Oranges Beat Mid Winter Blues

January arrived like a cold wet blanket amid still dark winter days. Remedy: lift mood and outlook and set to in kitchen for several hours with large bag or oranges from hot sunny place and proceed to juice, cut, slice and stir, over hot pan. My pan full, bubbled orange with sunshine and bitter sweetness and vapours hot, wafted around me. Inhale deeply from the marmalade cloud. Bliss. And later: half a dozen jars of zingy sunshine marmalade. Feeling much better. Continue reading

Short, Sharp and Sweet

Until now, the only other time I made lemon curd was back in Mrs Clarke’s domestic science lesson, I was thirteen. But, only after we had learned to poach an egg, whisk up a egg mayonnaise from scratch, knock up a good firm but not too firm egg custard, and finally create the pièce de résistance: a béchamel sauce with added cheese poured over boiled eggs cut in half lengthways et voilà: Eggs Mornay. All that French influence and fancy cooking was an eye opener to my mum back in the 60s, when every Wednesday afternoon I brought home the finished project. Looking back I am very grateful to Mrs Clarke, who not only looked a bit like Delia, she cooked like her. Mrs Clarke was very meticulous: everything measured, everything timed, everything perfect. The world was ordered and safe and backed up with handwritten notes in blue ink.

Mrs Clarke’s methods gave me the confidence to throw the rule book out the window and learn to trust my own palate and improvisation in the kitchen (more Nigella than Delia). Anyway, back to the home-made lemon curd which once graced the tea table of all the families I knew when I was growing up, then it seemed to go almost extinct and we all turned our noses up at it. Well I’m sure that’s not entirely true but it wasn’t very cool to eat it or make it and the last time I bought a jar it tasted like it would strip the enamel off my teeth in one go. I don’t think my grown up children have ever eaten it.

And then the world turned upside down and it became cool to be making jam and lemon curd and blackberry vinegar and wonderful stuff for my kitchen store cupboard and gifts for friends. These things have become luxuries and lovely indulgencies because the raw materials can be hard to find, time being one of them, and the fact that they only come in one season. (That said, I discovered it is possible to buy sloes on ebay and I can always buy fresh over blown blackberries all the year round in supermarkets, at a price but I don’t.)

Bergamot Lemon Curd 1The thing about lemons is that they are always in season, well we’ve been led to believe that is so thanks to the many ways fresh fruit and vegetables are made available to us all year round.

But then there are certain lemons, and certain oranges like the ones from Seville that really are only available in one short season, so that to me makes them rather special and highly desirable because they are prized for their particular and consistent flavour and then once they’re gone, they’re gone until, you hope, the next season. So I was very excited when I got hold of a supply of Bergamot lemons more often called Bergamot orange (so it goes a cross breed of bitter orange and lemon). Marmalade is at the top of the list and then out of nowhere I started thinking about making lemon curd.

The Bergamot lemon/orange gives Earl Grey it’s distinctive citrus flavour. The taste is not quite as sour as a lemon and is recommended for several orange deserts as I found during my searches on the Internet. I used Nigel Slater’s recipe for lemon curd as my starting point as this one has less sugar than a few others I checked, he also adds more yolk than egg white which made sense to me. The same web page suggests other things you can do with this wonderful, under-appreciated, lemony butter.

Bergamot Lemon Curd 2Bergamot Lemon Curd 

Zest & juice of 5 Bergamot lemons 100 g butter                                       3 eggs plus an extra yolk                    200 g castor sugar

Melt butter, sugar with zest and juice in a bowl over a pan of simmering hot water. Whisk lightly until sugar melted. Beat together the eggs and add to the mix, keep frisking until the consistency is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, lick to test sharpness, add another lemon if it’s not to your liking. I added the fifth lemon at this point. I was happy with the consistency after about 15 minutes. Let it cool a bit, then pour it into a measuring jug ready for pouring into two small jars. I had exactly half a litre which filled two jars plus a little left over for sampling.

Bergamot Lemon Curd 3 I placed the sample in the freezer for about half an hour to thicken up quickly. It was divine stirred into a bowl of plain yogurt. Top banana in fact. Seems like only a little output for a lot of ingredients but I prefer it that way, all the better to savour and keep fresh. Short, sharp and sweet just the way I like it.


A Right Royal Salad

Here’s another recipe on trial (ahead of publication) from Flo’s book Feeding Orchids to the Slugs.

I’m making Quinoa Salad. Of course I resist the correct pronunciation which is keen wah salad and say it the way I read it in English: Queen Noah Salad. I shall adopt this one as not only is it a rather special dish but the ingredients remind me of another exotic dish, the middle eastern pilaf which you’ll find versions of all over the world. Anyway on with Flo’s recipe.

Take: 2 cups of quinoa, quarter of a cup of unsalted, shelled pistachios, 1 medium red onion, slice thinly, two thirds cup of olive oil, grated zest and juice of 1 orange, half a cup of unsulphured dried apricots, chopped, 2 handfuls of rocket or baby spinach, salt and pepper.

Roast the pistachios to bring out their flavour, either in a medium oven or dry roast them in a frying pan for a few minutes. Roughly chop and set aside.

Zest and juice the orange. Slice the apricots and leave to soak in the orange juice.

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under flowing water until it runs clear. I cooked 2 cups of quinoa in 2 cups of boiling water and simmered until all the water had gone. I didn’t salt the water. You want to keep the tiny seed grains whole and avoid overcooking into a mush. It should be tender with a grainy texture, like couscous. Spread out on a baking tray and rake over with a fork to let the air dry it out as it cools down and stops cooking.

Fry the sliced red onion in olive oil, cook in a heavy based pan, until brown and a little crispy and caramelised. Leave in the pan with the oil to cool.

In a serving bowl combine quinoa, onion and oil from the pan and pistachio nuts. Drain the apricots, add to the salad. Use the juice to combine with the olive oil, zest and seasoning, mix well and pour over the salad. Add the rocket or spinach leaves to the salad or serve separately. The colour, texture and flavour of rocket combines well with the ingredients. I also think mint would complement the flavours. The orange juice and zest in this recipe is a masterstroke as it cuts through the sweetness of onion and apricot whilst bringing out the earthy flavour of the quinoa.

As with pilaf, quinoa salad can be served hot or cold, on its own or with another dish such as a meat or vegetable tagine. Don’t know why but the finished dish looks very feminine on close inspection. If you click on the photo above to enlarge the image, you’ll see what I mean. The quinoa seeds have expanded into a ripe fullness and released a little tail sprout not unlike frogs spawn (don’t let that put you off). Intriguing . . . and then there’s little wisps of orange zest, pieces of apricot, red onion and green pistachio nuts. Colourful, complex, mysterious and delicious. Well deserving of the title: Queen Noah salad.

Flo says if you’re lucky enough to find red quinoa, buy it. It’s even more delicious than the pale version you’ll find in supermarkets and health food shops. Quinoa has been identified as a super food due to it’s nutritional value. It works well as a lean alternative to cereal and pasta based salads.

Flo’s book is due out in November. Meanwhile I’ll be reporting next on her Lentil Cottage Pie.




A Feral Orange Grove in Sarasota

Winter in Sarasota by Nick Vagnoni

When sacks of oranges showed up
in my Miami Publix
I thought of Sarasota:
          On my way to the supermarket at night
          my windows up
          against the burnt-piss smell
          that drifts down from the Tropicana plant,
          the smell that actually turns orange in the fog
          lit by the glow of the airport.
          Stepping out of my car
          into the cold, sparkling parking lot,
          that odor, replaced by the feral orange grove
          blooming across the highway—
          the last dusty rows, thick with man-tall weeds,
          girded by new condos, a medical center,
          a retention pond.