blood-orange and honey curd

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This curd will give you a Turner sky in a jar…………

Blood-orange season offers a licence to gorge, a short period of time to enjoy the brightest of fruits in the depths of winter. Yesterday I realised that I have eaten nearly a crate-full of Taroccos in just three days, bought from my local market and most of them eaten as they are, split into quarters or sprinkled with either salt, celery-salt or a little chipotle dust to enhance their natural sweet-savoriness. I’m not alone in my love of salted blood-oranges either; read Rachel Roddy’s sensory evocation of oranges, eaten closer to their olive-grove home. Some of my oranges went into a blood-orange and pomelo sticky crunch cake and I re-visited last years fennel and blood-orange salad. Yet more were sliced and sprinkled with chipotle, achiote and salt then chucked into a roasting dish full of chicken thighs. The sturdy dark-meat of this part of the bird stands up to the most boisterous of flavours and my hands have taken on a semi-permanent orange hue.

Waitrose has re-branded them ‘blush oranges’, which sounds like something Hyacinth Bouquet might dream up and I hate it. Their blurb makes no mention of the dreaded B word and although they specify Sicily as country of origin, no more information is offered but they are Taroccos as many imported bloods seems to be. That red-stained flesh contains shed-loads of anthocyanin antidioxidants and one of the highest Vitamin C levels, compared to their peers. It’s an easy fruit to handle too, with thin and easy to peel skin, very little pith and what pith there is lacks the tongue-drying bitterness of other citrus fruits.

I already have a jar of Scarlett & Mustards orange curd in the fridge alongside their blackcurrant and star anise but after reading Melissa Clark’s recipe for blood orange olive-oil cake from her book In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite, where she mentions making a compote of blood-orange and honey to accompany it, I thought why not make some blood-orange and honey curd?

This recipe gives you a mellifluous curd, and ‘mellifluous’ couldn’t be more apt a description with its late Middle English and Latin root, [mel= honey and flu= to flow]. The honey adds a dulcet tone to the citrus-salt of the fruit, rounding it out through the labours of the bee, a creature defined by the first Spanish dictionary, back in 1611, as “the symbol of the curious, who gather sentences as the bee gathers flowers, making a work smooth and sweet.”

Clark’s little compote is simple: she takes three oranges and supremes them then drizzles in 1-2 teaspoons of honey and leaves the mixture to infuse but my curd involves a little more work- you will need to stand and cosset it a little as it cooks. It will reward you by keeping for a week in the fridge although my batch went in two days: I stirred the curd into ice-cream, used it to sandwich bitter-chocolate cookies and made a French toast hybrid by cutting brioche into fingers, frying them in a pan until golden and slightly caught on the edges then spreading them with a thin layer of curd. Or go Sicilian-luxe by sandwiching gelato in a brioche bun whose cut sides have been spread with curd first. You might choose to use it as a rich filling for a Pav which is also a useful way to use up the left-over egg-whites, (to make the meringues, here’s Nigella’s meringue recipe) give  cannelles a lovely citrus-sauced heart or sandwich together a sponge layer-cake. I imagine it’d be great dolloped onto your breakfast yoghurt or oatmeal too. It makes a good sauce to add interest to tiny friands and plain madeleines- thin it down a little with another squeeze of juice first. Stirred into cheesecake batter it not only adds tartness and depth, but also a beautifully rosy pink-red colour. So so versatile, like all curds are.

When a recipe is this simple, it really helps if you can try to find the very best ingredients you can: free-range eggs with golden-orange yolks, good unsalted butter of palest cream and honey with a light floral scent will all give your curd a superlative flavour and looks. However, it will still be a joyous thing to eat even if you use supermarket basic ingredients, so don’t worry if that’s all you have. This curd will give you a Turner sky in a jar.

Recipe for blood-orange and honey curd. 

You will need:

4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, sliced into little pieces / 60ml of honey (I use the set kind and I’d encourage you to avoid the very strong flavours: the chestnut, lavender, rosemary varieties are not what you want here) / 4 large egg yolks / 2 large whole eggs / 240ml of fresh blood-orange juice from unwaxed and then zested fruits (around 4-6 oranges) / 1 tablespoon of very finely grated blood-orange zest

Method

Take a medium bowl and cream the butter and honey inside it until it is fluffy and the butter is pale and creamy then marvel at the gorgeous colour,smell and texture. Break the whole egg and egg yolks into a jug and beat until foamy then stir the eggs into the honey/butter mixture slowly until they are incorporated. Take your time over this: add them slowly and ensure they are fully incorporated before pouring in more egg. You don’t want it to go all grainy. Now add the fresh blood-orange juice (again, very carefully) and when you have folded this in, pour the mixture into a medium-sized and non-reactive saucepan.

You will need to cook this over a low-medium heat on the stove-top and stir constantly with a broad wooden spoon as you do so. What you are looking for is the point at which the mixture becomes thickened, creamy and almost jelly-like: watch for when it clots and then pulls away from the sides of the pan as you cut through from one side of the pan to the other with your wooden spoon. The mixture will arrive at this point quite suddenly so now is not the time to check your phone or glance at the newspaper. It’s a culinary high-wire act because you don’t want it to boil, you need to keep it on the edge of doing so and it will want to boil so stay close. Just before it breaks into that boil, when it is beginning to splutter and putter at you, remove the pan from the stove-top heat. You will know it is done because the curd will leave a clear trail on the back of the wooden spoon. It will be volcanically hot and it WILL stick to your skin if you splash it on you so be careful.

Now you’ve removed it from the heat, stir in the citrus zest. As you do so, lean over and breathe in the dizzying scent of oranges that will rise from the pan. Take a moment to enjoy this. Your curd is done. Now all you have to do is pour it into whatever pretty jar or pot you have set aside. That pot will have already been washed in boiling water and left to air-dry, or whatever method you choose to sterilise them. (If you decide to omit this stage and just wash those jars, the curd will keep for around 5 days in the fridge.) When you have decanted all your curd, let it cool in the jars until it is stone cold and then you can screw on the lids. Store it in the fridge and eat it swiftly. This is not a long-life food once that jar is opened, just as the blood-orange is with us for a few short weeks.

 

 

A bright blood orange, citrus and fennel winter salad

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Along with rhubarb, blood oranges provide us with a neon bright shot of fruit in the crepuscular months of winter, their orange flesh mottled and marbled with the darkest of ruby reds. Their exterior gives no clue to the tie dyed extravaganza going on within, being merely a slightly more intense shade of the orange peel we expect. The taste of the flesh inside though, is complex, overlaid with bright raspberry tones as if a bowl of raspberries had been drenched with an affogato of best quality orange juice. Neither is that glorious colour subdued by cooking.

The three varieties originate from Italy and Spain, Sanguinelli from the latter and Moro and Tarocco from Italy and come from trees with a tendency to be alternate bearing, meaning that one year the crop will be heavy with smaller fruit and the next year sees lighter fruit yields but bigger and heavier in flesh and juice. The Moro is the most berry like in flavour whilst the Tarocco has a slight Seville orange like spiced bitterness to it, a more adult flavour that marries beautifully with chocolate. They are still relatively unused in the UK although in the Mediterranean region almost a third of the oranges consumed are blood oranges. Fruit carts in local markets are piled high, some of the fruit cut in half to show their brilliant hue and provide assurances to the shoppers. Small glasses of juice are ordered and drunk appreciatively, chased down by an expresso. The Sicilians serve a breakfast brioche stuffed with blood orange gelato and granita, there are cakes made with polenta, suffused with a syrup made from their juices and a spectacular duck a la orange can be produced using them instead of navel oranges.

In England we are seeing our traditional lemon curd and marmalades remade with blood oranges and preserves company Scarlet & Mustard sell them in season. Alongside being stocked in stores nationally, they often take a stall at our local farmers markets and these brim over with pyramids of stout little jars full of fruit curds and tall bottles of salad dressings, both made with orange all year round and blood oranges when in season. Take the lid off the curd and within seconds, enjoy its sharp, blowsy scent which compliments rather than competes with other festive foods- thankfully the aromas of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and rich dried fruit plus the low and slow game stews which tend to dominate a kitchen in December and January are the natural bedfellow to the orange.

For this salad I have used the Moro and you will need to use a mandolin or very sharp knife to cut the fennel as thinly as possible. The citrus will collapse if you try to slice it with the mandolin so use a knife instead. I would serve this salad with its natural bed fellow, thin bloodied and rare slices of beef although it stands happily alone, served with decent bread. A handful of fleshy and ferrous olives or a smear of tapenade on your bread wouldn’t taste amiss either and I think duck would work too. Visually it is a feast of Klimt like jewel coloured circles, almost too pretty to eat.

Blood orange & fennel salad

1 thinly sliced bulb of fennel- it must be super fresh as this salad is all about the crunch

1/2 of a red onion, sliced thinly (and I have made this with a banana shallot too)

2 blood oranges, seeds, peel & pith removed, thinly sliced

2 lemons (get Meyer from Tescos or a good local store if you can), remove seeds, peel & pith, slice thinly.

1 tbsp lemon juice (meyer or standard lemon)

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (choose one that is not too grassy or peppery as its too heavy) or go for a rapeseed if you want a more neutral carrier

salt & pepper

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Toss the slices of onion, the fennel, the lemon in the lemon juice and add salt and pepper to season. Then add the olive oil. Add the blood orange slices last of all and carefully (and lightly) mix them in so they don’t bleed all over the rest of the salad. Eat, preferably with some rare beef or duck.

Serve.

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