Two gifts of nature that begin with “O”, Oranges and Olives
The holiday season welcomes a brush with exotic, adventurous food. Visualize the marriage of the bright orange and the lustrous black or green olive. Then imagine what they will taste like in the same delightful, healthy dish.
Lately, I have come to love something I once perceived as a royal pain-in-the-butt, the orange. My aversion goes back to the dark ages of newly diagnosed diabetes when I was taught how to inject insulin using orange as the ersatz patient. It did something to my sense of taste for oranges and their sweet juice. Everything orange related tasted like insulin to my impressionable palate. Not only that, to make matters worse, it was the orange that waved the red flag, “attention low blood sugar present”.
Now that we know more about nutritional values and that it is okay to enjoy a piece of fruit, even drink some juice without guilt or without the purpose of slamming a hypo, I have been reassessing my judgment on the orange through a wider scope and have come to the joyful conclusion that the orange is a marvelous, majestic and most versatile gift of nature.
Historically, the bright and beautiful specimens of vibrant flaming color, slightly mysterious texture and sweet succulent flavor were once coveted as exotic treasures. The orange can be traced back thousands of years to the Chinese and Japanese who discovered and cultivated Mandarins, and to the Spanish and Portuguese ships that brought oranges to Europe in the Middle Ages. It was the mid 16th century when they landed on our shores. They were prized and cherished, even given as precious Christmas gifts.
Now is their season. Most of the oranges arriving at your friendly neighborhood produce stand these days are the navels from California and the juice oranges of Florida. The original navels came up from Brazil in the mid-1800s and were known as Bahia oranges. Today we call them navels referring to their dimpled tip, opposite the stem end. They bear seedless, slightly crisp fruit and have thick pitted, pebbled skin. They are less juicy than Florida oranges. Navels are easy to peel and section, a very convenient 15 to 20-gram carb snack. Nutritionally, this great eating orange packs more of a wallop than the juice orange. A 5 oz. 65 calorie navel boasts 1.4 grams protein, 15 carb grams, 80 mg. vitamin C, along with more calcium, folate, and iron than its Florida relatives. The same size juice orange contains less of the same nutrients.
The smoother skinned Florida oranges, the Valencias, and Temples are prized for their juice. The heavier the orange, the more juice it contains. The thin-skinned Valencias are medium-sized, round in shape, pale orange with hints of green in color, not many seeds and burst forth with very sweet/acidic juice. Temples, called Royal Mandarins in California, are bright orange in color, loaded with seeds, have a somewhat flattened round shape and produce a rich sweet/spicy fruit and juice. Other varieties include the Seville, whose fruit is too bitter to eat out of hand, but the skin oil and blossoms are very fragrant. Sevilles are mainly used for marmalades and preserves, and the oil flavors liqueurs, such as Grand Marnier. The blood orange has been waxing in popularity with food mavens. Once grown mainly in Sicily, it seems to be quite comfortable residing in California these days. Its dramatic deep magenta flesh, red blotted, orange skin and slightly tart raspberry-like flavor, have the makings of a culinary star.
The orange is a versatile companion. A medium-sized orange yields about 10 sections, 1 ½ T of grated zest, and 2/3 cup of juice with pulp. Oranges find delight in all aspects of cooking Even the peel (zest) has great culinary uses. Orange vinegar is easy to make and has a crisp, refreshing taste that livens up sauces and salads. By simply using a vegetable peeler to peel long strips of washed zest from 4 oranges, placing them in a large clean jar or bottle and pouring in 1 quart of good quality wine vinegar, letting rest for a week before straining, you will have a fabulous tasting vinegar to enjoy.
Another easy and versatile use for orange zest is to peel the zest off the fruit with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, dry on a rack for 2-3 days and freeze. The zest (as well as fruit and juice) can be added to everything from appetizers to desserts. Recipe Central will give you some interesting orange recipes to enjoy this winter.
Olives: The Pit Stops Here
Green, black, brown, purple, red, smooth, shriveled, stuffed, tiny and colossal. The olive can be bold and forthright, simple and pure, exotic and mysterious. It can hover in the background or stand center stage. It has come a long long way from its bland reputation of being soggy green, stuffed with pimentos and shoved into a jar, or black, pitted, over-processed, canned and served on the holiday relish tray alongside celery ribs.
Olive trees with their gnarled branches and silvery leaves predate the written history of Greece. Italy has loved the olive since Roman times. Spain and North Africa have been counting olive pits over 4000 years. Some say olives are an ageless part of the Mediterranean landscape. The trees thrive in rocky, arid conditions.
When the fruit first appears it is green. As it ripens its color changes to reddish to deep wine color. It continues to darken to full ripeness of pure glossy black. Harvesting can take place at any time during the ripening process because olives must be cured. Try picking an olive off a tree and biting into it. UGH! Why the ugh? Olives contain a component called oleuropein, which is extremely bitter tasting. And so, a man came up with the clever idea of curing the flavor which we have been enjoying ever since. Nutritionally olives are low in calories, about 60 calories in 10 medium-sized olives, tiny traces of protein and carb, and about 5 grams of fat. OOPS! that’s a lot of fat. The good news is the fat in olives is monounsaturated, with no cholesterol beneficial fat. And olives are the perfect punctuation to add zest, color, and interest to those with diabetes who follow an otherwise bland diet.
The International Olive Bazaar
From Greece: Greek Black Olives are purplish brown, quite large, with soft pulp and winy taste. Kalamata medium-sized almond-shaped, very elegant olives with a fruity and robust flavor. Kalamatas are sun-ripened, cured in brine, and enhanced with olive oil or wine vinegar. These blackish jewels are a wonderful all-purpose olive. Agrinion gigantic, very light green in color with firm tangy flesh. They are cracked and brine-cured and easily pitted.
From Spain: Manzanilla they are called “little apples” in Spain for their crisp texture and juicy flavor.
From Morocco: Moroccan olives are small, shiny, black, shriveled raisin-like olives are usually packed with twigs and leaves from their trees. Their flavor is complicated with a sweet, fruity, spicy depth.
From Italy: Cerignola these large, meaty, crisp, nutty flavored, dramatic olives come in green or black. They are quite captivating and happen to be my current favorite. Gaeta small, dark, salt-cured olives with smooth or wrinkly skin, Their deep flavor mixes salt with sour with wine and a hint of rosemary. They are quite glamorous.
From France: Nicoise pungent, herbaceous, tiny, shiny, purplish brown or black olives that are more pit than meat, but their taste is so good, all is forgiven. Picholine this pale green, medium-sized olive is tapered at both ends. It is brine-cured, sometimes packed in lemon juice and has a crisp, salty flavor.
Olives keep well in a cool room for about a week. After that cover tightly and refrigerate. Always bring to room temp before serving to enjoy the full flavor of any olive. Olives are a tasty and elegant “bite” or as the French say, an “amuse”. Choose a variety of 2 or 3 types and dress some of them up for a party with grated orange or lemon zest, chopped fresh rosemary or basil, a crack of fresh black pepper and a drizzle of what else but olive oil. Some pretty good recipes are being made right now over a recipe central. See you there!