Every time I cut open a blood orange, I marvel at its strange, dark beauty. The best blood oranges are grown on the volcanic plain surrounding Mount Etna in Sicily, where the soil and the fluctuation of temperature between day and night cause pigments called anthocyanins (which are high in antioxidants), to develop. So it isn’t just the evocative names of the varieties: Moro, Tarocco and Sanguinello to tempt me, the fruit is a superfood too.
The ruby red seeds of pomegranates, also cultivated in Sicily and probably introduced by the Arabs, have a high anthocyanin content due to the same blood-red pigmentation. Fortunately both of these wonderful fruit varieties overlap seasonally, so around this time of year, my fruit basket is filled with these two exotic and health giving ingredients.
These darker, colder days call for warming sustenance and where better to turn than to the fragrant spices of Middle Eastern cooking? Harira is a soup I love to make when the weather turns, a traditional Moroccan dish which uses vegetables, spices, chickpeas and can include lamb for extra nourishment. Everything is cooked slowly to bring out the maximum flavour and if you make a big batch, it will keep for a few days in the fridge so you can warm up a bowlful for a fast and healthy meal.
At this time of year there’s one thing I really crave and luckily it’s something healthy. It’s also something that doesn’t take ages to prepare and (thank god, because it’s too cold to nip out to the shops last minute) most of the ingredients are sitting waiting for me in the cupboard or fridge. Soba noodles and greens, served in miso broth with a poached egg on top is my winter obsession. It’s warming, sustaining, nutritious and moreishly delicious to eat, I could have it (and its variations) every day of the week.
This is the blueprint recipe, but if you make it regularly you’ll find you want to add new ingredients or omit some things – as long as the stock tastes good and it’s full of things you like to eat, you can’t go wrong. See my suggestions for optional extras below..
Giant cedro lemons at La Fromagerie in London
When shopping in La Fromagerie in London yesterday, I discovered a basket full of giant Cedro lemons. It is rare to see these fabulous fruit sold in London, but if you stumble across them, be sure to buy one – you’re in for a treat. The Cedro lemon (or Citron as they are called in English) is actually one of the four original varieties of citrus fruits – along with pummelo, mandarine and papeda (from which yuzu and kaffir fruits derive).
At Skye Gyngell’s wonderful new restaurant, Spring, where I had lunch yesterday, I was surprised and delighted to find punterelle on the menu. This long-stemmed winter chicory is prized by the Italians and found in every market in Rome during its short season (now until February), but is still a rare ingredient to discover on London menus.
Its name: punterelle – which translates as point, tip or spike in Italian, refers to the hollow white shoots hidden underneath the swathes of long dandelion shaped leaves. The most prized part of the plant is the inner heart, which once stripped of its outer leaves is sliced into fine spikes. It has a crisp texture with a refreshing, gently bitter flavour. More delicate that most bitter chicories, it suits strong flavours and is traditionally dressed with a sauce of chilli, garlic, anchovies and vinegar to make punterelle Romana. The protective outer leaves are often discarded, but I like to use them too. Cooked in plenty of boiling, salted water, which softens their bitterness, and braised with some garlic and dressed with oil and lemon, they make a good substitute for chard or other green leaves.
The inner heart of the punterelle, ready to be sliced