Winter Sorbet

Those who eat with the seasons (a concept which I maintain is worth preserving and practicing and one I urge you to try on for size) know that winter presents interesting challenges in the produce department, particularly in distinctly four-season climes.

Tangelos make the most marvelous sorbet. (Kim O'Donnel)

In theory (the crazy flipside weather notwithstanding), the veggie lineup is hearty, earthy and often still has roots attached and the choices include beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, collards, kale, mustard, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas, squash, sweet potatoes and turnips (add to the list if I've forgotten something). As for the fruit, the regional pickins are usually limited to apples and pears, which are kept in storage from the fall harvest.

At some point (and maybe you're already there), the choices lose their luster and you, the obedient seasonal cook, develop a hankering for a spritz of spring greenery. Sigh.

The silver lining surrounding this seasonal funk comes from the bright balls of fire that are winter citrus. In addition to eating out of hand and squeezing into juice, citrus means sorbet of the most sublime kind.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature has just put a frozen kibosh on California's citrus crops. However, the state of Florida is awash in juicy opportunities and promptly will step in to fill the citrus gap. (Keep an eye on those prices and let me know how quickly they climb in your neck of the woods.)

The current circumstances aside, citrus gives us license to eat icy treats in the dead of winter. I'll confess that the idea hadn't crossed my mind until paging thorough "The Kitchen Diaries" by Brit food writer Nigel Slater. Documenting a year of recipes in his own kitchen, Slater is the consummate home cook whose passion is evident throughout. I found his notes for a "stunning orange sorbet" in his April 23 entry, a tad late for oranges on this side of the Atlantic, but who knows, maybe the growing seasons in Spain and Italy extend into spring.

Nonetheless, I was inspired, particularly by Slater's use of blood oranges, which would undoubtedly yield a gorgeous shade of garnet and sweet-tart notes on the tongue. And that's just what I wanted -- some tart with my sweet, not just a frozen orange juice.

The blood-orange proposition, however, would be pricey, given its lower juice output than some of its citrus siblings. Three cups of juice (which the recipe called for) would require at least 12 blood oranges -- possibly 15 -- and at $1 each, that makes for some pretty expensive sorbet.

If I wanted high juice volume, I thought, I should go for the tangelo, a tangy cross between a tangerine and a pomelo or a grapefruit.

Six tangelos later (plus two aging blood oranges in the fridge asking to be used), I had enough juice for sorbet land. As I looked through the cabinets for a subtle flavor enhancer, I came across a bottle of little-used rose water. I loved the rose-water lemonade at Lebanese Taverna Market, so why not a little rose with the tangelos? A bit more digging revealed that rose water and oranges is a combo found in Moroccan cuisine. In went a tablespoon.

Yesterday, I took my very cold tangelo simple syrup (see details below) and poured it into the bowl of my ice cream maker. As ice crystals began to form, the color transformed into a pinky-orange reminiscent of a sunset in a faraway exotic locale.

And the flavor... well, it blew me away. It may have been the most tongue-popping sorbet I have ever slurped on. Talk about a palate cleanser! Unlike the traditional lemon sorbet served inbetween courses, this baby had depth, a lovely collaboration of the exotic rose water and the elusive yin-yang of the tangelo.

In fact, this sorbet is so good I may have to declare January as National Sorbet Month. Shall we start a campaign?

Here's more on DIY ice cream/sorbet makers.

Winter Citrus Sorbet
Inspired by "The Kitchen Diaries" by Nigel Slater

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
Grated zest of 2 oranges
3 cups juice of oranges, tangelos and/or blood oranges (6-8 pieces), strained
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon rose water (optional; available at Middle Eastern groceries)
pinch salt
1 tablespoon vodka (a wee bit of booze helps keep the sorbet from getting too hard)

Make a simple syrup: combine sugar and water in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Add zest; allow syrup to cool. When cool, strain mixture to remove zest, and add juice, lemon, rose water and salt, stirring until combined. Pour into an airtight container and chill for at least four hours, until very cold.

When ready to churn, pour mixture into ice cream machine and add vodka. Stir to combine. Churn until firm and nearly frozen, about 30 minutes. Remove from bowl and freeze for at least one additional hour before serving.

Makes 1 quart sorbet.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 17, 2007; 10:29 AM ET Frozen Treats , Seasonal Produce
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Is there a good way to do this sans ice-cream maker?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2007 1:00 PM

Surely you could do it as a granita: Pour the mixture into a metal or glass baking dish; place in the freezer, and periodically scrape the tines of a fork across the surface to create a nice, granular, icy texture like a Sno-Cone.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2007 2:15 PM

Agreed -- you can do this as a granita, so long as you understand texture will be different. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | January 17, 2007 2:49 PM

You can blend the whole thing with a lot of ice and you can get a sorbet of sorts....

Posted by: Anonymous | January 18, 2007 5:15 PM

I made the sorbet yesturday and it is great! What a treat. I did reduce the amount of sugar to 2/3 cup and still think I could of used less. I used honeybell oranges that a relative shipped up from Florida.

Posted by: erin | January 19, 2007 9:47 AM

Also works great with pink grapefruit! Used lemon zest instead of orange in the syrup steeping portion. Very refreshing!

Posted by: Anonymous | February 7, 2007 1:45 AM

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