Every cook has at least one obsession. A clear preference for a certain preparation method, distinct focus upon specific kitchen equipment, or the fascination for a certain sort of ingredient are all telltale signs of what I like to call a cook’s character.
A unique personality manifests itself not only in what an individual cooks, but also in how they go about doing so. Food memories, though different for each of us, are inevitably related to people we love, or moments in time of special significance. Our human experience comes together through the power of the senses.
I readily admit my food fascination translates itself not only in the love of citrus, but also by a passion for the preserving of food in jars. I never tire of cooking with the zest or juice of blood oranges, my favorite winter ingredient by far.
Until recently, I had never bothered preserving orange peels in sugar because I assumed the distinctive ingredient often called for in Italian sweets, could be easily replaced by fresh orange zest. In other words, I explained my personal cooking preferences by presuming a classic form of preparation would not be worth the effort.
Needless to say, I was wrong. Orange peels preserved in a sweet syrup are completely different from orange zest; both deserve their rightful place in the cabinet of cupboard essentials, especially when baking is on one’s to do list.
Did I mention he orange peel recipe written below, is almost like marmalade ?
- the peel of 4 organic blood oranges or
- approximately 150 grams orange peel
- 100 grams raw cane sugar
- 125 ml raw honey
- 250 ml water
Scrub the oranges well with a brush in warm water. Cut off the top and the bottom of each orange, then divide each citrus into four sections by cutting indentations in the peel with a paring knife. Separate the orange peel carefully from the flesh with your fingers. Scrape each orange peel section carefully with a paring knife to remove most of the soft white skin (also known as a pith). Stack 4-8 orange sections at a time on a cutting board, and slice them into 0,5 cm. ribbons with a sharp knife.
Before proceeding to making a honey-sugar syrup, cook the orange peels briefly in boiling water. This process, also known as blanching, minimizes the bitter aftertaste inherent in the outer layers of all citrus, including blood oranges.
Bring 250 ml water to a rolling boil in a sauce pan, then cook the orange peels, stirring regularly, for two minutes. Drain the peels in a seive and rinse them under cold running water. Repeat this process twice, refreshing the water in the sauce pan each time.
To make the syrup, pour 250 ml water in a sauce pan with 100 grams of raw cane sugar and 125 ml honey. Heat the ingredients until the sugar and honey melt and the liquid starts to bubble. Add the orange peels and turn down the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally for 25-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, sterilize a glass jar by placing it in a preheated oven at 120 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes. If the jar lid is glass, place it in the oven along with the jar. Otherwise, sterilize the lid in boiling water for ten minutes, removing it to cool before making use of it.
Once the orange peels are softened and glistening, but there is still enough syrup to coat them, turn off the heat and allow them to cool. The kitchen will smell like paradise at this point. Once cool to the touch, pour the beautiful, golden syrup carefully into a sterilized jar, then spoon in the preserved orange peels. As a standard, I store my preserves in the refrigerator one month. As long as the peels are immersed in their own syrup, they will keep for even longer.
Add modest amounts of the sweet preserved orange peels in desserts such as panforte, or if you are feeling ambitious, as the basis to Sicilian cannoli. In the course of the year I will post one of my favorite desserts, namely a crostata alla ricotta (ricotta tart) I was inspired to make with pieces of bitter chocolate and orange.
Meanwhile, experiment and enjoy with any kind of citrus fruit. I highly recommend preserving some Meyer lemon and the beautifully aromatic bergamot peel. Both citrus are in season in the winter and are often available at farmers’ markets in December and January.
Just imagine the baking projects you can undertake with your own citrus preserves, made with peels that often go unused!
The following recipe can be used to preserve any kind citrus peel. If possible, choose organically cultivated fruit