madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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chunky Italian-style sweet orange marmalade

a beautiful display of oranges at Bastia Umbra Friday market, near Assisi

a beautiful display of citrus at Bastia Umbra Friday market, near Assisi

I have made a scientific study of making marmalade with sweet oranges. Bid deal – you will say – the whole world makes marmalade!

Indeed, but the “famous” British-style marmalade is made with bitter oranges.

However, there are no bitter oranges in rural Umbria. We grow no oranges at all actually, it’s too cold.

Try to ask an Umbrian greengrocer for bitter Seville oranges. He’ll think you are crazy. Then, with a bewildered look, he will proceed to offer you some fantastic Sicilian sweet oranges.

I also have a problem with marmalade making. It’s fussy. I make massive amounts of jams mostly based on the principle of chopping the fruit, adding sugar and pectin, boiling and voilà, all ready. This is a no go with oranges. The variation in  marmalade making methods is head spinning. Why?

The problem, my friends, is in the rind. Citrus rind is bitter, but it’s full of essential oils. The rind of lemons and of bitter oranges is particularly rich of lemonene, an oil which smells like oranges. That’s why it makes magic when added to food and marmalade.

Extract those oils in your marmalade and you will have captured the stupendous orange-yness of a perfect marmalade.

After much research and experiments I have adopted this is old recipe from Artusi’s The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well published in 1891. It’s still popular in Italy as it’s simple to make and the results are wonderful.

As a plus is based on my favorite chopping-everything-and-voilà-method. Almost :) .

I have slightly modified the proportion of ingredients and included explanations of the important steps.

Recipe

  • 10 large sweet oranges (I used about 2.5 kg /5.5 lb, organic, unwaxed Washington Navels)
  • 3 organic unwaxed lemons
  • sugar: same weight as oranges after soaking
  • water: 1/2 of the weight of oranges after soaking

Method:

1. Pierce oranges all around with the prongs of a fork. Alternatively score them lightly with a very sharp knife. Don’t pierce or score through the flesh or you will loose flavor.

Place oranges in a large bowl and cover with water. Place a plate on top of the oranges to keep them completely under water. Soak for 3 days changing the water twice a day. This will tenderize the oranges and dissolve the bitter taste of the zest as well as preserve  the essential oils which are insoluble in water.

Soak oranges in a large pot or bowl

Soaking the scored oranges in water. The plate has been removed for the picture.

2. on the 4th day, drain the oranges, quarter them and cut into chunks. This is a quite messy operations particularly if you like small chunks. I quartered the oranges and pulse-chopped 2 at a time in the food processor to obtain smaller pieces. Then I quickly transferred them into a bowl to avoid loosing precious orange juice all over the kitchen.

If you don’t mind bigger chunks just quarter the oranges and slice them 1 cm / half-inch thick. Try to collect all the juice dripping off the slices.

3. weigh the chopped fruit and juice – I will call this pulp –  transfer it in a tall pan and add water. For every kg/lb orange pulp you want to add half kg/lb water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 min.

Always use a tall pan to make jam to protect yourself from hot splatter. Use low heat and a heavy bottomed pan so you won’t need to stir too often to prevent burning.

Don’t be tempted to reduce the amount of water. In fact, adding water increases the cooking time so the zest will be tender at the same time the marmalade is ready.

4. After 10 min add sugar. For every kg/lb orange pulp you want to add 1 kg/lb sugar. Bring to the boil again, then lower the heat and simmer very slowly stirring occasionally.

5. After 1 hour start working on the lemons. Making marmalade with chunks of rind involves caramelizing the rind before the jam gets too thick. You can’t really use pectin to make this jam as it will set too fast without cooking the rind.

Adding lemons will relatively increase the speed of setting because they contain pectin. In addition it brings out the flavor of the oranges and preserves the color of the marmalade.

Zest the lemons.  I grate the zest directly into the marmalade pan using a microplane. Remove the white part of the rind, then chop the flesh roughly and transfer it in the marmalade pan. Simmer for approximately another hour.

6. Cooking time of this marmalade will vary depending on size of oranges, level of heat and thickness of the pan.

To test if the marmalade is at setting point use the classic frozen dish method. When the mixture has thickened, place a small plate in the freezer for 5 minutes or until chilled. Drop 1/4 of a teaspoon marmalade on the frozen plate, the jam will cool instantly. Turn the plate sideways at 45°. If the jam is thick enough to set it will wrinkle up in little folds. If it is not yet thick enough then the jam will spread without having the top of the jam wrinkle. The thicker the wrinkles, the harder the jam will set.

If you are unsure, switch off the heat, cover and wait until the next day so it will cool off completely. If the marmalade looks good at room temperature  bring it back to the boil for at least 5 min. It will become liquid again. Pour into sterilize jars, top, and place upside down on a worktop until cool.

Let it rest for at least a month before using. It is gorgeous on toast but it’s so intense you can use it to flavor puddings, make a crostata or a sauce for pannacotta by mixing it with a little brandy and a sprinkle of dark chocolate curls.

Makes ten 0.5 kg/ 1 lb jars.

Chunky, aromatic, utterly orange-y Italian style marmamalde

Chunky, aromatic, utterly orange-y Italian style marmalade

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