printable PDF of this recipe, plus the recipe for the beet-and-carrot pancakes, at ottawacitizen.com/ottawadish.

Bittersweet Salad

Makes: 2 servings

2 blood oranges (or plain oranges)

Blood orange juice as needed

1¼ tbsp (20 mL) lemon juice

¼ cup (50 mL) maple syrup

Coarse sea salt

½ tsp (2 mL) orange-flower water

Half a small head radicchio

1 small head Treviso, leaves separated

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

Black pepper

Handful of small red micro-greens

¾ cup (175 mL) good-quality ricotta

2 tbsp (25 mL) pine nuts, toasted

Seeds from 1 small pomegranate

1. Take each of the blood oranges in turn and use a small sharp knife to slice off the top and base. Now cut down the side of the orange, following its natural curve, to remove the skin and white pith. Over a small bowl, cut in between the membranes to remove the individual segments into the bowl. Squeeze all the juice from the membranes and skin into a small saucepan.

2. Make up the juice in the pan to 7 tbsp (100 mL or slightly less than ½ cup) with extra blood orange juice. Add the lemon juice, maple syrup and a pinch of salt and bring to a light simmer. Leave to reduce for 20 to 25 minutes, or until you are left with about 3 tbsp (50 mL) of thick syrup. Strain it through a fine sieve and allow to cool down, then stir in the orange-flower water.

3. Pull apart the radicchio leaves and tear them roughly into large pieces. Put into a mixing bowl. Add the Treviso leaves, oil and some salt and pepper and toss gently.

4. Divide the salad leaves between two serving plates. Dot with the orange segments, small red leaves and spoonfuls of ricotta, building the salad up. Drizzle with the orange syrup and finish with pine nuts and pomegranate seeds.

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