Winter can be a tough time for fruit lovers like me. I love simple desserts made with fresh fruits. In North America, most fruits are non-existent, or shipped in from the southern hemisphere and taste like cardboard, since they’ve been picked far from ripe and shipped in a dark boxcar for weeks. (And you know how much we hate that!) So we must rely on tropical fruits or citrus that comes to us from more temperate climates like Florida and the Mediterranean.
One of my favorite fruits of winter is the blood orange. Native to Sicily and Spain, the blood orange is unique among citrus fruits for its intense deep red coloring, in some cases as deep and dark as blood. Like other citrus fruits, the blood orange is high in vitamin C. But what makes it unique is its high concentration of anthocyanin, an antioxidant which is believed to reduce the risks associated with many ailments, including age-related illnesses. Blood oranges diminish the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer and “bad” cholesterol build-up. They may also reduce the risk of cataracts, and aid in the body’s healing process. [wikipedia]
While in Sicily last Spring, I got to taste many fresh blood oranges in the markets of Palermo and in the countryside near the slopes of Mt. Etna, whose rich volcanic soil aids in the growing of the blood orange. There are three varieties of blood oranges, the Tarocco (a “half-blood” variety), the Moro, and the Sanguinello (both “full-blood” varieties). The Tarocco and Moro are native to Italy, while the Sanguinello originated in Spain. All three are grown and highly prized in Sicily.
So while I enjoyed the blood oranges of Sicily greatly, I didn’t expect to be able to enjoy the juice so readily here in the US. Well, recently, I received a package with samples of a new juice available here in the New York area from I.O. Italian Organics. I.O. is a blend of all 3 major varieties of blood orange, and it’s certified organic. Curious, I drank a bit (chilled, of course), and found it to be nearly as flavorful as the freshly pressed blood orange juice I sampled in Sicily. Sadly, it didn’t have quite the same punch of freshness that you’d get from a just-pressed orange, but it does have the sharp tartness and wonderful bitterness that hits the back of the throat.
So to really test this product, I decided to make a simple recipe, a blood orange granita. I love to have sorbets and granitas as an intermezzo between courses at a long dinner, or as a simple weeknight dessert. Cold desserts have to start with an intensely flavorful base, since the cold dampens the taste buds and makes it harder to taste the subtleties. So what better way to see just what kind of punch this juice would pack?
The recipe is quite simple:
Blood Orange Granita
3 cups blood orange juice
1/4 cup simple syrup:
(2 parts sugar to 1 part water, heated to boiling, then cooled)
splash of lemon juice (optional)
grind of black pepper (optional)
Mix the simple syrup into the juice until it tastes sweet enough to you. You want it to be too sweet to drink, but not so sweet that you won’t taste the distinctive tartness of the blood orange. You may not have to use all the simple syrup. If the juice is not very tart, you can add a splash of lemon juice, or a grind of black pepper to bring out the flavors.
Pour the mixture into a wide flat metal or glass dish. You want to have as much surface area as possible to help it to freeze quickly. Place flat in the freezer for a while, then scrape with a fork to break up the ice crystals and return to the freezer and repeat until the mixture is totally frozen and granular. I prefer to serve it very granular, with “chunks” of crystals. If you prefer, you can run it through a blender, then freeze again, if you want it to have more of a sorbet consistency.
I.O.’s juice did not disappoint. I found it to be very flavorful, very tart, and with a distinctive sharpness, that served as a perfect dessert for our New Year’s Day meal of Sausage and Mussels (see our recent video shot in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia with Chef Rick Ogilvie.) Try this yourself at home, but do try to get real blood orange juice, whether you find them fresh and juice them yourself, or from a quality bottled juice.