During the winter months, I love to buy all sorts of citrus fruits and keep them together in one basket. They pile up and they mingle -- the Meyer lemons brush up against the Valencia oranges, the Kaffir limes poke out from behind the mandelos, and the giant pomelos dominate the bunch. Inevitably (and often in the early morning hours), I'll reach for what I believe to be a regular orange, slice it in half, and discover bright red flesh. Blood oranges never fail to take my breath away.
The color of their flesh, which can range from a rosy blush to a deep burgundy, has no correlation with the color of their peel. Instead, it depends on the variety and the growing conditions. When night temperatures drop sufficiently low, blood oranges accumulate anthocyanin pigments, usually darkening at their blossom end first. Sometimes a blood orange will end up with a dramatic shot of ruby running through its otherwise saffron-colored flesh.
Ninety percent of the blood oranges grown in California are the so-called Moro variety, which ripens from December through March. They are deeply pigmented and have a tangy, sweet-tart flavor that complements seafood and ice cream alike. Keep your eye out for the Tarocco blood orange, a variety native to Italy and still widely grown throughout the Southern Mediterranean. Blood orange aficionados consider Taroccos to be the finest oranges for eating. They ripen later in the season, from January until April, and they have a distinctive raspberry and pine fragrance. The very best Taroccos are said to grow in the rich volcanic soil near Mount Etna.
When choosing blood oranges at the market, don't be fooled by faintly tinted peels. Select the fruits that feel hard and heavy for their size--these will be the juiciest.
Blood Orange and Rosemary Granita
You don't need an ice cream machine to make this simple, refreshing granita; all you need is a freezer and a fork.
Serves 4 - 6
1 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1 small sprig rosemary
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon orange liqueur or gin
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon confectioners' sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a small pot, combine the blood orange juice, Meyer lemon juice, rosemary, and granulated sugar. Heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until the sugar completely dissolves. Taste. If the juice mixture isn't sweet enough, add another tablespoon of sugar, stir to dissolve, then taste again. Repeat as needed. Remove from the heat and stir in the orange liqueur or gin. Pour the mixture into an 8 by 8-inch dish, cover tightly, then place in the freezer for at least 4 hours.
Using a fork, lightly scrape the surface to break up the frozen juice. Return the dish, covered, to the freezer.
When you're reading to serve, combine the cream, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl. Beat until soft peaks form. To assemble, layer a spoonful of granita in the bottom of a pretty glass. Top it with a dollop of whipped cream, followed by another spoonful of granita. Serve promptly.