Seeing red in market's orange display

Citrus fruit's flesh, flavor stand out

February 05, 2003|By Elinor Klivans | Elinor Klivans,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Blood oranges stand out in the citrus crowd. We expect any orange to have a sweet orange taste, but blood oranges have a complex flavor with subtle raspberry and strawberry overtones.

Their thin skin varies from orange to blushed with red and peels off easily from the seedless flesh. My supermarket makes a display of several cut blood oranges so shoppers can appreciate their unique color, which can range from deep pink to crimson to dark burgundy.

Although Europeans have been enjoying the rosy-colored juice and bright-red flesh of blood oranges for several hundred years, the oranges are a recent addition to our produce bins.

These oranges have been grown commercially in the United States for only about 15 years. Most of them come from California's Central Valley. You will usually see the word moro printed on the little stickers found on each orange. It is this moro variety of blood orange, with its consistent deep-burgundy color, that seems to adapt well to our growing conditions.

The origins of blood oranges are obscure. The most common story is that the oranges first appeared in Sicily about 400 years ago. They were a spontaneous mutation from the sweet orange trees that already grew there. Malta has also been named as a place of origin. But another possibility cites an eighth-century Chinese poem that mentions small scarlet oranges growing in the sweet air of Kiang-Nan. Whatever their beginnings, blood oranges have been around for a long time and have finally traveled to our shores.

In season from mid-December to late April, blood oranges can brighten tables all winter long. Look for oranges that feel firm. Those are the ones that will be full of juice. Check the skin to see that it is free of soft spots, blemishes or mold. Fresh blood oranges can be kept in a cool room for up to one week or in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Anthocyanin, the red pigment that gives deciduous leaves their autumn colors, is what produces the red flesh in blood oranges. It sounds simple to just plant a tree where oranges usually grow, but the backyard gardener who tries to grow blood oranges may be in for a surprise.

There are specific weather factors that must come into play to produce the desirable red color. Reddening is only brought on by cold night temperatures followed by milder days. Blood oranges lacking these conditions lose their red color and may be pale pink or even revert back to orange. Earlier in the growth cycle, the sweet flavor is produced if they are exposed to warm summer temperatures and plenty of sunshine.

Use blood oranges as you would any orange. The juice works well in sauces, for sorbet or for making a rosy orange curd. Fresh orange slices or segments make a stunning topping for a tart and can add unexpected color to a green salad or fruit salad. A glass of the rosy juice really wakes up a weekday breakfast or makes a dramatic mixer with champagne or sparkling water. One orange yields about 1/4 cup of juice.

Elinor Klivans is a food writer and author of "Fearless Baking: Over 100 Recipes Anyone Can Make" (Simon & Schuster, 2001, $30).

Almond and Blood Orange Tart

Serves 8

ALMOND CRUST:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cake flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) soft unsalted butter

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup ground blanched almonds

1 large egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

ALMOND FILLING:

1 cup (4 ounces) blanched almonds

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 large eggs

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) soft unsalted butter

7 blood oranges

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom of a 9-inch diameter metal tart pan with a removable bottom.

For the crust: Sift both flours and the salt into a medium bowl. Set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until it looks smooth and creamy.

Mix in the ground almonds. Mix in the egg yolk and almond extract until blended. On low speed add the flour mixture, beating just until it is incorporated and the dough holds together. Gather the dough into a ball and flatten it into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 40 minutes or until the dough is firm.

Put the dough between 2 large pieces of wax paper and roll it to an 11-inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Remove the top piece of wax paper. Place dough side down in the prepared pan and press the dough into the pan. Fold in any overhang to form slightly thickened sides 1/4 inch thick. Use dough scraps to patch any cracks in the dough. Cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.

For the filling: In a food processor, process the almonds, sugar, salt, vanilla, almond extract and eggs until a thick mixture forms, about 1 minute. Add the soft butter and process until it is incorporated. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the filling into the chilled crust, spreading it evenly. Place the filled tart pan on a baking sheet, so it is easy to move around.

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