Every season, there is a fickle, flighty fruit or vegetable which, as soon as I get my grubby mitts on it, takes all my energy and forces me to neglect other foods.
They are allusive creatures. Here today then they disappear in a wisp of fragrance, leaving us mournful in their wake, wondering what we did wrong. It happens every season – asparagus and wild garlic in spring, elderflower and figs at either end of the summer, damsons in autumn, then forced rhubarb and blood oranges in the depths of winter.
Even though we’re used to these flirts, I can’t help but be needy when they appear. It’s an unhealthy relationship. Take blood oranges for instance. I try to be blasé when I see their yearly reappearance online. Yeah, sure I’ll pin a blood orange upside down cake on Pinterest but that’s as far as it goes.
Then I see them in ruby speckled pile in my local grocers and I buy three on the spot, no recipe in mind. I just want to look at them.
So after a few days of admiring them in the fruit bowl, I finally strip them of their skins with baited breath. Sometimes their flesh is simply orange and, because I go for looks alone in a relationship, I’m too heartbroken to eat them. In this case, I was pleasantly surprised. Dappled pink and crimson, the segmented fruit shone brightly in the bowl.
Not that they need me to compliment them further, but honestly, blood oranges are the star of the show. They don’t need fancy frills or a drumroll by mixing in other fruits which just push the sweet blood orange flavour to the side, or by garnishing with domineering bitter chocolate.
In this recipe, I marinated the segments in warm caramel sauce spiced with pink peppercorns and star anise. The warmth of anise and toffee and the earthy peppercorns enhance the orange’s freshness and floral notes. This blood orange caramel is the perfect substitute for coulis on the side of vanilla cheesecake or croissant cake, or on crepes Suzette if you’re at that point in lockdown where a 70s night sounds like the perfect distraction.
I served the segmented blood oranges with spiced caramel alongside some honey panna cottas, wobbly and soft, the gently infused cream completing the spice, the zesty tang in the caramel. It’s so smooth, it’s far too easy to eat.
Blood oranges will suddenly disappear like a one night stand, and I will be bereft. At least we had spiced caramel together. I will always remember our time with the panna cottas.
Blood oranges with pink peppercorn spiced caramel
- 250 g sugar
- 200 ml water
- 1 tsp pink peppercorns
- 1 star anise
- 2 blood oranges
- Tip the sugar and 125ml water into a saucepan. Set it over low heat and dissolve the sugar, gently easing the sugar with a wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Using a wet pastry brush, wipe any sugar crystals off the sides of the pan.
- Bring the syrup to the boil. Do not stir! Take it to a rich gold colour and swirl the pan to make sure the colour is even.
- While the syrup is boiling, segment the oranges. Using a small sharp knife, slice off the bottom so you have a flat base. Cut away the peel and cut in downwards strokes following the curve of the orange. Reserve a piece of peel. Hold the fruit in your hand over a bowl to catch the juice. Find the segments and cut between the membranes. Let them fall into the bowl with the juice.
- Once the caramel reaches the shade of gold you like, remove the pan from the heat and pour in the remaining water. It will spit like crazy so be careful!! Place it back over a low heat to melt the caramel into the water. Pour in the orange juice. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes.
- Lightly crush the pink peppercorns and add them with the star anise and a piece of orange peel to the caramel. Pour the caramel into a jug and leave to cool and infuse. When the caramel is no longer hot, add the orange pieces and marinate overnight in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.