Jews have a past with oranges
In our very rainy autumns I tend to get wistful, thinking that the big fall Jewish “food holidays” are past and — except for latke fests at Hanukkah — there are no great Jewish food gatherings until the seudot of Purim.
Then I see the first satsuma tangerines appear in the stores, along with a very early new crop of navel oranges and I remember the glory of late autumn: it’s the beginning of the citrus season! And we’ll have the best of a huge variety of the segmented species, almost until spring turns our thoughts to other culinary cravings.
The incomparable sweetness of oranges has been part of Jewish life at least since Roman times. The Mediterranean coastal areas that are now prized citrus-growing regions are thought to have been first maintained in orchards by Jews. In fact, medieval Jews from Sicily and other Mediterranean islands were known as citrus specialists and were encouraged to settle in prime citrus areas to spread their expertise in growing the finest lemons and oranges in the world.
The “shamuti”-type Jaffa orange has probably been grown in Israel since the early 1800s and has been thought to far outstrip the fruit from Spain, Florida and California as the sweetest and most fragrant orange in the world. It has been said that the perfume of the Jaffa orchards in flower could be detected by ships sailing in the Mediterranean, miles from shore.
The oranges, tangerines and mandarins of this coming season seem to bring the sun of Spain and the Mediterranean into our chilly northern lives, a sun that once shone on our Sephardic forebears and inspired this wonderful cake made with oranges picked from ancient trees surrounding the square of the old Jewish quarter in Seville. It is one of my very favorite cakes, adapted from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, because it uses a puree of whole simmered oranges and seems to capture the essence of all that is orange.
Gateau a l’Orange- Orange Cake
Serves 10 to 12
2 oranges or 4 small tangerines
1-1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs. orange blossom water
1 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 cup toasted almond, walnuts or hazelnuts (or a combination) ground fine
Oil a 9-inch cake pan or springform pan and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper. Oil again and dust with flour or matzoh meal.
Wash the oranges and boil them whole ‘til they are very soft, about two hours, adding more water as necessary.
Beat the eggs with the sugar till light and thickened. Add the orange-blossom water, baking powder and nuts and mix well. Cut open the oranges, remove any seeds and puree ‘til smooth in a food processor. Mix thoroughly with the egg and nut mixture and pour into the prepared pan.
Bake in a preheated 375° oven for one hour. Let cool in the pan, then turn out onto a cake platter and dust generously with powdered sugar.
This cake has a luscious pudding-like texture and is beneficially low in fat!
• • •
We often think of warming ourselves with hot bowls of soup or chowder. Here is a salad that seems warming because most of the ingredients come from sunny climates: olives, almonds, avocados and oranges — and it’s dressed with an orange-scallion vinaigrette. You can serve it to accompany some steamy bowls of soup, stew or chowder!
“Warming” Winter Salad
2 heads Bibb lettuce or baby frisée
1/2 bunch watercress, tough stems removed
2 oz. oil-cured black olives
2 oz. small green olives, like Spanish Arbequina
2 oz. small black olives, like Niçoise
4 oz. whole raw almonds, roasted at 325° for 12–15 min or until flavorful and crunchy
1 large ripe avocado
2 small sweet oranges or 3 satsuma tangerines
1 small shallot, cut in very thin rings
4 oz. creamy blue cheese, in small chunks
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
kosher or sea salt to taste
Wash the lettuce and watercress, dry and set aside. (Don’t like watercress? Omit it and use more lettuce.)
Cut the skins and white pith off the oranges and cut them in thin slices, saving the juice from cutting for the vinaigrette. If you’re using tangerines, peel them, scrape off some of the white pith from the segments, divide into segments and cut each segment nearly in half, lengthwise. Open up the segments like little books (actually they look a bit like butterflies). Drain the olives and mix together.
Just before serving the salad, coarsely tear the lettuce, put in a bowl and toss with 1/2 cup (or less) of the vinaigrette (recipe follows).Spread decoratively
on a medium-sized serving platter.
Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Take one half in your palm, cut side up, and use a paring knife to cut crosshatch squares into the flesh, cutting all the way to the skin. Use a soup or small serving spoon to scoop out the little cut squares of avocado, leaving the skin empty. Scatter the avocado on the lettuce and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Arrange the orange slices in two diagonal lines over the lettuce, having the slices overlap each other. Sprinkle with almonds, olives and shallot rings, and scatter on the blue cheese. Lightly sift the black pepper and cumin over the salad, drizzle on a bit more vinaigrette and serve.
Juice of one orange or two tangerines
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 scallion (green onion) with green, cleaned and chopped very fine
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 clove garlic, peeled, smashed and minced
1-1/4 cup mild extra virgin olive oil
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the orange juice, vinegar, mustard, scallion, garlic and salt, stirring with a whisk to combine well.
Pour in the olive oil very slowly, whisking vigorously to create a good emulsion with the juice and vinegar.
Taste and adjust the flavors with a bit more salt or vinegar. This will keep for at least three weeks covered in the refrigerator.