If you’re looking for a good excuse to visit the island of Sicily during the winter months, here’s one: blood oranges.
You’ll find these glorious, gory-juiced fruits piled high in pyramids in the market at Siracusa, where every trader is busy competing for the best display. In the side streets around the market, bars are offering tall glasses of the freshly squeezed, sunset-colored juice. Restaurant menus feature such delights as salads combining blood oranges and thinly sliced fennel, or pan-seared swordfish garnished with fruit slices, or light ice creams infused with both zest and juice. One of my favorite dishes on a recent visit was a fabulous risotto flavored with blood orange juice and tinged a delicate shade of pink, which I’ve reconstructed below (see recipes).
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Sicily excels at blood oranges. Helena Attlee, in her evocative book “The Land Where Lemons Grow,” recounts that they were thought to arrive on the island in 1646, brought by a Genoese missionary from China. People then — as now — remarked on their extraordinary crimson flesh.
This distinctive coloring is due to anthocyanins, blood-red pigments that occur also in foods such as blueberries, eggplants, red onions and purple corn. In order for anthocyanins to develop, you need a combination of warm midday temperatures and chilly nights, such that Sicily offers during fall and winter. And because the deep red pigment in anthocyanins is an antioxidant, blood oranges are not just good, they’re also good for us.
If a winter trip to Sicily is not in the cards, don’t despair. Check out your local market, grocery store or supermarket for blood oranges. These beauties are in season now. Pounce on them and use them in the following recipes.
Warm Salad with Scallops, Toasted Pistachios and Blood Orange Dressing
This salad features mixed green leaves topped with scallops, with a dusting of crunchy green pistachios and a blood-red, sweet-sour dressing.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
1 tablespoon unsalted green pistachios
1 head white chicory
2 good handfuls (about 4 ounces, or 100 grams) mixed salad leaves
2 tablespoons vinaigrette
8 ounces (250 grams) scallops
1 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Juice of 2 blood oranges
Sprigs of fresh herbs (chervil or chives, for example)
1. Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C).
2. Place the pistachios in a small baking pan and toast them for 5 to 10 minutes or until they take a little color and smell nice and toasty. Remove from the oven and let cool a little. Chop them roughly and set aside.
3. Cut off the root end of the chicory and lift away the leaves. Trim them to all the same length (add any trimmings to the salad leaves) and arrange them in a star shape in soup bowls.
4. Toss the salad leaves with the vinaigrette in a large bowl and arrange them in the center of the star shape
5. If the scallops have corals (which is always the case in Europe), separate the corals from the scallops and prick them with a pin to prevent them from bursting. Trim any muscle or membrane from the scallops and cut in half horizontally if very large.
6. Just before serving, put the flour in a plastic bag, add a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper, put in the scallops and shake to dust lightly in flour. Shake off any excess in a colander and continue with the rest until all are lightly floured. Don’t do this too far ahead of time, or you’ll end up with a gluey mess.
7. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy pan and fry the scallops very briefly until lightly golden and just cooked, turning once.
8. Arrange the scallops decoratively over the salad.
9. Tip the blood orange juice and 1 tablespoon of oil into the pan, swirl it around, boil hard and let it reduce to about 3 tablespoons.
10. Splash the reduced juice over the fish.
11. Sprinkle with chopped nuts, scatter the herbs over and serve at once with crusty bread.
Risotto with Prawns and Blood Oranges
This is a succulent risotto, pink and prawn-laden, with a nice piquant touch from the blood orange juice.
Prep time: 30 minutes (for the prawn broth)
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
Yield: 2 generous servings
2 blood oranges (zest of 1 and juice of 2)
8 ounces (250 grams) cooked, unpeeled prawns
5 cherry tomatoes
1 stick celery
2 cloves garlic, 1 whole and 1 crushed
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion
8 ounces (250 grams) Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/2 cup (125 milliliters) dry white wine
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 ounce (25 grams) butter
1 tablespoon chopped parsley or chervil, for garnish
1. Remove zest from 1 of the oranges with a zester or potato peeler (don’t include any of the white pith, which is bitter) and set aside. Squeeze the juice from both oranges and reserve.
2. For the prawn broth, peel the prawns and place the shells and heads in a saucepan with the cherry tomatoes, carrot, celery stick, 1 unpeeled clove of garlic, the bay leaf and orange zest. Cover with 4 cups of water, bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes or until well flavored. Strain the broth through a colander into a bowl, pressing down on the debris to extract flavor.
3. In a large, deep pan, heat the olive oil and fry the red onion and the crushed clove of garlic for a few minutes till just soft but not colored. Add the rice and fry, stirring, for 5 to 10 minutes until the rice is glistening.
4. Add the white wine and cook hard, stirring, till completely evaporated.
5. Add the orange juice and cook, stirring, till evaporated.
6. Bit by bit, add 2 cups of the prawn broth, stirring all the time. Allow it to evaporate each time before adding more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Taste the rice and if still too hard for your liking, add a little more prawn broth.
7. Pull the pan off the heat, stir in the reserved prawns and butter, cover the pan and leave for about 5 minutes to allow the butter to subside gently into the rice and the prawns to heat through.
8. Serve in bowls with a little chopped parsley or chervil sprinkled on top.
Honey Parfaits with Blood Oranges and Pomegranate Seeds
A parfait is a soft, feather-light ice cream that doesn’t need stirring during freezing. Turn out the parfaits to serve, surrounded by blood orange slices, with a scattering of pomegranate seeds to give a nice bit of crunch.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes, plus several hours to freeze the parfaits
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
3 blood oranges
2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
5 ounces (150 grams) honey
1 1/4 cups (300 milliliters) whipping cream
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
1. Grate the zest from one of the oranges and reserve — be careful to take only the outside, colored zest, none of the white pith, which is bitter. Using a very sharp knife, peel all 3 oranges right down to the flesh, leaving no white pith. Slice down between the membranes to remove the segments and set them aside.
2. Beat the eggs and yolk in a bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy.
3. Heat the honey gently to just below boiling point.
4. Pour the hot honey into the eggs and continue beating at high speed until thick, pale and doubled in bulk — at least 10 minutes.
5. In a separate bowl, whip the cream till it forms soft peaks.
6. Fold the two preparations together, along with the finely grated zest.
7. Freeze in plastic or metal coupes or containers.
8. Just before serving, run a knife round the parfaits, turn them out and arrange orange segments around them.
9. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve.