Blood oranges are a great example of why it’s good to eat seasonally, asides from of all the ethical reasons of course, imagine how less glamorous they’d be if we could lay our hands on them every day, and that crimson interior staining became anything other than an absolute screaming delight. They may not look much from the outside, bar a rosy shadow beneath the surface of some, or the tell tale flamboyant wrappers that proudly flaunt their heritage, but slice through and, if you’re lucky, on your plate or chopping board will pool the ruby red, bitter blood of these illusive fruit. You never really know quite how dark they’ll be, and often I’ve been disappointed by a speckle, a mere flesh wound, but I can’t help a smile escaping when I get one filled with real saturated haemoglobic gore. The flavour is more intense and aromatic than your average orange, bitter but not sharp, with a hint of grapefruit and berries.
You know what it’s like when you can’t have something, all last week the craving for blood orange was tipped over into a silly state of desire because I couldn’t get hold of them locally and knew I wasn’t going to be able to until at least the weekend. Every meal that week bore a sulky dullness that I knew could be transformed with a splash of vibrancy just a sliver of blood orange would bring. I get it every year, that panic of missing out rising, as the window of their season is so fleeting, the urgency feels sharp, desperate. Last year’s bounty rewarded me with a sticky cardamom, pistachio and blood orange cake with Campari drizzle. I had something subtly different in mind for this batch when I got hold of them, and I planned a Saturday morning jaunt to Maltby Street.
I should have known shouldn’t I? That a trip to Maltby Street is never as fleeting as I might have planned, especially when I’ve arranged to say hi to a couple of friends when I get there, even more so when one of those is one of my drinking buddies @ClerkenwellBoy…I start off strong, focussed on my goal, I pluck only the heaviest of orbs from baskets groaning with fresh produce, and those with a dappling of the hint of red flesh beneath the surface, plus one wrapped in it’s paper finery. It’s the rules of blood orange shopping don’t you know?
We peer into 40 Maltby Street for just a cursory glance at the menu – BIG MISTAKE – of course it was. The menu here is always a glorious list of simple, seasonal deliciousness, I’d happily have plotted for the day until I’d greedily eaten one of each thing moving down the blackboard till I got to the very bottom and hit the desserts. It goes without saying we slip inside and wiggle into the only spots left despite it having only a few short moments before opened it’s doors. A hearty, berry rich red warms chilled bones and the Yorkshire ham sat on the counter is a feast for the eyes, shortly to be a feast for the belly. How can you not? It’s served in roughly hewn magnificently tender and juicy slices, the fat melts with such sweetness that we have to pretend not to fight for the edges and scraps. Celeriac croquettes are a treat dipped in mild mustard and a dish of ox heart with beetroot and pickled walnuts is a robust and generous plate. We could have stopped there but another rule for visiting Maltby Street, is that it’s a wasted trip if you can’t factor in at least one sherry and a plate of ham at Bar Tozino. So we do. In fact we have two crisp, bone dry, ice cold sherries and two plates of the very best ham, cut into neat little squares that makes me blush with shame at the thought of my disastrously hacked leg at home. Padron peppers? It would be rude not to, and tomato bread? Obviously. By the time we’ve meandered back to Borough for some more ‘essentials’; butter, oil, cheese etc etc it’s getting dark….oops.
This clearly isn’t the first time that this has happened, and it won’t be the last – I wrote about the pleasures of a double bill trip to Maltby Street last year too.
Fennel and orange is a match made in the otherworlds that I could happily eat each and every day, even better when the sun’s shining, with a scattering of toasted almonds (I made a delicious salad using blood orange olive oil a couple of years ago) and I had designs on these oranges, or at least one, for something similar. In the end I made two variations.
For the first, I start with a bulb of fennel sliced as thinly as possible so the stripy rings are almost translucent and frill over the plate in pretty rounds. Next I slice into one of the oranges, paring skin from flesh, my knife jubilantly revealing red as a stained glass ruby in a crown. Try to keep the slices whole and keep going till the whole is rendered slivered, then dress the fennel with their jewelled prettiness. Next scatter over a chopped date and toasted chopped pistachios and plenty of seasoning. I finish by dotting over the most gorgeous unpasturised cows curd cheese, from Blackwoods Cheese Company, I found at Neals Yard Dairy, marinated in olive oil and herbs, I’m told it’s similar to a persion feta; it’s creamy, herby and just perfect for this dish. I drizzle plenty of the oil from the jar over the whole salad, a wonderful combination of fresh, bright, herby, salty, crunchy, soft, sweet and savoury, juices mingling with oils to make the best dip to swipe crusty bread through.
The following day I keep the salad simpler as part of a small mezze. This time fennel and orange is prepared in the same way as the first, I add the crunch of pistachios again, but this time drape over some milky, aggressively sweet and salty lardo di colonnata . I adore the Moro books, every recipe leaps from the pages begging to be tried, I normally tweak recipes to my own preference but in this instance there’s no need. The pork kebabs, Pinchitos Morunos, or Moorish skewers are richly spiced, marinated in crushed coriander, cumin and fennel seeds, sweet smoked Spanish paprika, garlic, saffron, oregano,bay leaf, olive oil and red wine vinegar. The other dish is one I’ve not tried before but is a revelation; such simple comfort. Greek yoghurt is mixed with a salt and garlic paste and spread on to a plate, then topped with a poached egg, chilli flakes, paprika, crispy fried sage leaves and brown butter. It’s all at once homely and elegant, exotic and comforting. It just needs to be swept through with a swathe of seeded, za’atar doused flatbread.
I was sorely tempted to make a full size, middle eastern, flourless cake a la Claudia Roden, but a fear that I’d just eat the lot put a stop to that in the end (boy is on a diet) so instead I took one of the principles, that of boiling the oranges, and added to my friand recipe (I do love a friand, my last version was fig and pistachio) for tiny bite sized coffee accompaniments. I’d been harbouring the idea of a za’atar topped cake ever since I’d noticed it scattered over an apple cake in Fernandez and Wells, I’m a sucker for that sweet and savoury, aromatic mix and this sounded just what I wanted for these little treats.
Blood Orange and Pistachio Friands with Za’atar and Candied Blood Orange
Makes 16 using my mini friand mould, would be easily doubled or trebled for regular sized ones
60g melted salted butter
2 egg whites
20g ground almonds
20g ground pistachios
75g golden icing sugar
25g wholewheat spelt flour
2 blood orange
caster sugar & water
To start, simmer the blood orange whole for a couple of hours, leave to cool then discard the skin and seeds, reserving the soft flesh which can be broken down a little with a fork or spoon.
To make the candied orange slices, boil up a sugar solution 1.5 parts water:1 part sugar in a small pan and add whole slices of orange until they cook and start to turn translucent. Reduce to a simmer and keep going till the liquid is reduced but be careful not to let the slices catch and burn. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees, placing a baking tray on the middle shelf to warm, brush the cavities of a friand, small cupcake or fairy cake tray with melted butter.
Whisk egg whites till thick, then stir in the icing sugar, ground pistachios and almonds, flour, and finally the butter and orange flesh, combining until smooth and everything is incorporated.
Using a teaspoon, fill the friand moulds to just under the top then place on the baking tray in the oven for around 10-15 minutes until slightly risen, golden brown and crispy on top.
Allow to cool before removing from moulds and finish with a piece of candied orange and a sprinkling of za’atar.
Best served with a dollop of labneh and a fresh coffee.