Of all citrus fruits, blood oranges are most dramatic

Posted: Friday, March 02, 2007

One of the bright spots in the produce aisle during the winter months are the citrus fruits. Oranges, lemons and grapefruit are plentiful, delicious and inexpensive right now. While some members of the citrus family tend toward tartness in December and January, by the time March rolls around they have had time to sit on the tree, and ripen to perfection.

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Of all the citrus fruits, perhaps the most dramatic is the blood orange. It has a crimson-colored flesh, the result of a pigment called anthocyanin not typically found in citrus fruits. Blood oranges are the perfect fruit for this time of year, when the gray monochromes of late winter leave us yearning for more color in our lives.

Blood oranges originated in the Mediterranean. They are a fairly recent transplant to the United States, where they are grown in California and Texas. The most common variety we see in Juneau is the Moro, which is grown in California.

The Moro is a small to medium size orange whose peel frequently blushes to a deep red color. Its flesh is reliably dark red and sometimes purplish. Other varieties of blood orange include the Tarocco, which is not as red as the Moro, but has an outstanding flavor that makes it the most popular orange in Italy. Another variety I have seen recently is called Homestead, which like the Tarocco is not consistently red, but still delicious.

Blood oranges have an interesting and complex flavor that has been described as tart and rich with hints of raspberry. Their flavor sweetens as the season progresses. They are best eaten fresh, either out of hand, or as an ingredient in salads. Their season lasts from December well into April, although late in the season they will sometimes acquire a musky flavor that indicates they have gotten a bit too ripe.

When buying blood oranges, look for fruit that is firm, with a peel that has a light luster. I prefer the ones that have a bit of red blush showing on the peel. Some folks say these tend to be redder on the inside as well, although the evidence in support of this is purely anecdotal.

Here is a salad recipe which features blood oranges:

Luigi's Grandmother's blood orange salad

6 ounces Italian tuna in olive oil, drained

4 blood oranges, peeled, membranes removed

¼ cup chopped oil-cured black olives

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

4 handfuls baby arugula

In a bowl, combine tuna, orange segments, and olives. In a separate bowl, combine vinegar, salt and pepper. In a steady, thin stream, pour in olive oil while whisking to combine. Drizzle dressing over salad and let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature to let the flavors blend. To serve, arrange four plates with beds of arugula and gently play spoonfuls of blood orange mixture on top. Sprinkle with parsley. Serves four.

Recipe from Apartment Therapy Web site, http://kitchen.apartmenttherapy.com.

• David Ottoson owns Rainbow Foods and has bought, sold and written about food and health for 20 years.

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