chasing crisp


Rather like remembering not to rant or let fury at things beyond your control ruin your day, I’ve been trying to make the best of it. I even bought a nearly-cashmere cardigan, a pair of jade tights and rearranged the living room around a new striped rug that matches – quite incidentally – both cardigan and tights. I’ve tried to knit. I have crunched more leaves than my son. I have roasted chestnuts, smashed pumpkins and sliced porcini with stems the size of a babies leg for risotto, I even claimed ‘Autumn is my time of  year‘ in a proprietorial way while tossing my autumnal hair. But the truth is, I keep wanting to shout.

Not at the cold, I don’t mind that a jot, nor the drizzle – although the drizzle and anoraks are a pain –  but at the light, or lack of it. By 4 o clock as Luca wakes from his afternoon nap, the light is slipping away. We dress as hastily as is possible with a two-year old and then run, trying to catch the last hour, only to watch it being swallowed by dark. The park we used to run around until eight, is locked at five. The kiosk with it’s woven plastic chairs and memories of icy, sticky drinks and salty snacks, is empty. We adjust our jumpers and try to make the best of it, after all shops are starting to glitter and groan with christmas promise and cakes laced with dried figs and black pepper: this is no year for bah humbug, but the dark chases us home.


Back home by 6 with a long evening ahead – we seem to have adopted a southern European bedtime – I swing between attentive mother:  a book called ballata, board games and baking biscuits and absent mother: Disney babysitter, smarties and a very large glass of wine while I read blogs about craft activities I could be doing and dipping (Molly I adore you), mothers who have their children in bed by 7 and how to host the perfect cocktail party. Then I make supper.

Autumn nights call for stout sustenance, ideally with butter or fringed with fat, food that satisfies and reassures. Well mostly! They also call for bright and crisp from time to time, something to slow the slide onto the rug, to offer contrast and just a little resistance. Two things provide this, the first is puntarelle: a relative of chicory that twists into crisp, sweet but bitter curls, that you dress with anchovy and garlic dressing, the second is a salad of orange, fennel and autumn’s most precious fruit: pomegranate.


I like the mess: tiles and wood splattered with crimson. When we were little we would eat pomegranates that my Mum brought back from the Athenian Grocer on Moscow Road with a toothpick, impaling the little red jewels and pricking them into our mouths. I thought pomegranates were the most exotic fruit. I still do. When I go to live in Sicily – which I will – I will eat pomegranates every day I can.

Fennel: clean, crisp and with a bracing aniseed bite, slivers of orange, sweet and slightly acerbic pomegranate seeds, the right amount of salt and lots of best extra virgin olive oil makes a brilliant salad, one that manages to be both cool and warm, that provides brightness on dark days.  Especially good after a bowl of pasta e patate. Did I mention how much I like pasta e patate? Yes, good.


This is fact the fourth time I have written about this sort of salad. It is based on the classic Sicilian salad of orange, fennel, black olives and possibly onion. You could of course add olives to this version, ideally the inky-black, wrinkled, oven-baked ones that taste somewhere between dried plum, leather and liquorice. You really do need to be generous with salt – sprinkle from high above so the salt is evenly distributed – and even more generous with the olive oil.

Fennel, orange and pomegranate salad

Serves 4

  • a large or two small bulbs of fennel
  • 2 oranges
  • a ripe pomegranate
  • salt
  • extra virgin olive oil

Remove the tough outer layers from the fennel setting aside a few feathery fronds and slice a few millimetres from the base. Cut the bulb in two and then slice it as thinly as possible.

Cut the bottom from the orange so it sits flat on the work surface and then pare away the skin and pith carefully with a sharp knife. Working carefully, again with a sharp knife, cut the flesh away from the membrane on each side of each segment so you have soft, pith-less arc of orange. Work over a plate to catch juices

Cut the pomegranate in half and gently break the fruit open to expose the seeds and pull them away from the membrane and onto a plate.

Arrange the sliced fennel and orange segments on a large plate, scatter with pomegranate seeds and fennel fronds. Pour over any orange or pomegranate juice that collected on the plates. Sprinkle with salt and zigzag generously with olive oil. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before serving



Filed under fennel, In praise of, oranges, Rachel's Diary, recipes, salads, vegetables, winter recipes

65 responses to “chasing crisp

  1. The Athenian! – I still shop there.

    • rachel

      Lucky you. My Mm worked near the grocer for years and would bring home tiny greek cucumbers, huge tomatoes, greek yogurt, pitta bread, fruit. It was in the days when you just couldn’t get theses things at the supermarket…it all felt so exotic.

  2. Made a very similar salad last night: persimmons (the hard kind) cabbage and pomegranate. Can’t get enough of these crunchy salads.

  3. I love all of this, Rachel. Salt, yes and plenty of it, and all those colours. Orange and red, earth and acid brightness. You’ve given me lots of ideas. And you’re right, autumn is so strange, the beginning of the end of things. Sophie

    • rachel

      You are right about the acid brightness, it startles the sleepy mouth. I feel like a bit of a moaner now, the truth is the crisp and cold I quite like, it’s the lack of light.

  4. Your salad looks like a bed of jewels, so shiny and eye catching! beautiful indeed. And kids going to bed at 7 ???? mine never did. And am linking a video about how to get a pomegranate to release its all … I had seen another one that seemed to take even less but couldn’t find it sorry. I love pasta and patate too …

  5. laura

    Wow! What a great tweak on the already scrumptious fennel-orange salad! Feast your soul and your tummy! Thank you.
    I love just about everything concerning pomegranates … sort of like artichokes. Work but oh-so worth it. You can feel virtuous and vital while pigging out.
    So many hints on how to deal with a pomegranate. Just learned one that works very well for me … gently score the pomegranate all the way around (horizontally), gently ease it open into two halves, gently stretch each half open a bit wider and then whack the hell out of each half with a wooden spoon over a bowl. The glorious rubies just spill out.
    Splendid photos!

    • rachel

      Glorious rubies indeed – Very lovable ones. I like the contrast of sweet with slightly acerbic I will try the scoring/ bowl trick with my next fruit (later today that is ) x

  6. Your writing. It is such a grand thing when your blog entries arrive. I always read every word. Even if I am not interested in the recipe (though usually I am) I am drawn into it by your essay. Now. I know you live in Rome and have access to things I do not, but could you speculate on how one judges or comes upon “best” olive oil? I am open to either tips or brands. I live in a city where I can find many, fairly exotic things, but I have not found the right olive oil for drizzling so far.

    • rachel

      Thank you. Several things to look out for, first it should be cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, from a single variety and specific place, even better specific farm. I know imported oil can be very expensive so I would look for the best most local olive oil.

      • Thanks. I live in Minnesota, so the closest is probably California. I always hear people refer to “the best” and no one ever says what it is…. I’ll keep searching and I will definetely look out for single source. Do you keep different types on hand, like an Extra virgin, and a light?

  7. Beautiful! Pomegranates were also a part of my childhood. My mother brought me one home one day, and after that every Christmas was punctuated with the red globes. I think I like the work of them best!

    And yes, the fading light is sad this time of year. My one good thought is that we are very close to the shortest day of the year, and then it reverses. Not much of a silver lining, but what can one do?

    • rachel

      I like the work too. Yesterday I poached some quinces and added some seeds: it was good. I have promised myself that I will stop moaning, except to say: roll on longer days..Rx

  8. This looks just beautiful. We’ve had a bumper crop of pomegranates in the garden, but they are just about finished. If I hurry, I can make this! I like a bit of mess when it comes to pomegranates as well; my mother showed me a method of de-seeding them underwater, but it just seemed less fun that way.

    • rachel

      Ah to have a pomegranate tree! I’ve alwaysy wondered if the juices wash away under water – i should try, my walls will be grateful.

  9. Beautiful pictures. I adore the bright colours, and they’re so great for counteracting the winter blues 🙂

  10. SHOUT if you must. It must be dreadful to have night fall at 5pm; I’m done with winter this side of the world, and as the Argentine summer comes creeping up on us, I’m sure there will be days I will yearn for the soothing coolness that has already passed. It’s just one season, three months, 90 days. Sending love and warmth and resistance to cold and dark!

    • rachel

      I know I shouldn’t wish days away, and I won’t but Oh for longer days…. thank you for both warmth and resistance it is gratefully received.

  11. Love the depiction of the other mother cynically (I hope) sipping white wine while scrolling through all those parenting/crafting blogs. Forget it! Your kid will thank you for being a great cook and letting him help from time to time. Besides, if you don’t sit him in front of a Disney video once in a while all the other kids will think he’s weird when he’s older and can’t quote the dialogue, let alone quote it with disdain. Great classic salad (and perfect olive description), nice bright twist with the pomegranate. Oh, one other other thing regarding dim light, you do know you can shoot with a higher ISO than your conscience would otherwise permit, even sharpening afterword, if you like. I regularly shoot at 1250 or even 2000, if I have to, if it’s for the web. Ken

    • rachel

      Ha, exactly, one day he will thank me for the neglect and electronic babysitter…. I am going to craft all day long now, no pine cone, cardboard box or pack of crayons is safe….Ken I wished you liver nearer you could come and give me a photography lesson or twoxx

      • Your photos are lovely–I was just trying to make your life a little easier. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be responsible for the food, the engaging narrative AND the photos. Ken

  12. I have just received all these goodies in my fortnightly veg box- supper tomorrow is sorted! thank you xxx

  13. Moira

    The salad looks so pretty and healthy. However, we were intrigued by the pasta e patate – as a treat for a cold day. Is there a recipe??

    • rachel

      There is but it is for the book (which is probably such an annoying thing to hear). You can find lots of recipes on line and it is extremely simple, a basic broth made from onion, celery, carrot and paoto soup you cook pasta in.. Rx

  14. Hilary

    you give Luca smarties AND a large glass of wine? What’s Italian for tsk, tsk, tsk? 🙂 xx

  15. Divine.. I have started another bath of pizza bianca today, to go with the brining pastrami.. I remember rome in the evenings, I was a Nanny there for a while with two lovely little English children. We walked around the coloseum and beyond every day. Now that i think about it, that was autumn too.. hmm..

    • rachel

      Hurrah and more importantly, brining pastrami, wow I am impressed. I am about 10 minutes from the colosseum, you should come back and we can walk some more x

  16. I was going to ask if you ate pomegranates seed by seed as a child in England, and you answered my unasked question. We ate them not as sanely as you did but off the head of a pin. I’m sure I’m not mistaken; that memory is as strong as the small bag of crisps with the little blue sachet filled with salt to sprinkle over them, my being sure that inside the little twisted wax package a present, not salt, lay waiting for me. Being wrong each time never made me give up hope.

    Anything with even a scent of licorice goes right to the head of my list, and fennel and olive salad has long been a favorite of mine when the days turn cold, and the lettuce is simply too limp to consider. I’ve awakened to snow dusted fields twice this week, so that time is NOW. Oranges (and lemons, and the bells…. – sorry) and jewel-like pomegranate seeds will add a whole new dimension, and I will make this salad in the next few days. As they say in Georgia, hell, yeah.

    • rachel

      crisps with a bag of salt, yes yes, why are individual packets so wonderful? If you love fennel and orange i think you will love the addition of pomegranate: sweet and ascerbic. Snow, my goodness, I am sitting in a sun filled room at the moment wondering what I was moaning about. that said by five I will be shouting again. baci Rxx

      • Eileen

        Hi Rachel! Have you had any snow yet? My friend in Bari/Andria posted a picture of the Castel del Monte in snow a couple of days ago and complained it was 4C! I just complained it was ours, send it back: I live in Alto Adige (to you) or Suedtirol (to me), at the bottom of a ski run 🙂 I’ve just found your blog – and will be reading it all in the next few weeks.

      • rachel

        Hi Eileen, no snow here, but is a very crisp indeed and I am most unprepared. Lovely to have you here.

  17. Lauren

    We ate pomegranates as kids from a wild tree in the park, not with as much manners as you! They were messy and sticky and stained our clothes but they are fruit so who could complain!
    My sister in-law has her kids in bed by 7, but they are up at five in the morning, I know I prefer my 9pm till 9am, and what fun is a toddler yelling “OTOODLES” at the top of their lungs.

    • rachel

      Messy and without manners is good, as is staining from time to time. Five in the morning, that sounds like my own personal nightmare….long live late nights…

  18. Ah, yes the pomegranate of 1980’s England – we used to skewer each little ruby with a pin. It took a loooong time to eat half a pomegranate, probably as long as it took Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks to have a few bouts. I was amazed and astounded when I saw someone bash the back with a spoon. Why hadn’t we thought of that. More likely my mum had, but the pin kept me quiet for longer.

  19. Bloghaus

    I enjoyed your splatter movie – and what a nice idea to add pomegranate seeds to this salad.

  20. Christine

    Oh man, the short days just kill me. It’s not that I’m particularly grumpy, but it’s so hard to wake up in the dark and then by the time I leave work (5/5:30 – so lazy these days) it’s already pitch black outside and I’m ready for bed again.

    I love this salad and the addition of the pomegranite seeds make it so lovely!

    • rachel

      I am glad I am not alone… is all so short and yes, dark when we get home. I think pomegranates offer compensation of sorts x …..

  21. Lovely. I’ve been devouring the persimmon and the quince lately–grapefruit too–but this crisp bright salad with orange and pomegranate has my attention.

    • rachel

      How I miss grapefruit….you can find them…but rarely in Rome, which is silly as they do grow near in Nimfa. Hope you are well? x

  22. Oh, hello! From the opposite end of the pendulum! The involved/indifferent mother aforementioned, For when you are at one end, I am surely at the other. So nice to be in good company.

    Now to fall salads: I’ve recently played with something similar, right down to the fennel and pomegranate. Mine had persimmon in place of the orange, and arugula and dates, both ill-advised (too much, too heavy). Picked up another bulging fennel at market yesterday, to give this cleaner version a go. I can tell you already it will be a winner. Some things you can taste right through the pixels.

    Oh, and please note: I did not do a single craft with my eldest, a boy, who had no time or interest. To this day, at 13, the word makes him shudder. And run. Such past times are purely the business of those littles who love them, and of mothers with multiples. It’s essential to amortize the mess, don’t you know.

    Here’s to winter light, lovely if too brief.


    • rachel

      It is pretty perfect, clean and sharp but also warm and fitting.

      You see I wish we could just pop round to yours for wine and craft, I think it would be fun.

      yes, yes to winter light


  23. This is the kind of salad I always crave but never seem to get around to making, so thank you for inspiration. I might try and get beyond thinking about it this weekend. Lovely writing and pictures, and I feel your pain about encroaching darkness, hard enough for us olds, but harder still when you have young children.

    • rachel

      Thank you, so nice to have you reading along. I feel a bit of a moaner now….I really should make the best of cosy nights. I do hope you make the salad, it is such a simple and lovely combination Rx

  24. carolina maria

    how about a pasta e patate recipe????? would LOVE to have one!

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  26. This must be a pomegranety kind of week. Here I am, with my large glass of wine, having just blogged my pomegranate recipe, and then I pop over to read yours, and they’re here too 🙂 They remind me of home, of summers in Calcutta. I still have some in the kitchen, I’ll have to try your salad.

    • rachel

      I like our syncronicity….I think I would like summers in Calcutta too. Coming over Rx

      • peppercornsinmypocket

        Well, you’ll have to come over to my English winter then. I left the Calcuttan summers seven years ago; an Indian in England now. Looks like we swapped a little, Rachel.

      • rachel

        Yes I know you are in England…I was meaning Calcutta summers symbolically, I spent nearly a year in India 10 years ago and still dream about it. Your bruschetta looks (and I’m sure tastes) delicious. Rx

  27. Having never had my children in bed by 7, I love reading about your long evenings together! Now, I am going to cheat when I make your lovely salad as I purchase pomegranate seeds in lovely little containers. Thank you!

    • rachel

      Now Kath, I feel rather embarrassed: i am sure you didn’t sit with wine feeling sorry for yourself with nine little and not so little ones running and not running around. Hope you make the salad, it is lovely x

  28. This is so, so lovely, and it reminds me of a salad my mother would make in late summer. I’m drowning in pomegranates at the moment, so this is the perfect recipe for me to make.

  29. I just don’t think I will ever get the maniacs down by 7. I thought of you today when I saw a recipe for that fennel and orange salad that you make so well. I’m going to sneak into the secret park tomorrow and pick some pomegranates. x

  30. i want your knife. what is it?

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