Orange revolution: Citrus fruits are the perfect winter pick-me-up

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Now that the festive season is well and truly over and the reality of winter is absolutely here, I must confess that I feel slightly low. I'm longing for conviviality and a warm glow and that seems impossible to find right now.

I also long for warmth in colour and flavour – something burnt orange or deep red, perhaps – something, in other words, that will remind me of a warmer, cosier, slightly more welcoming time.

At this time of the year, citrus fruits are a hidden jewel, transporting us to sunnier places with their beauty and flavour. There are many varieties to choose from – citron, lemon, blood oranges, lovely bitter oranges such as Seville (which make a perfect marmalade) and clementines, served simply on their own for a palette-cleansing dessert.

Surprisingly, in one of Mother Nature's greatest acts of kindness, all of these warm fruits are plentiful in the midst of winter.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627

Sardines with blood oranges, rosemary and mashed olives

Citrus fruits work well with fish. Here, I have paired blood orange with very fresh sardines, salty, briny black olives and just a hint of rosemary. A bit light for a main course, this makes the perfect starter.

Serves 4

250g/8oz small black olives, packed in good-quality olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only
60ml/21/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
A small pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 blood oranges
12 sardines (ask your fishmonger to fillet them for you. Depending on their size, I usually allow 2 or 3 per person)

Remove the stones from the olives and place them in a pestle and mortar; pound until you get a crushed consistency. Add the garlic and pound a little more. Chop the rosemary leaves roughly, and add. Pour in the olive oil and stir well to combine. Taste and season with a little salt and plenty of black pepper. Set aside.

Using a sharp knife, slice off either end of the oranges. Sit the cut fruit upright and slice into sections to remove all the skin and pith. Slice into fine rounds and set aside while you cook the sardines.

Pour a very small amount of olive oil into a large non-stick pan and place it over a high flame. Season the sardines and, when the pan is smoking, add the fish, skin-side down. Cook for a minute or so, or until the flesh is no longer translucent. Do not turn the fish.

To serve, lay the orange slices on a plate, spoon over a little of the olive mixture and finish with the sardines. Serve at once while the fish is piping hot.

Chicken with orange peel, black olives, tomatoes and thyme

I often use orange peel to flavour sauce-based dishes – it lends a fragrant, delicate taste that works particularly well with tomatoes, saffron or fennel. I also dry orange peel slowly in the oven at this time of year and add it to daubes, brassatto or any dish in which you are looking to create a subtle but heady top note. Mandarin peel dried in the same way works well with the more Asian flavours of chilli, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns and cinnamon.

Serve this dish with really good bread to mop up the juices or with potatoes cooked whole, skins on, until falling apart, laced with really good olive oil, lemon juice and lots of black pepper.

Serves 4-6

1 whole organic, free-range chicken. Ask your butcher to joint it into 8
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
25ml/1fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
300ml/1/2 pint dry white wine
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bunch of thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
1 dried red chilli
The peel of one orange
600ml/1 pint good-quality jarred tomatoes
25 little black olives, such as Niçoise or Ligurian

Season the chicken generously all over. Place the olive oil in a large heavy based pan over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, brown the chicken pieces all over really well – you will need to do this in batches, as in order to brown properly, the chicken will need space around it.

As the pieces are done, remove from the pan and set aside. Pour off the fat and return the pan to the heat. Deglaze with the wine, allowing the alcohol to splutter and boil and reduce by a third.

Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, chilli, tomatoes and orange peel. Return the chicken to the pan, turn down the heat, place a lid on and cook for a further 20 to 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the olives, stir well, check for seasoning and serve straight from the pan. '

Candied cedro or citron

Cedro is the most lovely, fragrant fruit – its flavour when perfectly ripe can fill a room. They look like huge, lumpy lemons; they are coloured a vibrant yellow and the skin is thick and fleshy, though there is little fruit actually within. They are prized largely for the rind, which is sweet, tender and only very slightly bitter. They are not easy to buy in this country, though it's worth asking your greengrocer. Sadly, you're far more likely to encounter them in candied form.

Serves 4

1 cedro, weighing approx 1kg/2lbs
250g/71/2oz caster sugar
600ml/1 pint water
150g/5oz quality cooking chocolate

Cut the cedro into half-inch-thick slices, then into half-inch-wide strips. Cut away and discard the fruit's centre. Place into

a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over a fairly low heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Drain and repeat this process twice – blanching the strips three times in total.

Return the cedro to the saucepan, cover with the sugar and the water, place over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Cook slowly and gently until it becomes translucent – this should take around 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the syrup. Drain, discarding the syrup on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Allow your cooled cedro sections to dry in the open air overnight.

The next day, break the chocolate into little pieces and place in a bain-marie on top of the stove; ensure the base of the bowl does not sit in the water. Place over a medium flame and allow to melt gently without stirring – this allows the chocolate to retain its glossiness.

Once completely melted, remove from the heat and dip half the candied cedro into the chocolate, leaving the other half as it is. Lay gently to dry on parchment paper – once set, place in an airtight container. It's delicious served at the end of a meal with coffee.

Anchoïade

Anchoïade is a sweet, salty, pounded paste from the South of France that is best eaten simply on toast. Use a pestle and mortar if you can – it gives a much more interesting, less homogenised flavour than the purée achieved in a Magimix.

Serves 4

5 salted anchovies
15 blanched almonds (warmed gently in the oven for a couple of minutes to tickle out their flavour)
4 dried white figs, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
The juice of one blood orange
1tbsp of chopped lemon thyme (or rosemary)
60ml/21/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
A good pinch of sea salt

Rinse the anchovies and pat dry. Place in the pestle and mortar along with the almonds, figs and garlic. Pound until you have a rough paste – some bigger pieces and some almost puréed.

Add the blood orange juice, the lemon thyme and the olive oil. Stir well to combine. Taste and add as much salt as you think is needed.

Serve on toast with chopped hard-boiled eggs and unsalted butter.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on how to find out more about citrus fruits...

Citrus fruits are native to eastern Asia and have a long and colourful history. Their cultivation spread westward over centuries to the tables of the Roman Empire, Arabia and the new world.

The Slow Food Foundation has been working to protect and support several varieties, including the Amalfi Sfusato lemon (Campania), Ciaculli late-winter mandarin (Sicily), Gargano citrus fruits (Puglia), Interdonato lemon (Sicily), Pompa lemon (Sardinia) and Savona Chinotto sour orange (Liguria). (For details of growers, visit www.slowfoodfoundation.org)

Candied and sugar-coated citrus is available from the French confiserie Florian www.confiserieflorian.co.uk, including whole candied clementines, candied orange and lemon peel

Citrus trees can be bought from specialists in the UK including Cross Common Nursery ( www.crosscommonnursery.co.uk)

'Citrus – A History' by Pierre Laszlo (The University of Chicago Press) provides a detailed study of the domestication of these exotic species

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