I once read in the preface to a novel that every cook is obsessed and I immediately nodded silently in agreement. I know my obsession: it’s with citrus.
I am equally, if not more fascinated by all things Italian and that most definitely includes lemons and oranges. Therefore, whether I need them or not, the sight of perfumed bergamot – and especially paper-wrapped Sicilian blood oranges – inspire me to carry bags full home at every shopping expedition.
My adoration for brightly colored citrus does not extend to the Sevilla orange because of its apparent limitations. This fruit is so incredibly bitter that cooking it indefinitely in something sweet does seem to be its only option.
A few winters have passed since I have taken the time to practice at making a perfect marmalade. To my mind it needs zest, but not too much rind; it deserves to be sweet but not dominated by sugar; most importantly it must thicken on its own (because I really don’t believe in using gelatine but this is another story entirely).
Because this winter has been particularly long, I have passed a bit more quiet time in my kitchen, experimenting with cooking methodologies and long-standing ambitions. The result is written below: to my mind an incredibly easy recipe that was sparked by my fascination for an essentially British breakfast ingredient in the shape of a Spanish fruit.
- 6 small Sevilla bitter oranges
- 2-3 Sicilian blood oranges
- 175 ml organic honey or
- 125 grams of raw cane sugar
Scrub the Sevilla oranges with a brush under cold running water. Grate the peel of the oranges with a zester catching the thin curls into a small bowl. Repeat this method with the Sicilian blood oranges.
Peel the bitter oranges carefully, pulling away any white pith that remains on the fruit segments. Place the oranges in a small pan and fill it with cold water to just barely cover the citrus.Simmer the bitter oranges thirty minutes and turn off the heat. Meanwhile squeeze the juice of the blood oranges and set aside.
Allow the cooked Sevilla oranges to cool before pouring the cooking liquid and the fruit pulp through a fine-meshed sieve with the back of a large wooden spoon or a soup ladle. Make sure to press all the juices as well as the pulp through the sieve in this process, because this is what gives both flavor and thickness to the marmalade.
Weigh the fruit pulp obtained from the bitter oranges and return it to the sauce pan. In my cooking experiment, I obtained 225 grams of thick pale orange pulp from six small Sevilla oranges. Add the same quantity of freshly squeezed blood orange juice Measure half the amount of honey (or raw cane sugar) to the citrus pulp, and bring the ingredients to a gentle simmer.
Cook the ingredients about thirty minutes, stirring regularly. Once the volume has reduced by half, the color will turn dark orange. At this point, stay close to the stove and stir the juices-now-turning-marmalade constantly. Turn off the heat when the simmering citrus juices have thickened to a point that it clings to a spoon.
Add the Sevilla and blood orange zest and stir. Place the marmalade in a clean jam jar. Allow it to cool completely before putting it in the refrigerator where it will keep indefinitely.
The bitterness of the Sevilla will mellow with time as will the marmalade.
Save this bitter orange for cold winter days and have it on sourdough toast with the best organic butter available. If you happen to live in the Netherlands, my favorite is raw-milk farmers butter from Leiden.
Stir the marmalade through a bowl of mild yoghurt for an easy lunch or drizzle it over chocolate almond tart