This photo was taken by my friend and photographer Rob Fiocca.
You’d be forgiven if you threw your first blood orange out, I nearly did. I remember my surprise on cutting it open, the flesh was so dark and blood red that I was sure it was bad. I squeezed the juice anyway and with my first sip understood why these oranges are so special. The dark, wine coloured juice is less acidic than a regular orange juice, with raspberry and cherry overtones that give it a rich and complex flavour.
The blood orange, is a Mediterranean mutation that most likely occurred in the seventeenth century Sicily. The colour comes from the presence of anthocynanins, or red pigments. The amount of this pigment varies with the variety of orange, the season, and where it grows. Mild nights and cold days help develop the red pigments, and while varieties like the tarocco are just flecked with colour, others, like the moro have dark flesh and a red tinged skin.
The most famous blood orange is the Arancia Rossa di Sicilia sold individually wrapped in colourful papers. In 1996, this orange was granted an “indicazione geograficia proteta” or IGP, similar to the French system of AOC “appellation contrôlée”. This designation restricts the area where the oranges can grow and regulates their size, sweetness, and taste. They are available from Christmas until late spring. Primarily an eating and juice orange, you can use them in any recipe that calls for oranges. They are an essential ingredient in the maltaise sauce, a delicious variation of hollandaise sauce often served with asparagus.
A good blood orange recipe for this time of the year is
Veal Shanks with Blood Orange & Fennel
This a recipe from my book Bones. Fennel and orange are a delicious combination and match well with the veal.
Four 4 to 5 cm thick pieces of veal shank
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons beef fat, or olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
250 ml veal stock
2 blood oranges
1 large fennel bulb, with leaves
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 5 x 2 cm batons
250 ml blood orange juice (from about 3 oranges)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
2 garlic cloves, peeled, germ removed and finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Pat the veal dry and cut completely through the membrane surrounding each veal shank piece in two places. Tie a piece of string around each shank to hold the meat in place while it is cooking. Season with salt and pepper.
In a large Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, heat the fat over medium heat. Add the veal and brown on both sides, then transfer to a plate. Pour in the vinegar and stock and bring to a boil deglazing the pot by scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Remove the pot from the heat.
Remove the zest, from 1 orange, in long strips taking a little of the pith and add them to the pot; reserve the orange. Return the veal shanks to the pot, with the wider end of the bone facing up. (This helps keep the marrow from escaping.) Cover with a damp piece of parchment paper, then the lid, and braise in the oven for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the feathery leaves from the fennel; set aside. Trim any coarse stalks or outside layers. Cut the fennel lengthwise in half then slice each half into 5 mm slices.
After the veal has cooked for 45 minutes, add the fennel, carrots, orange juice, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered with the paper and lid for another 45 to 55 minutes, or until the veal is very tender and the vegetables are cooked. Transfer the veal, fennel, and carrots to a serving platter. Remove the strings from the veal and keep warm, loosely covered with aluminum foil.
Discard the orange peel and bring the cooking juices to a boil; boil hard for 5 minutes to reduce the sauce. Meanwhile zest the remaining orange and place the grated zest in a small bowl, with the fennel seeds. Remove the pith from the 2 zested oranges and cut them into segments. Add the segments to the sauce and check the seasoning. Keep warm.
Finely chop the reserved fennel leaves. Add the fennel leaves and garlic to the fennel seeds and mix. Serve the veal and vegetables with the sauce spooned over and pass the orange gremolata separately.