Friday, January 29, 2010
FUN WITH BLOOD ORANGES, PART I
Blood oranges have been on my mind lately. Maybe it's because of Julie Francis. While I’d tasted blood oranges once or twice before, my first serious introduction to them was at a restaurant coincidentally named Nectar. It’s run by one of my favorite local chefs, Julie Francis, who turns out simple food, lovingly and expertly prepared, with a decided, though not exclusive, emphasis on seasonality and local ingredients. In a twist on wine dinners, which she says are “too stuffy,” the restaurant offers monthly Dinner Clubs, where each of the five courses incorporates the evening's highlighted ingredient. Everyone in the restaurant is served the same meal at the same time, Julie comes out of the kitchen to describe each course before it’s served, and the supplier of the featured ingredient (farmer, herder, cheese purveyor, etc.) also talks to the assembled group. I’ve been to Julie’s Goat Cheese Dinner Club, her Beet Dinner Club, and her Blood Orange Dinner Club. I always come away with renewed appreciation of her nuanced use of the night’s ingredient throughout five savory and sweet courses, more knowledge about the ingredient, a pleasantly full belly, and a smile on my face. It’s a remarkably convivial atmosphere where you’re much more likely to speak with diners at adjacent tables than during a routine evening out. Oh, yes – you also always leave with an edible party favor – in this case, a small to-go container of Julie’s candied blood orange rind. My dining companion and sister-cook Becky and I later pooled ours in an impromptu Easter dessert involving strawberries, peppered cashews, and blue cheese. Recalling what I’d learned at the Blood Orange Dinner Club that these delectable rosy fruits come into season during winter, when Shamu posted this week’s Dim Sum Sunday would be about “Sunny Citrus,” I called Fresh Market to find they indeed had blood oranges in stock. To get the creative, er, juices flowing, I googled a bunch of recipes, and soon came up with too many to settle on just one. Lacking the restraint and culinary training of someone of Julie Francis’ caliber, I rushed to the store (actually two) after work Friday, snapped up a boatload of produce – ten blood oranges, two Meyer lemons, a bunch each of orange beets, hefty leeks, and thin asparagus – plus a few Kalamata olives, a pint of cream, and a vanilla bean. After I finally managed to fit it all in the refrigerator, it was time to come up with a game plan and do some math. Since my cat doesn’t do citrus, how much should I cut down the various recipe inspirations I’d assembled? When factoring in called-for amounts of juice vs. segments vs. rind, how many blood oranges would I actually need? Oh, well, leftovers would make a nice addition to next weekend’s mid-winter beach party, and if I ended up with a goodly supply of candied blood orange, that would be just fine.