This is hardly a recipe. When you have something as preciously short-seasoned as blood oranges they demand respect. Respect to me is letting them glow, sharply-sweet, either on their own or atop something as simple as this roasted vanilla rhubarb. Or on my matcha yogurt breakfast bowl. I love the mystery of blood oranges. Food writer and friend of mine, Diana Henry, has noted that “the skin of a blood orange gives nothing away.” She is – as always – spot on. The only thing you know for sure is that you are in for an almost unbearably exquisite taste. Long before raspberries have turned from hard green buds into full-blown blowsy fruit, blood oranges tease us with their surprising berry tang. Throw in the clear but perfumed acidity of the most orangey orange you can imagine, and you will understand why the blood variety is so highly prized.
Part of the lust for these fruits is their scarcity and short season, at least in Europe. I understand that California and Florida can be harvesting theirs well into May. On this side of the world these aromatic fruits are spent by March’s end. So, still a wee bit of time to indulge. Sicily is said to grow the finest specimens, but whether from California, Spain or Italy, I’ll fill my basket. When I start spotting them at the end of January I go a bit crazy and horde them like a mad woman. Ten at a time, or bust.
Over the years I have lifted plastic nets of blood oranges from haphazardly piled pyramids (oh the indignity for this precious fruit!), plucked up individual oranges cosseted in coloured and beautifully stamped tissue (respect!), and had them by way of a white-jacketed chef in things such as ice creams, panacottas and homemade jelly sweets.
Some of these raw fruits I was sure had been mislabeled. Is there really a hidden gem of ruby juice inside that, well, orange orange? Although I do like the reassurance of a crimson streak, if not the full dimpled scarlet cloak, I have learned to trust the label, even when all I see is a complete orb of orange. The beauty is definitely within.
For this recipe, when blood oranges fall from season as imports from Sicily and Spain, substitute with fat navel oranges. Clean, seasonal eating.
Now rhubarb, you are a whole different thing altogether. You are even more of a mystery: the vegetable that thinks it’s a fruit…
Make the most of both the last of the bloods, and the forced rhubarb. Fill yer boots, as we say. And if you see a woman at the shops with a gleam in her eye and a trolley full of blood oranges, just give a wave. I’ll wave back. I might even share…
Last year: Tandoori Lentil, Potato and Aubergine Hash
Track of the Week: Cloudbusting, Kate Bush (1985, from Hounds of Love) in honour of the news that Ms Bush is touring again for the first time since 1979. Excellent news. I will look out my kohl eyeliner.
Simple. Clean tasting. Uber seasonal. Enjoy now.
500g (just under 1 lb) forced rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut into four or five inch batons
100g raw sugar (eg sucanat) or unrefined caster sugar (raw sugar, whiz briefly in a food processor) or coconut palm sugar
1 vanilla pod (full size) OR 1 ½ tsp good vanilla extract
2-3 blood oranges OR navel oranges, peeled – slice just before eating
1) Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.
2) Place the still-damp rhubarb batons in a single layer on a long, rimmed baking sheet. You may need two.
3) Pour the sugar in a bowl. Split the vanilla pod and scrape the tiny black seeds into the sugar; rub the seeds and sugar together.
4) Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the rhubarb, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 200C/400F for 15 minutes, or until tender but not mushy.
5) Allow to cool to room temperature then carefully lift the roasted rhubarb onto a serving plate, tip the syrup all over and top with slices of orange.