Citrus fruits are a bright glowing lamp of seasonal eating in a particularly cold and grey week in February. Not only is it in season, with lots of varieties out there if you look, the sharp flavours seem ideal for brightening up this murky weather.
If you look carefully, you can buy a vast variety of citrus fruits at the moment. Supermarkets should be offering oranges and ‘easy peelers’ in abundance, but greengrocers and online you can find much more. Bergamots, blood oranges, pomelo, even Seville oranges are still available at the time of writing (you can get them online from Riverford and Natoora via Ocado).
Citrus fruits are so rewarding to cook with. The juice can stand in for vinegar and brighten and sharpen everything from salad dressings to roast vegetables to pasta sauce. The zest carries flavour a long, long way. Rubbing it with sugar is a good way to make sure the citrus oils carry evenly through something baked. And if you find yourself using more juice than zest, you can always zest the extra fruit and freeze it for another time.
I am not the only one who is thinking of citrus this week. Catherine Phipps’ gorgeous looking book ‘Citrus: Recipes that celebrate the sour and the sweet’ is out this week, and the Food Programme have devoted today’s episode to it. Nigel Slater suggests a brussels sprout, clementine and almond salad. Naomi Knill, aka Ginger Gourmand makes a salad of blood orange, fennel and hazelnut. Choclette preserves the flavour by making blood orange squash.
Citrus marries well with almonds in cakes, complementing the richness with sharp zest. Felicity Cloake adds her characteristic investigation to find perfect sticky orange cake, which you may know as Claudia Roden’s orange cake, or Nigella Lawson’s clementine cake. Nigel Slater’s first Kitchen Diaries book includes a recipe for demerara and lemon almond cake (although the demerara needs a lot of work to persuade it to cream with the butter).
The other great marriage for orange flavours is chocolate. If you’re not simply candying orange peel and dipping in chocolate (simple, but hugely time consuming), Ruby Tandoh evokes the shop-bought cakes of her childhood with a chocolate orange marble cake.
You can’t consider citrus without thinking of marmalade, one of the best ways of preserving both the juice and zest. Boiling Seville oranges whole is the classic method that will give you a firm set and sharp flavour. I have used June Taylor’s method to use clementines, lemons, grapefruit or other citrus mixed together, and giving a brighter result. There is also a lovely David Lebovitz recipe for bergamot marmalade if you come across some, which would probably work well with good lemons.
Finally, I’ve never made it, putting me firmly in Jeremy Lee’s bad books according to this column, but this 2014 recipe for Seville Orange tart remains bookmarked nonetheless.