I learned this salad about halfway through my college years. I lived in Cabot House at Harvard, where the residential quarters are divided into 12 houses, each with a professor in charge, and a number of graduate students and other scholars kicking around to keep an eye on the undergraduates. The professor in charge of our house was a faculty member who had a remarkable wife, a phenomenal cook, a brilliant host, and a lively spirit.
Though I had grown up in a house where we fed every soul who walked through the door, Emanuela taught me a lot about the military-drill precision involved in preparing for entertaining. While she had a genius for flavors, textures, and more than anything, technique, she also innately understood when things had to be ready and how to get them ready. Just as hordes of college students and faculty would push their way through the door, platters and bowls arranged themselves flawlessly on the table. There was never any stress involved; even though people overuse the word “effortless” in this sense, she really made it all seem effortless. Suddenly we would all be tamed, civilized. Perching on chairs, eating carefully, listening to the speaker who was invited, mulling the topic. Civilization.
Civilization; that is what this salad represents, and it charmed me from the beginning. Before college, I had never eaten or prepared an avocado. And we certainly never used a knife to take the skin off of an orange, creating glistening, jewel-like slices. Emanuela would toss this with giant tubes of pasta for a salad, dousing it in just the right amount of olive oil. These days, I leave off the pasta and serve it on its own. I recently made it for a big party and loved the proportions of it on the platter. If you’d like to be the genius of your next party, give it a shot. It will all seem so effortless, and civilized.
Orange + avocado salad
This is scaled for a big crowd on a huge platter. You can bring it all the way back to 1 avocado and 1 orange.
- 10 ripe Haas avocados
- 10 juicy navel oranges
- 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
- extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
- fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt for sprinkling
1. Peel the avocados and cut into 6 to 8 lengthwise slices. Use a sharp knife to take the skin and pith off of the oranges. First, slice off each end, then set up on one of the flat ends and cut with the knife just under the pith, rotating the orange and removing skin and pitch in sections. Flip to the other flat end and remove remaining pith with your knife. Slice in half lengthwise and remove the center of the orange. Cut each orange into 8 or so slices. Place slices in a bowl as you go. Collect up all the juices from the cutting process and reserve.
2. Arrange orange and avocado slices in alternate on a large platter, in concentric circles or however you like. Drizzle all the juice from the orange over the platter, making sure avocados are covered. Sprinkle onion over, and drizzle olive oil over. Sprinkle with just a little Maldon salt or fleur de sel. Taste. Adjust seasoning. Serve.