With its blushing skin and bright red juice, it's difficult not to associate the blood orange with romance; even the short growing season suggests a sort of flirtatious, fleeting quality. It's traditionally associated with Sicily, an island dotted with a multitude of tiny citrus groves made fertile by centuries of volcanic activity. Slice open a blood orange, and you can read the story of a Sicilian winter. A cold, harsh season creates a dark red flesh, and much sweeter juice. A mild winter means a mild fruit. Likewise, the gentle red freckles on the peel are the result of sunny January days turning into frosty nights, and the pigment this contrast produces. They are now grown in countries as diverse as Spain, Uruguay and South Africa, but the heritage of the Sicilian fruits seems to hold more charm, as well as having a protected geographical status and important industry for this small island.
They aren't as common as the oranges and lemons we've grown used to having regularly, but blood oranges have a more interesting flavour that will change throughout their short season. Freshly squeezed, the juice makes for the best breakfast, glowing ruby red and delivering a tart wake up to rival your coffee. Similarly, any recipe that calls for regular orange juice will work just as well with blood oranges, and they are particularly good in dairy based desserts like ice creams or pannacotta. Jams and marmalades are a great way to preserve the fruit for later in the year, as the growing season barely stretches past March, and using the segmented fruit in salads is an easy way to bring colour and flavour onto your plate.
Blood Orange & Bitter Chocolate Mousse
50g caster sugar
250ml double cream, plus a little extra (optional)
3 gelatine leaves
3 blood oranges, juice and grated zest, plus 1 blood orange sliced into segments
3 egg yolks
50g of dark chocolate (min, 70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
50g of cocoa powder
150ml whole milk
Soak the gelatine in cold water.
Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl, until pale yellow and thick.
In a large saucepan heat 150ml of the cream with the milk and the orange zest, until it just boils. Let it cool a little, then pour this on to the egg-sugar mixture, stirring well. Return this to the pan and heat it until the mixture thickens into a custard.
Remove from the heat and stir in the orange juice, chocolate and cocoa powder, stirring well. Stir in the gelatine, then put the pan into a bowl of very cold water to prevent any further cooking.
Whip the remaining cream and fold this very gently into the chocolate mix, making sure it's all incorporated.
Transfer the mousse into a bowl, or divide it into glass tumblers ready for serving.
Leave it to set in the fridge for at least one hour.
While the mousse is setting prepare the poached blood orange slices by placing them in a small saucepan with one tablespoon of sugar and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Heat gently until the water has evaporated and the oranges are soft and juicy. Leave to cool.
Top with a scoop of softly whipped cream and a few of the cooled blood orange segments.
Mousses are a great base for playing with; I like to serve it in generous dollops and then scatter chopped nuts or dried fruits on top. Alternatively if you have pretty ramekins or glasses you can layer the poached fruit and mousse, and finish with a sprinkle of cocoa powder.