Oranges have been cultivated all over the world for many years. They are native to southeastern Asia and China.  The Persian Orange, grown widely in southern Europe after its introduction to Italy in the 11th. century, was bitter. The sweet oranges that were brought to Europe in the 15th. century from India by Portuguese traders quickly displaced the bitter ones and are, now, the most common variety of orange grown around the world. The sweet orange was cultivated in the 16th. century in Eastern Europe and grows to different sizes and colors according to local conditions, most commonly with ten carpels, or segments, inside. In England, they were a sign of wealth and were often used during the holiday season for decorations.

All citrus trees are of the single genus, Citrus, and remain largely inter-breedable; that is, there is only one "superspecies" which includes lemons, limes and oranges. Nevertheless, names have been given to the various members of the citrus family, oranges often being referred to as Citrus sinensis and Citrus aurantium. Fruits of all members of the genus Citrus are considered berries because they have many seeds, are fleshy, soft and derive from a single ovary. An orange seed is sometimes referred to as a pip.

The seeds of the plant were often carried to different regions by the explorers. Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and Middle Eastern sailors planted citrus trees along trade routes to prevent scurvy. On his second voyage in 1493, Christopher Columbus brought the seeds of oranges, lemons and citrons to Haiti and the Caribbean. They were introduced in Florida (along with lemons) in 1513 by the Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon, and were introduced to Hawaii in 1792.

A single mutation in 1820 in an orchard of sweet oranges planted at a monastery in Brazil led to the navel orange, also known as the Washington, Riverside or Bahia navel. A single cutting of the original was then transplanted to Riverside, California in 1870, creating a new market worldwide. The mutation causes a 'twin' fruit, with a smaller orange embedded in the outer fruit opposite the stem. From the outside, the smaller, undeveloped twin leaves a formation at the bottom of the fruit, looking similar to the human navel. Navel oranges are almost always seedless and tend to be larger than other sweet oranges. They are produced, without pollination, through parthenocarpy. Parthenocarpy produces a seedless fruit which cannot reproduce by sexual means but only by asexual or artificial ones.

Brazil is the leading country for orange production, with the state of Florida second to Brazil. California, Texas and Arizona are the only other orange-producing states in the United States. Blood oranges are grown in Italy, Clementines in Morocco and Jaffa oranges in Israel. The United State also imports oranges from Australia, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

The varieties of orange come sweet, loose skinned or bitter. Some variety names are navel, blood oranges and Valencia.

Navel
Mandarin Oranges

When selecting oranges, look for skin that does not have blemishes, wrinkles and mold. Oranges are often green before they ripen. Over sized navel oranges are overripe, so smaller ones are better. When Valencia oranges turn ripe on the tree, they turn yellow orange. They have some green on the stem because of the chlorophyll that is redistributed to the skin. This green is not a sign of immaturity or blemishes.

Fresh oranges reach their peak availability in the winter and early spring months. Storing oranges properly, whether from the supermarket or harvested from your own tree, prolongs the life of the fruit by preventing mold and spoilage. Firm, heavy fruits with a pronounced citrus aroma are at peak ripeness and store best. Wrinkled fruits or those with a rough skin are more prone to early spoilage and don't have the best quality of flavor. Store whole, unpeeled oranges at a temperature between 38 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

A sliced blood orange.

Oranges in Italy

They're grown throughout the southern half of the Peninsula, and if you go out for a drive anywhere from Rome south you'll pass roadside stands piled high with them. While there are a great many varieties; Italian oranges fall into three major groups:

  • Bionde are yellow to orange in color and include the Washington Navel.
  • Sanguigne are colored red, hence their English name, blood oranges.
  • Sanguinelle are oranges with skins are that colored with red.

As one might expect, oranges play an important role in the Italian diet. Bionde generally appear as fruit at the end of the meal, though they can be squeezed or used as a recipe ingredient, while sanguigne and sanguinelle are most often squeezed. During the winter months almost every bar has a juicer and a basket piled high with oranges for those who would rather begin their day with fresh juice rather than a cappuccino.

Anatra all'Arancia

Orange essence is a vital ingredient in many southern Italian pastries. Orange essence refers to orange oil derived from the orange's peel that is dissolved in alcohol.  Its use is somewhat restricted due to its alcohol base. And the peels of all, including bitter oranges, are candied for use in cakes and other desserts.

Finally, oranges have also long figured in main course dishes, many of which have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity following the rise to prominence of Anatra all'Arancia, the Italian equivalent of the French duck à l'orange.

Painting of Gathering the Oranges, Muravera, Sardinia

Cooking With Oranges

Cocktail

 

Blood Orange Mimosa

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle Prosecco, Italian sparkling wine
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed blood orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon superfine granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier

Directions

Chill the bottle of Prosecco. Combine fresh blood orange juice with sugar and orange liqueur in a large measuring cup and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. To serve, pour into the bottom of Champagne glasses and slowly top-off with ice-cold Prosecco.

 

AppetizerPicture of Marinated Olives with Rosemary, Red Chili, Orange and Paprika Recipe

Marinated Olives with Rosemary, Red Chili, Orange and Paprika

Ingredients:

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 large sprig rosemary
  • 4 to 5 whole orange slices, peel on
  • 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon Spanish smoked sweet paprika
  • 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 quart large green Spanish olives, unpitted

 Directions:

Combine garlic cloves, fresh rosemary, orange slices, red chili flakes, paprika, and extra- virgin olive oil in a saucepan and set over low heat. Slowly warm up to infuse the oil and soften the garlic - do not let it fry or bubble. Once hot, about 5 minutes, pour in olives, turn off heat and steep until cool. Serve at room temperature.

First Course

Orange Sage Risotto

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 3/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 5 fresh sage leaves, julienned, additional leaves for garnish
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Additional orange segments to stir into the risotto of for a garnish

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, bring orange juice and water to a boil. Reduce the heat and keep the liquid at a low simmer.

In a small Dutch oven, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat with the butter. Continue toasting the rice, stirring constantly, until it is golden brown in color, about 3 minutes.

Add the white wine and simmer until the wine has almost evaporated.

Add 1/2 cup of the simmering juice and stir until almost completely absorbed by the rice. Continue cooking the rice, adding the juice 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of juice to absorb before adding the next. Continue doing this until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total.

Remove from the heat. Gently stir in the sage leaves, salt, and pepper. Add orange segments, if desired.

Finish with the remaining tablespoon of butter and  Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Garnish each serving with a few orange segments and sage leaves.

Second Course

Mahi-Mahi with Blood Orange, Avocado, and Red Onion Salsa

Yes, avocados are available in Italy.  They are grown in Sicily.

2 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 blood orange or navel orange
  • 1/2 cup 1/3-inch cubed avocado
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced red jalapeño or serrano pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 6-ounce mahi-mahi fillets, or other white fish fillets
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Directions:

Using small sharp knife, cut peel and white pith from orange. Working over small bowl, cut between membranes to release segments. Add avocado, onion, jalapeño, and lime juice to oranges in bowl; stir gently to blend. Season salsa to taste with salt.

Heat oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish with oregano, salt and pepper. Add fish to skillet and sauté until brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.

Place 1 fillet on each of 2 plates. Spoon salsa atop fish and serve.

Dessert

Italian Orange Cake

Cake Ingredients:

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1  2/3 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup sugar or sugar alternative
  • 1  1/4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, not extra virgin
  • 1/4 cup sweet Marsala, Muscat or sherry dessert wine, or orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 3 eggs

Topping Ingredients

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1  1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1 tablespoon sweet Marsala, Muscat or sherry dessert wine, or orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel

Directions:

Heat oven to 325°F. Generously spray bottom only of 10-inch springform pan with cooking spray and dust with flour.

Note: If a springform pan is unavailable, bake cake in 13 x 9-inch pan at 350°F.  30 to 35 minutes.

Mix sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment until thoroughly mixed.

Add water, olive oil, 1/4 cup wine, 1 tablespoon orange peel and the eggs and beat on low speed 30 seconds, then on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. (Top of cake may appear dark golden brown and rippled.) Cool completely, about 1 hour.

Carefully run knife around side of pan to loosen; remove side of pan. Transfer cake to serving plate.

Directions:

Whipped Cream Topping

Chill the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer for 20 min. in the refrigerator or 5 min. in the freezer. Pour the heavy cream into the bowl and whisk on medium-high speed until it just starts to thicken. Slow the speed down to medium and gradually pour in the sugar. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons orange peel and 1 tablespoon wine until well blended. Continue to whisk until soft peaks form.

Frost top and side of cake. Garnish with 1 tablespoon orange peel. Store loosely covered in refrigerator.

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