It’s January. And as I stroll through my favorite farmers market and the produce aisles of the grocery store, I am always struck by the abundance of fresh fruits and berries. There are bright red strawberries, fat blueberries and blackberries and melons of all types.
By this time in the darkness of winter, my mother had few choices. We loved fruit for dessert after our evening meal, and, while we ate many varieties of canned fruit, mostly we ate oranges. Lots of them, along with tangerines, tangelos and grapefruit. In January, there wasn’t a strawberry in sight.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Harrisburg had a place known as the “Orange Car,” an unheated, warehouse-type building in South Harrisburg near the railroad tracks. Citrus fruits of all types were delivered directly by train from Florida. My family went there often to buy grapefruit and juicing oranges for morning breakfast, tangerines for snacks and big, fat navels for after dinner. At Christmastime, we bought gift baskets for friends with jars of orange marmalade and bunches of kumquats tucked inside.
I have always loved cooking with citrus fruit, especially oranges. For many years, a favorite “go-to” recipe of mine for company was baked chicken with orange, butter and honey. I grate orange zest for summer marinades and holiday pound cakes. And I think fresh orange might be the largest ingredient in my old fashioned!
The temperate climate and warm sunshine of Italy’s southern regions nourish the numerous orange and lemon groves there. Oranges show up in wonderful fennel salads with cured black olives, in chocolate desserts with hazelnuts, and are the star of an interesting condiment called mostarda or mustard fruits. Halibut with orange and olive oil is a simple but elegant entrée you might find on a restaurant menu.
I have found a luscious pasta dish from the culinary magazine, La Cucina Italiana. It reminds me a little of a wonderful dish I enjoy at the Harrisburg restaurant, Pastorante—fusilli with cream, butternut squash, sage and cream. “Spaghetti Scented with Orange” will warm you on a cold January night. Pair it with an arugula salad, broccoli or broccolini to counter the richness of the cream.
Spaghetti Scented with Orange
- Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
- 2 oranges (navels work well)
- 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1¼ cups heavy cream
- 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley plus extra for sprinkling on top
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese plus more for serving
- 3 large egg yolks
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
- Using a sharp paring knife, remove the zest/peel from the two oranges, being careful to avoid the white “pith.” Cut the zest into very thin strips lengthwise. Save the oranges for another use (tomorrow’s breakfast?).
- In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the orange zest and a pinch of salt, reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally until softened and lightly golden. This will take about five minutes but watch carefully so that the mixture doesn’t burn. Set aside.
- Bring the pot of water to boiling and cook the pasta until al dente.
- In a medium, heavy saucepan, heat the cream, chopped parsley and a pinch of salt and simmer gently for about four minutes.
- Just before the pasta is ready, spoon several tablespoons of the cream sauce into a shallow serving bowl or rimmed platter. Keep the remaining cream warm.
- Drain the pasta and place into the serving bowl. Immediately toss the remaining cream mixture with the egg yolks and the grated cheese. Toss the mixture until all the ingredients are fully combined (like with carbonara, the heat of the pasta cooks the eggs). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Transfer the pasta to the serving dish, sprinkle with the orange zest that was sautéed in butter and the remaining parsley and cheese.
- As with most creamy pasta dishes, serve immediately!
I hope this sunny dish will brighten a cold January day for you. As my husband will tell you—this is so much better than pot roast in the crockpot.