Lately I've been enjoying a love affair with orange zest – in the kitchen, that is.
I recently added a bit to my chocolate chip cookie dough to give the cookies a fruity perfume. I scraped some into a stew of chicken with prunes and olives to bring up the flavors. And I stirred a heaping teaspoon into a yogurt-muesli breakfast to bring vitality to an otherwise sleepy concoction.
I didn't start using zest regularly in my cooking until I was introduced to the micro-planer, a long ruler-shaped strip of aluminum that is the cook's version of a carpenter's rasp. This handy, inexpensive tool makes child's play of grating citrus zest – and hard cheeses and fresh ginger, for that matter.
It's easiest to zest an orange before peeling, but since I can't seem to ever get enough of the stuff, I save the peel whenever I eat an orange, wrap it in plastic and try not to lose it in the depths of the refrigerator. The peel remains "zestable" for at least three days.
Next time you see navel oranges in the market, pick up a few and try this interesting side salad, adapted from my vegan cookbook, Lorna Sass' Complete Vegetarian Kitchen. The salad celebrates both the zest and the juicy fruit.
Remove the stringy stalks of the fennel and reserve them for stock. Chop any fennel fronds and set them aside. Thinly slice the fennel bulbs.
Zest the oranges with a micro-planer or the finest side of a box grater. Reserve the zest. Peel the oranges and remove any pith. With a serrated knife, thinly slice the oranges crosswise.
Arrange the radicchio on a platter or four salad plates. Fan out the orange and fennel slices in an attractive pattern on top. Sprinkle on the walnuts and chopped fennel fronds.
In a small bowl or jar, combine the oil, vinegar, salt, and zest. Stir or shake well. Taste and add more salt, if you wish. Drizzle over the salad just before serving.
Recipe copyright, Lorna Sass, 2008