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for the love of blood oranges

Blood oranges in half on a blue and white plate.

Apparently a few shops have been renaming blood oranges ‘blush’ oranges. Some of us seem to find the word ‘blood’ upsetting. ‘Blush’ is a lovely word, but it suggests shyness and that’s not what blood oranges are about. That crimson juice is not reserved. It’s bright, and it’s sharp.

Looking at them, you don’t know what lies within. The skin of a blood orange gives nothing away. It can look like a regular orange, glowing but unremarkable. It can be flecked with crimson. It can be so dark it’s almost red. But the colour of the flesh is a secret, until they are cut open. If you’re lucky it really will be the colour of blood, a deep dark red that makes you think of wine and bull fights. Just as lovely – though giving less wonderfully coloured juice – you can find orange flesh threaded with flashes of scarlet. Pink flesh, almost the colour of that of ruby grapefruits, is the least thrilling, though still delicious. This variety of shades means it’s a good idea to shop for blood oranges in more than one place, that way you might achieve a multi-hued haul. And that’s a good thing. A selection of colours makes the most beautiful salad, either in a savoury dish with shaved red onions and watercress or fennel, or in which the orange slices bathe in a sugar syrup flavoured with orange flower water, honey or rosemary.

Buying blood oranges is like buying the most exquisite clothes. They’re rare. They require respect. You wouldn’t don a perfectly cut Dior dress and then stick an old coat over it. So it is with blood oranges, your approach should be clean, restrained, simple. Sorbets and glassy granitas, elegant fruit desserts (try adding segments to a dish of baked rhubarb, for example), salads, juices and classy cocktails are the way to go. A glass of cold blood orange juice with a dash of orange flower water is a poetic way to start the day, or – perhaps a little later on – have a prosecco and BOJ. Or try a not-to-be-mucked-about-with combo of BOJ, vodka and Cointreau, shaken over ice.

I offer three recipes: a sorbet (blood orange and Campari is a match made in heaven); a fish dish (blood oranges are tarter than regular oranges so work well with fish); a chicken dish that is a bit Sicilian (though not authentic). For something very different I’m also giving a link to a recipe from Stevie Parle, remarkable chef and owner of the Dock Kitchen in London. His deep-fried slices of blood orange with an anchovy relish is certainly something a Sicilian would enjoy.

I like to think that only Sicily and Spain grow blood oranges; the colour and the assertive juice makes it a fruit you identify with passion, crimes of honour, unbearably hot days… You can imagine a brooding sevillano falling in love with a girl because of the way she eats a blood orange. But this is romance; they’re now grown in California, too.

Every so often I have to chastise myself for caring about how food tastes when the most important thing is that everyone can eat it. About 10 years ago I was wandering around Palermo, away from the tourist areas and the sensual overload that is the Vucciria market, when I saw an old woman sitting in a sagging armchair. It was in the middle of a small, lock-up garage, the front open to the street, but it looked as if she lived there. She was surrounded by junk, bits of machinery, torn cardboard boxes. The only colour was from the pile of crimson peel scattered on the floor. Hungry – oblivious of my presence and anything else that was going on – she was eating blood oranges.

Blood orange and Campari sorbet

Serves 6

blood orange sorbet in a crystal bowl on a white table cloth with a white ceramic teaspoon.200g (7oz) granulated sugar

finely grated zest of 1 blood orange

535ml (19fl oz) blood orange juice

juice of ½ lemon

4 tbsp Campari

1. Pour 200ml (7fl oz) of water into a saucepan and add the sugar. Place over a medium heat, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. Add the zest and both juices and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and leave to cool. Strain.

2. Add the Campari and put the liquid into an ice-cream maker to churn, or pour into a broad shallow freezerproof container and put in the freezer. If you choose the latter method, when the bits round the outside have become firm, mix everything up together again with a fork. Do this three or four times during the freezing process, so that you break up the crystals to ensure a smooth sorbet. If you don’t want to keep doing it by hand you can put it in the food processor and whizz briefly, but I can never be bothered with the washing up this entails. If you have used an ice-cream machine, put the sorbet into a container, cover and store in the freezer.

Chicken with marsala, green olives and blood oranges

Serves 4

blood oranges, chicken and thyme1 tbsp olive oil

1 chicken, jointed into 8

salt and pepper

2 small red onions, peeled and cut into crescent moon-shaped slices

100ml (3½fl oz) dry marsala

juice of 1 blood orange

8 sprigs of thyme

3 tbsp green olives

2 blood oranges, prepared as for the red mullet recipe above

caster sugar, to sprinkle

1. Heat the olive oil in a broad, shallow casserole in which the chicken joints can lie in a single layer (I use a cast-iron pan with a lid, 32cm in diameter). Brown the chicken over a medium–high heat on both sides, skin-side first. Be careful not to turn the chicken over before it comes away easily from the pan, otherwise you will tear the skin.

2. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside. Drain off all but a couple of tbsp of the fat and add the onions. Cook over a medium-low heat until they begin to soften. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5.

3. Deglaze the pan with the marsala, stirring to scrape up all the flavour that’s stuck to the pan. Add the blood orange juice. Return the chicken – with any juices that have run out of it – to the pan. Season and add 6 sprigs of thyme.

4. Bring the liquid underneath the chicken to the boil then put the pan in the hot oven for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, add the olives and put the oranges over the chicken. They should stay out of the liquid. Sprinkle the orange slices with sugar.

5. Return to the oven for another 20 minutes. The juices under the chicken should have reduced, the orange slices have turned golden, even caramelized in patches, and the chicken be cooked through. Add the leaves of the remaining 2 sprigs of thyme to lift the flavour, carefully spooning some of the juices over them, then serve immediately.

Red mullet with Corfu garlic sauce and fennel and blood orange salad

Serves 6

For the sauce

50g (1¾oz) country bread, weighed without crusts

6 garlic cloves

½ tsp salt, plus more if needed

100g (3½oz) walnuts, toasted

200ml (7fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

2-3 tbsp red wine vinegar

pepper

For the salad

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed

4 tbsp blood orange juice

1 tsp honey

4 blood oranges

2 fennel bulbs

½ small red onion, sliced wafer-thin

about 24 good-quality black olives

For the fish

6 red mullet, about 225g (8oz) each, scaled and gutted

6 sprigs of rosemary, each torn into smaller lengths

8 tbsp olive oil

1. To make the garlic sauce, tear the bread into a bowl and sprinkle it with 3½ tbsp of cold water. Leave to soak until the bread feels softish. Put the garlic and salt into a mortar and crush it; the salt acts as an abrasive so it’s quite easy. Squeeze out the water from the bread and add that to the mortar. Grind it in, then add the nuts and pulverize them. Add the olive oil, pounding as you do so, then add the wine vinegar to taste, some more salt if you need it, and some pepper. You can do all the above in a food processor but it doesn’t produce such a good texture. If the mixture seems too thick, add hot water and mix it in until you have the texture you want (it can be really thick, or it can be like tahini; adjust the seasoning as you thin the mixture). Set aside until you want to serve.

2. For the salad dressing, mix the olive oil, blood orange juice, honey and some seasoning together and set aside (taste to check for acidity; you may need to add more oil because you will be using this to dress acidic ingredients). Slice the ends off the oranges so they are flat top and bottom. Set each on one of its bases and, with a very sharp, small knife, cut the peel and the pith from the fruit in strips, working from top to bottom all the way round. Working over a bowl, take each piece of fruit and cut out the segments by slicing alongside each piece, just between the segment and the membrane. Lever each piece out. Set aside while you cook the fish.

3. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Make three slashes in both sides of each fish, cutting into the flesh but not right through to the bone. Put little sprigs of rosemary into each of these slashes. Rub 6 tbsp of the olive oil all over the fish (inside as well) and season, too. Bash the rest of the rosemary with a rolling pin (just to bruise it) then put into a roasting tin that will hold all the mullet in a single layer. You just want to make a little bed for them. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and put the fish on top. Roast in the hot oven for 12 minutes.

4. Trim the fennel bulbs, reserving any feathery bits, and remove any tough outer leaves. Quarter each bulb lengthways and cut out the cores. Slice the fennel really finely (if you have a mandolin, use that) and throw it into the dressing. Finely chop the feathery bits and add those along with the onion and olives, and toss. Lay the orange segments on top and serve with the fish and the sauce.

Stevie Parle’s Deep-fried blood oranges with anchovies and rosemary

Find this recipe here.

Thanks to Keiko Oikawa for the photos.

Tags: blood orange and Campari sorbet, blood orange cocktails, blood orange juice, blood orange recipes, blood oranges, Campari, chicken with marsala and blood oranges, diana henry, diana henry blood oranges, diana henry recipes, dock kitchen, oranges, Stevie Parle

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