I often wish I lived somewhere surrounded by orange groves- preferably Sorrento, where the groves overlook the Mediterranean and one relaxes in the afternoon, sipping a Campari and Soda with a slice of fragrant orange while contemplating the view.
Yes, well….It’s fifteen degrees here in the northeast and the groundhog saw his shadow – the snow and ice won’t be leaving soon, I’m afraid. As for me, I’m usually dreaming about the Amalfi Coast and the lemon and orange groves that proliferate there, and planning my next trip- its been my absolute favorite place to go for the last 25 years!
But winter here at home also means that wonderful citrus fruit is in season. And nothing brightens up a chef’s dullish winter pallette like citrus. The sweet yet astringent quality of oranges and lemons is extremely desirable in all types of cuisine and baking, sweet and savory. I also personally love to eat oranges in all varieties. I was in an orange grove in Florida a couple of weeks ago, and couldn’t get enough of the honeybells, tangerines, and pink grapefruits.
If you’ve never had a honeybell orange, you’re really missing out on something terrific, and they are in season in January-February. (They are actually a cross between a tangerine and a pink grapefruit.) Another extremely succulent and sweet variety is the satsuma, a type of mandarin orange that’s available now. It’s very easy to peel and bursting with juiciness. A navel orange that’s pink on the inside with a delicate, complex flavor is the cara cara orange. Cara caras are grown in California and are available in most supermarkets now –I highly recommend them as well (that pink color tends to make them a chef’s favorite for garnishing.)
While we make loads of citrusy desserts all year at L’Arte, January and February are particularly focused on them. Granita is usually thought of as a summer dessert, but why not make a refreshing winter granita that reminds us of the sun and those citrus groves? This is a luscious and super easy to make granita that combines citrus juice and Prosecco.
Orange, Grapefruit, and Prosecco Granita
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons sugar
¾ cup water
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 cup fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
2/3 cup Prosecco
- In a small pot, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Stir to dissolve all of the sugar, then remove the pot from the heat. Let the sugar syrup cool.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the sugar syrup and stir gently to combine.
- Pour the granita mixture into a shallow pan and place in the freezer. Allow the mixture to freeze, preferably overnight. (It will take at least six hours to freeze)
- Chill your serving glasses (martini glasses are nice to use).
- Remove the granita from the freezer, and using a large metal spoon or ice cream scoop, scrape the ice to break it up, mixing it as you do. Return to freezer until ready to serve.
- To serve, spoon the granita into the chilled glasses. I like to garnish the granita with a little whipped cream and a piece of candied orange peel.
Candied citrus peels are a popular item at L’Arte. They’re a versatile treat that we use in our cannoli filling, our Italian Ricotta cheesecake, as a garnish or decoration, or just on their own as a confection, plain or dipped in chocolate. We make them weekly at L’Arte, and since they take a few days, there always seems to be a batch simmering on the stove or drying on racks. People are always asking me how to make them. Its a long process, but very easy to do, and you have a lovely citrus aroma in your kitchen the whole time.
We start out with thick-skinned oranges or grapefruits. We score the fruit, then peel it.
We cut the peel into strips, then blanch it for about 30 seconds in boiling water.
After draining it and rinsing it in cold water, we put it back in the pot, adding equal parts sugar and water. You want the pieces of rind to be completely submerged in the syrup.
We bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the rind is translucent, which means that it is soft and saturated with the syrup. At this point, we remove the rind from the syrup and let it dry on racks.
We wait for the rind to dry to the point that it can be rolled in granulated sugar without the sugar melting. This can take several hours or an entire day, depending on the humidity. (We test one piece- if it isn’t ready the sugar will start to melt after a couple of minutes. In that case, we let the peels dry another hour or so.)
Now we roll each piece in sugar, then let the pieces dry again, usually overnight on parchment-lined sheet pans.
The next day, we either put the candied rind in plastic containers to use in recipes, or we dip the ends in tempered chocolate to sell by the pound as confections.
I know this sounds like a crazy amount of sugar, but remember, this is candy. And it is a bittersweet treat, with just the right amount of each – bitter and sweet, that is. The orange rind and pith almost melt into a jelly and are offset by the slight crunch of the sugar and the deep richness of the bittersweet chocolate. It’s a sophisticated taste, very satisfying in small amounts.
I think that if you are a citrus lover, like me, then you always order the lemon souffle instead of the chocolate cake, or buy the lemon poppyseed muffin instead of the bran muffin – we are very loyal to our favorite fruits. More on lemons in the next post!