September is perhaps the most rewarding and enticing month of the year for Northwest cooks. Much of summer’s fruit and produce is still available, while the first of the apples, pears, and winter squash are arriving at farmers markets. Days are still delectably warm, but evenings have begun to cool. I am rustling through leaves on my evening walks through the lovely neighborhoods of Northwest Portland.
And if you love fresh-from-the-garden heirloom tomatoes, you know you need to eat all you can NOW, before the local juicy sweet crop is only a pale memory. But how to eat tomatoes every day in new and unexpected ways?
That was what I was thinking when I began to riff on a simple salad of sliced tomatoes, chopped onion and balsamic vinaigrette. It was delicious for sure but not unusual. While I was pondering the deep mysteries of the tomato and trying to call forth its inner wisdom, MauiJim happened to mention how his Mom, EllenHelen, used to serve him a salad of sliced oranges and onions with a simple vinaigrette. I was shocked.
But then I remembered that everything Ellen served was flavor-pitch-perfect. So I tried it: a whisper thin slice of sweet onion, a hefty slice of juicy orange, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and EVO, and a generous grating of smoked black pepper. ABSOLUTE HEAVEN!
The next thing I knew, there was a tomato added to the salad, then Fresh Herb Panna Cotta, then fresh sage, then an apple cider vinaigrette. The final grace note was a few tiny violas from the herb garden. I think Ellen would have liked that.
Indian Summer Tomato, Orange & Sweet Onion Salad
If there is a prettier salad in the world, I haven’t seen it. If there is a more refreshing, surprising salad in the world, I haven’t eaten it.
Apple Cider Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons Lopez Island Farm Apple Cider Syrup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
? teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
2 medium, ripe tomatoes
2 medium, juicy oranges
1 medium Walla Walla Sweet or Vidalia onion, peeled
finely grated zest of 1 orange
small handful fresh sage leaves, slivered lengthwise
10 Calamata olives, pitted, and quartered lengthwise
black pepper in a pepper grinder
unsprayed violas from the garden, optional
- Prepare Fresh Herb Panna Cotta. Reserve.
- To prepare the vinaigrette, in a glass measuring cup with a pouring spout, whisk together the apple cider syrup, vinegar, garlic, and salt. Then whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsion. Reserve.
- To prepare the salad, using a very sharp knife, cut the tomatoes into ¼-inch slices. Save the end pieces for another use.
- Peel the oranges, and then cut off one end so each orange sits level on the cutting board. Now, using a very sharp knife, follow the curve of the orange as you slice off the outside membrane.
- After the membrane is completely removed, slice the oranges into ¼-inch thick slices. Save the end pieces for another use.
- Using a mandolin cutter or very sharp knife, slice the onion as thinly as possible while still retaining the shape of each slice.
- Around the curved edge of 2 serving plates alternate a slice of tomato, slice of onion, and slice of orange, beginning and ending with tomato. Altogether you will use 4 slices of tomato and 3 slices each of orange and onion per salad.
- Whisk to emulsify and then drizzle Apple Cider Vinaigrette on the open plate of each salad.
- Place an oval scoop of the Fresh Herb Panna Cotta in the center of each plate.
- Distribute orange zest, slivered sage leaves, and olives over each salad.
- Grind black pepper over the top, add a few violas if desired, and serve immediately.
Makes 2 salads.