Africa, Attenborough, wild food. How are they all connected? I am not sure I can answer that, but Mr. P is rightfully concerned, first rabbit, then pigeon, what’s next on the vermin menu? And after all, it was the weekend, surely a time for treats, and ideally fat slabs of pulsing red meat. Actually, he’ll be relieved to know he is off the hook, at least for the next few days. Also, lets face it, the classification is broad, vermin to one, is a rich and rare luxury to another, at least that is my excuse.
The risk of living with someone like myself is I have never been content cooking within one repertoire. What with those crazy new year ideas, I have been scouring my cookbooks. Shreds of paper are littered throughout as useful reminders as to what is on my hit list. Hence, ‘Pigeon Ragu’ materialised from Boca. Very earthy, rustic, wild and just very January. A sublime not so wild, ‘Lemon crumb cake’, packed with citrus punch from ‘Food from Plenty’, and a few of my own creations. ‘Rabbit lasagna’ made with wild rabbit and homemade pasta sheets was very naughty, as was my own take on an ‘Italian veal casserole’ with sautéed Savoy cabbage with a smattering of chilli. This brings me happily onto why I love January. Not only is it the blatantly obvious ‘new beginning’ month, not only is ‘Attenborough’ on TV every Wednesday in the magical ‘Africa’ documentary, but critically, it is the month that heralds the advent of blood oranges. Hoorah, huge excitement in the fruit bowl as it begins to groan with Sicilian, or possibly Spanish, hot-blooded fruit.
The name says it all. These oranges come in varying shades, some a wicked crimson purple, some just dappled with ruby-red. Whatever shade they reveal themselves to be, and there is no telling from their coats, there is something wantonly lustful, sexy and passionate about them. Total wild cards in looks they are consistently sweet and juicy and just so much more versatile than your standard orange. Deep in the English winter they are just a thrill to use in the kitchen. Treasured at home by the ‘little’ and ‘big’ people alike, the ‘pink one’ has taken to gnawing her way through the peel, such is the urgency to sink her few teeth into such heavenly succulence. But beware, the season is short, 3 months on average, starting at the beginning of this month and rarely exceeding beyond March. I have heard that California has started producing these little gems, yet I am none the wiser as to their season. The bottom line is, don’t miss out. They are a ray of light on dark, cold, snowy January days. Obviously they are healthy, packed full of Vitamin C, and are happily at home in salads married with Italian hams and cheeses such as Pecorino, Manchego, Burratta and the like.
Let me digress and give a few pointers as to how to use them! In the days before the ‘little people’ arrived to wreak havoc across our weekends at the same time as spreading great joy and frustration in equal measure, I used to squeeze juice!! I can’t even believe it myself but breakfast with Mr.P always started with a fabulous glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Sometimes it was pink grapefruit but in January it was, (no points for guessing this one), ‘blood orange juice’. This is properly pretty and if you have the time and let’s face it, that is a relative thing, do try this. It is the best orange juice, ever.
Next up is the salad option. Now this really could not be more simple. Frankly, just don’t complicate these lush oranges. You really can throw together 3 or 4 ingredients and have a stunning salad. So first out of the block and one of my favorites is ‘Blood orange with Sardinian ham, toasted hazelnuts and rocket’, next up, ‘Blood orange with Pecorino, walnuts and lambs lettuce’, any marriage with burratta, mozzarella and goats cheese all work in equally good measure. As a nod to the health police, blood oranges tossed with Puy lentils, toasted nuts, spring onions and handful of fresh herbs is also a nutritious number one.
And now for something sweet. Pavlova with blood oranges and pomegranate has a good seasonal wow factor, alternatively with some lightly roasted pink rhubarb (which is about to come into season) and raspberries makes a very ‘pretty’n’pink’ pudding. Sky Gyngell has a couple of stunning recipes, a blood orange jelly and blood oranges with honey and rosemary. And last but not least there is always the marmalade option.
One last word on this blood orange bonanza, my recipe for today, ‘Blood oranges with rocket, pumpkin seeds, toasted hazelnuts and shaved Pecorino’, a quirky salad that takes under 5 minutes to put together, no cooking or skill required – so simple, yet aesthetically so decadent.
Blood oranges with rocket, pumpkin seeds, toasted hazelnuts and shaved Pecorino
2 handfuls of washed rocket leaves
2 blood oranges, segmented with white pith removed ( I use a little serrated pairing knife)
1 handful of pumpkin seeds
10 hazelnuts, roasted and crushed
Pecorino (or Parmesan, or Manchego) a good handful of shavings, use a vegetable peeler
Olive oil – the best you can afford
Ground black pepper
This salad hardly needs a step by step guide, but here are a few pointers. It needs to be eaten immediately so don’t make it in advance and then leave it 3 hours to stand all lonely. If you want to get ahead, the oranges can be prepared and left covered, and the same can be said for the Pecorino, likewise the hazelnuts can be roasted. Dress at the very last-minute with some really good olive oil and a good grind of black pepper and a pinch of Maldon salt. If you want to bulk this salad out a bit and cater for a carnivore, a few slices of Parma ham would go down a treat. The magic is really keeping it fuss free and relishing the oranges which not only taste but also smell divine. Eat and enjoy.