I didn't realize how much my father influenced my taste until I started cooking for myself. He was and still is an amazing cook, able to create dish after dish close to perfection. Growing up with such a talented and passionate mentor taught me amazing lessons on taste and simplicity. His mother grew up in a poor Venetian household during WW I and II and her cooking was highly influenced by those scarce times when every part of the animal was used. Periodically my father brought home some unpopular items like bull testicles or cow's brain (I kid you not!), but most often he was drizzling balsamic vinegar on strawberries or making the most amazing risottos using local plants like hops or nettles. He introduced me to the richness of bittersweet chocolate or taught me that the best way to eat fish is by simply grilling it with no other ingredient than some good olive oil. When he made green tomato jam I thought he was insane, but now I realize he was ahead of his time. He also introduced me to the amazing taste of orange marmalade, sweet bitterness. So when I recently went to the farmers' market I brought home 4 pounds of Seville oranges and some blood oranges. I initially set out to make Seville orange marmalade but to my dismay I burned it by setting the flame on high by mistake. I hadn't planned to use the blood oranges other than for juice but I decided to turn them into marmalade instead.
When I fist moved to the States blood oranges were a rare find and very costly, and I remember the looks of surprise and the questions that followed when I would bring them to work for lunch. Now they are readily available and luckily they cost the same as other oranges. According to this book, blood oranges originated from a single mutation in 17th century Sicily. In Italy they are very common but in the States it took some years for the imported tree to finally start bearing full crops, now we can all enjoy them.
My mom used to make jams when I was little, but after moving to the States I hadn't made many. It wasn't until few years ago when I met a lovely German woman that I was hooked into making jams again. She brought some of her preserves to a restaurant where I used to work and I was blown away, they were so good. She put vanilla beans in them and I have used the beans in most of my preserves since then.
I am by no means an expert at making preserves, and I keep experimenting and learning about natural pectin in fruit and so forth. My orange marmalade was made following no recipe, adding sugar to taste (some oranges are sweeter than others so I always start with less sugar than I think I need), and cooking it to the right consistency. It came out so good I ate a ton yesterday, spread over left over walnut bread.
Blood Orange Marmalade
4 pounds organic oranges
2 pounds granulated sugar (or more depending on taste)
2 vanilla beans, split in half and seeds scraped.
Wash the oranges, cut them in slices and remove the seeds. Cut in smaller pieces, depending on how chunky you want it. Add some water and the sugar to make a soupy, not too watery, mixture. Cook on low until it thickens. To check to see whether the sugar has reached the right jellying consistency put a teaspoon of marmalade in the fridge for few minutes. Keep cooking if too "loose". Fill clean jar while the marmalade is still hot. Let cool at room temperature and then sterilize the jars by boiling for 10 minutes. This double boiling method was taught to me by my mom and it works to kill every bacteria, even botulinum's spores.