January may be the bleakest month but it brings with it two bright culinary treasures.
The beginning of the year sees the arrival of blood oranges and the start of the forced rhubarb season.
On the face of it, blood oranges look exactly the same as their regular name sakes. Nothing on the outside belies the decadent, ruby red flesh that’s revealed when you cut through the skin.
Each one is different – the blood reference could be a smattering of mottled red nestling among the segments or it could be a full blown sphere of lush scarlet.
The wonderful enigma is that you never know until you slice.
The season is limited to a few weeks so embrace them while they’re here.
They have a sharpness that makes them equally as good in savoury dishes as with sweet.
Duck and orange is a classic, well worked combination and the zing of these seasonal citrus works particularly well with the rich bird.
My recipe uses the oranges to brine duck breasts with some aromatics added.
They’re then cooked gently to render the fat and become crisp.
Preserved lemons are a mainstay of middle eastern cooking and the method of salting to preserve them for the months they’re not in season can be applied with great success to blood oranges.
Citrus is packed in seasalt in a jar and left for weeks to capture their essence before using.
My method is a lot quicker – orange segments are added to a salt water solution, boiled, rinsed and then stored overnight in juice before being ready for use.
An immediate fast track when you need it. Add to roast chicken, pork or oily fish for a streak of Mediterranean sunshine to strike through grey skies anywhere.
Forced rhubarb from Yorkshire is in the shops now.
The young shoots are covered with a bucket or kept in dark sheds to trick them into coming up early.
The stalks are lurid pink and sweeter than their summer counterpart.
They’re delicate and like blood oranges need to be cherished for their short life span.
My other recipe is for a crostata of rhubarb and blood orange.
A crostata is a fancy Italian name for a tart with pastry criss crossed over the top.
The ingredients mentioned work perfectly together – only a dollop of cream is needed to complete a delicious treat from two gems of the culinary world.