This should be an Easter post. Or a Passover one. Between the brisket and matzo of Seders and the ham or lamb of the Christian holiday, this week is more-or-less one gigantic Judeo-Christian feast. Having never attended a Seder and tending to cook brisket as I would just about any braising cut of meat–with tomatoes, some broth, some wine; an Italian-style pot roast–I couldn't hope to give you a recipe any better than this one, promising to taste of “leather and tears.” And as for this Sunday, the one thing I'm certain to cook every year is a leg of lamb, a dish for which so-called “recipes” are pointless, as the best approach is a simple one–no fancy crusts or sauces or distraction–just a bone-in leg, salt and pepper, olive oil, garlic and a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme, all roasted at a reasonably high heat until medium rare. Rest. Slice. Enjoy.
So instead of addressing the week's holidays and rites of spring, etc., etc., this week's recipe will look at the last of winter's major crop, citrus, and my personal blood orange-eating quest. My last blood orange recipe post mentioned the jar of citrus I had sitting in a cupboard, drowning in vodka, white wine and a few aromatics–vanilla, chamomile–resting for forty days and forty nights (see: its still Biblical!) to make a tweaked batch of vin de pamplemousse.
Vin de pamplemousse may be more familiar to the eclectic or Francophile drinker at Lillet, a citrus-based French aperitif. The recipe I based my batch off of comes from canning enthusiast Kevin West, whose Saving the Season blog is a wonderful resource for recipes and insight about jamming, pickling and other foods that can be kept around and enjoy for a good long time, old school-style. His pamplemousse is made predominately with grapefruit, pink and white, from a recipe that traces its roots back to the Lillet family themselves. The process couldn't be simpler–slice the fruit, layer it in a large container with the sugar, vanilla bean and a few sprigs of chamomile (or a chamomile tea bag, if you're somehow scared of picking a bit of the herb from the sidewalk cracks or side yards of your neighborhood) and cover it with a mixture of vodka and white wine. Then you seal it up, put it in a dark place and forget about it. Well, not quite–the occasional check-in to smell, taste and invert the jar are recommended and hard to resist, making this a shockingly easy recipe.
I'm at day thirty-seven and, assuming that no terribly important bit of macerating magic will take place in the next seventy-two hours, I strained out a small glass, added a few ice cubes–not some WASP-y practice, but the traditional way of drinking the fortified wine–and gave it taste. I have to admit, I was afraid it might be a cough syrupy mess, too thick and too sweet, but my fears were allied. The intensity of the blood orange came through the other citrus–a mix of pink grapefruit and Meyer lemon–with a nice hint of vanilla and just the right amount of sweetness. And it didn't taste like vodka, a big plus for me, as a vodka hater.
Following is the original recipe, sans blood orange, courtesy of Kevin West. If you'd like to take advantage of the dying days of the blood orange season to make a batch similar to mine, switch out half of the grapefruit for blood oranges.
2 5-liter (or five-quart) jars with a sealable lids.
5 750 ml bottles with stoppers
6 yellow grapefruits (please try to find organic fruit, since the peel macerates for a long time in liquid you will want to drink)
6 pink grapefruits
2 limes (or lemons)
6 bottles light, crisp white wine (I used a Chilean sauvignon blanc that cost about $8 per bottle.)
1 750 ml bottle good vodka
5 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
2 8″ camomile branches with flowers, or 2 bags of camomile tea
1 Trim the grapefruits by cutting a round slice off either end, going deep enough to reveal the fruity core beneath the thick pith. Set aside these endcaps. Cut each trimmed grapefruit in half and then cut the halves into 1/2″ slices. Cut the limes or lemons into thin rounds.
2 Thoroughly wash your two large jars in hot, soapy water and rise well. Scald with boiling water and drain.
3 Divide the sugar evenly between the two jars. Add a split vanilla bean to each.
4 Layer the grapefruit slices into the jars, alternating yellow and red slices and mashing them down as you go. Distribute the lime or lemon evenly as you put in the layers. Once the jars are almost full, poke a chamomile branch down the inside or lay the teabag on top. Now take a few of the reserved rounds cut from the grapefruit and lay them over the top of the fruit, peel side up, to make the final layer.
5 Pour the vodka in over the fruit, evenly dividing the bottle between the two jars.
6 Top up each bottle with white wine. You should have about a bottle left over, which you will need to keep for later use.
7 Seal the jars and invert them a time or two to make sure you have no air pockets. Don't worry about the undissolved sugar on the bottom.
8 Place the jars in a cool, dark place. Invert the jars to agitate the contents once a day for the first week. At the end of the week, the level of liquid will have gone down a bit. Top up each jar from the reserved bottle of wine. Over the next month, check on the jars and agitate every few days. Once a week, top up with wine.
9 At the end of 40 days, unseal the jars and pour the contents through a colander to capture the liquid. Allow the soggy fruit to drip for an hour and then gently press to extract more liquid. Taste it and adjust the sweetness, if you like, with a few tablespoons of honey. Allow the captured liquid to settle overnight in the refrigerator, then pour it through a double-thickness of damp cheesecloth, trying to avoid disturbing the sediment. Bottle the wine and then stopper the bottles. Keep bottles in the fridge for as long as it lasts. Over time, more sediment will settle out. If it bothers you, and it doesn't me, just pour gently so as to leave it in the bottle.
5 750 ml bottles