Blood Orange Season

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The new seasons blood oranges have arrived, they’ve been trickling into the shops ever since Christmas – such joy. I long for their delightful fresh taste after the rich food of the festive season. Their sweet, tart flavour flits across the tongue and brightens so many of my February dishes. The season is short, just like the marmalade oranges from Seville and Malaga, but these oranges with their rose blushed rind and red tinted flesh, come from Sicily, Spain and Malta. They thrive in Mediterranean climates and are now grown widely in Florida, Texas and Arizona in the U.S. I love the way they come wrapped in tissue paper like all oranges used to years ago.

Every time I peel or slice a blood orange, it’s a surprise. . . Will the flesh be flecked with red or will it be pale crimson or a deep magenta? Depends on the type, I now know that there are three main varieties and several crosses. From Sicily, Moro with a warm red blush on the rind, and Tarocco, the most colourful of all comes also from Sicily but from a different area. Sanguinello, native to Spain is the sweetest and continues to fruit into May. I wondered how blood oranges came about, well apparently Anthocyanin is the polyphenol responsible for the colour and although it’s also in many fruit and flowers its unusual in citrus fruit.

Chrysanthemin, the main component, is rich in antioxidants and is associated with improved cardio vascular health, type 2 diabetes and obesity. They are a super-rich source of vitamin C but also contain fibre, vitamin A, folate and potassium.

What’s not to like about a fruit that combines the nutrients of fruits and berries in one delicious package.

Let’s start with breakfast – I love a glass of OJ, freshly squeezed, moments earlier but rosy blood orange juice is even more special.

When I say freshly squeezed juice I don’t mean a container from the supermarket or a bottle labelled freshly squeezed. There’s the world of difference in flavour and nutrients and the supermarket version may well have added sugar and several other stabilizers and additives. Treat yourself to an electric citrus juicer, they are relatively inexpensive and are likely to last over a decade in a domestic situation. Even small children can learn to squeeze their own juice, a brilliant way to ward off winter colds and flus. (Dry the peels, they make brilliant firelighters).

We love to use the juice for homemade lemonade, sodas, spritzers or topped up with prosecco to make a zingy blood orange mimosa. Blood orange juice makes brilliant sorbets or granita on its own or posh it up with a dash of Campari.

Blood orange marmalade is also gorgeous as is blood orange curd.

We use them in a variety of starters & winter salads, It marries deliciously with shaved fennel, mozzarella, toasted nuts, fresh mint. . . .

In fact one of my favourite winter desserts is a simple blood orange salad with frosted mint leaves or even fresh mint leaves if you don’t have the time to frost them. Peel and segment them into a February citrus fruit salad to add extra glam to a mix of oranges, ruby grapefruit, mandarins, clementines, tangerines and kumquats. Now there’s a splendid way to cleanse the palate and cut through the richness of a delicious roast duck supper. I’ll also include a recipe for upside down blood orange tart which I know you’re going to love.

Good to know, blood oranges freeze brilliantly and can be used for marmalade.

Campari and Blood Orange Granita

An irresistible and deliciously non-fattening appetizer. Of course it can be made with juicy oranges any time of the year, but look out for blood oranges from January to March. A non-alcoholic version with blood orange juice alone is also perfectly delicious, as is a Campari and Blood Orange Fizz –  Put a scoop of granite into a tall champagne glass, top up with prosecco or cava.

Serves 10 approximately

1 litre (13/4 pints) blood orange juice or a mixture of blood oranges and ordinary oranges

125ml (4fl oz) Campari

350g (12oz) caster sugar

1 egg white, optional

To decorate

1-2 blood oranges, segmented

Mint leaves

Mix the freshly squeezed orange juice with the sugar and Campari. Stir and taste and add more sugar if necessary. Make the granita in one of the following ways:

1. Pour the mixture into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezer or the freezing compartment of a refrigerator. After about 4-5 hours when the mixture is semi-frozen, remove from the freezer and whisk until smooth; then return to the freezer. Whisk again.

Top Tip: For a lighter texture when almost frozen fold in one stiffly-beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.

2. If you have a food processor, simply freeze the mixture completely in a stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whiz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly-beaten egg white, whiz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl and freeze again until needed.

3. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetière and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed. This method produces a less granular texture which might be called a sorbet rather than a granita.

To serve

Scoop out the granita and serve just as it is in chilled cocktail glasses, white bowls or plates, or garnished with blood orange segments and fresh mint leaves.

Watercress, Blood Orange, Medjool Date and West Cork Mozzarella Salad with Pistachio Nuts

The rich West Cork pasture that the buffalos feed on gives the Mozzarella its quintessentially Irish taste.

A few beautiful fresh ingredients put together simply make an irresistible starter.

Serves 4

2-3 balls of fresh Irish Mozzarella

2 blood oranges

a bunch of fresh watercress

4 Medjool dates, stoned and quartered lengthways

2-3 tablespoons Irish honey

a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

some coarsely ground black pepper

50g (2oz) pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

With a sharp knife remove the peel and pith from the blood oranges, cut one into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices and segment the other.

Just before serving, scatter a few watercress leaves over the base of each plate, slice or tear some mozzarella over the top.  Tuck a few orange slices/segments here and there in between the watercress, mozzarella and dates.   Drizzle with honey and really good extra virgin olive oil.  Scatter with pistachio nuts. Finally add a little coarsely ground fresh black pepper and serve.

Roast Chicken Salad with Fennel, Blood Orange and Pistachio

Serves 8

1 freshly roasted organic chicken

3-4 blood oranges depending on size

2-3 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and fronds reserved

2 tablespoons of Forum red wine vinegar

6 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

1-2 teaspoons honey

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 little Gem lettuce

2 good fistfuls of watercress and rocket leaves

3 tablespoons shelled pistachios, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Rub the breast and legs of the chicken with soft butter, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Insert a spring of thyme or tarragon into the cavity, Transfer to a roasting tin and cook in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 hours depending on size.

Meanwhile, segment the oranges over a bowl and save all the juices as well. 

Trim the fennel fronds and save until later.  Cut the fennel bulbs in half lengthways and slice very thinly.  Add to the oranges in the bowl.  Whisk the vinegar, oil and honey together, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and pour over the oranges and fennel, toss gently.  

Split the little Gem lettuces in half and arrange around a serving plate.  Tuck some watercress and rocket leaves in between the lettuce. Top with the blood orange and fennel salad.  Carve the chicken and the crisp skin into nice little chunky wedges and arrange on top.  Coarsely chop some of the fennel fronds and scatter evenly over the salad with the pistachio nuts.

Blood Orange Salad with Frosted Mint Leaves

Serves 4 – 6

4 Blood Oranges (preferably Sanguinello)

Castor sugar

Mint leaves

Frosted Mint Leaves

Fresh Mint Leaves

Beaten egg white

Castor sugar

Peel the oranges with a serrated knife so as to remove all the outer membrane as well as the peel and pith.

Slice the oranges into ¼ rounds and arrange, overlapping on a plate. Sprinkle with castor sugar, the amount will vary depending on the sweetness of the blood orange.

Chop the mint, sprinkle over the blood orange slices, toss gently, allow to sit for 15 minutes or more. Decorate with frosted mint leaves.


Frosted Mint Leaves

Whizz the egg white gently, just enough to break it up. Using a fine paint brush, brush each leaf on both sides with the egg white. Sprinkle both sides with dry castor sugar and allow to dry out on a sheet of parchment paper. Allow to dry out for several hours. Store in a sealed glass jar.

Upside Down Blood Orange Cake

Serves 8

270g(9 ½ oz) butter

130g (4½ oz) pale brown sugar

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3-4 medium sized blood oranges,

125g (4 ½oz) medium cornmeal

65g (2½ oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking Powder

Pinch of salt

200g (7oz) castor sugar

4 large organic eggs

Scant 75mls (3floz) sour cream or crème fraiche

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 x 10” sauté or frying pan or 9 inch cake tin (not one with a  removable base) greased. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) degrees.

Melt 45g (1 ½ oz) of butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Add the soft brown sugar and lemon juice; stir until the sugar melts. Scrape the mixture into the base of the greased tin.

Grate ½ teaspoon blood orange zest. Cut away the rind and all the pith. Slice each orange, crossways into ¼ inch thick rounds. Flick out the seeds. Arrange the orange slices on top of the brown sugar mixture in a single close layer.

Whisk together, the orange zest, cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Cream together the remaining butter with the castor sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, add the sour cream and the vanilla extract then fold in the dry ingredients. Spread evenly over the orange slices in the tin.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cake is fully cooked and a and golden brown, approx. 50 – 60 mins.

Cool in the tin for 10 – 15 minutes. Loosened around the edges with a knife and invert onto a plate so the slightly caramelized orange slices are on top. Serve warm or at room temperature with slightly whipped cream

Giorgio Locatelli’s, Sicilian Orange and chocolate cake

from ‘Made at Home’

This is a very simple cake. You can use any really juicy oranges, but Sicily is famous for its blood oranges, which are planted mainly over the plain of Catania and on the slopes of Mount Etna, so if you can find blood oranges in season this cake is even better. Most Sicilian orange cakes are glazed with orange syrup, but I really like the extra dimension that comes from covering it with a crisp casing of dark chocolate.

Makes 1 x 24cm Cake

250g softened unsalted butter cut into cubes, plus a little extra for greasing the tin.

250g caster sugar

Zest of 5 oranges or blood oranges (preferably Sicilian)

5 organic eggs

250g self-raising flour sifted

For the glaze

200g dark chocolate (we use 62% Valrhona)

150ml whipping cream

20g liquid glucose

Preheat the oven to 160 ˚c / gas mark 3

Grease a 24cm round cake tin, with a removable base, with a little butter and line with baking paper.

In a bowl using a wooden spoon, or in a food processor, cream the butter, sugar and orange zest in a bowl until pale and fluffy.

Whisk the eggs in one by one, then fold in the flour a little at a time, very gently until it is all incorporated

Spoon into the cake tin and bake in the preheated oven for 40 mins, until golden and springy on top

Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Better still put it in the fridge once it has cooled down, so that when you cover it with the chocolate glaze it will set really quickly.

To make the glaze, have pieces of chocolate ready in a bowl. Pour the cream and glucose into a pan and bring to the boil, then take off the heat and whisk into the chocolate

Allow to cool for about 15 minutes until just warm enough to touch (if you have a kitchen thermometer it should be 35 ˚c)

Spread over the top and sides of the cake with a spatula

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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