English is a language with a lot of great idiomatic phrases, so I take slight umbrage at the fact that there is no good taste equivalent for the saying “I could see it in my mind’s eye.” At least, I don’t think there is. If anyone out there knows one, will you please share it with me? I would use it all the time. I would probably drive everyone around me to drink, I would use it so often. (So maybe it’s actually good I don’t know such a phrase. It prevents the need for an intervention – for my overuse of it, or for the induced drinking problem in those who are sick of hearing it, I couldn’t say…)
It’s how I think about recipes, ingredients, and cooking. I think many people who cook a lot do. I imagine ingredients and preparations and I taste what they would be like in my mind’s mouth (ergh, see, that sounds ridiculous) before even cracking open the cupboards in the pantry. And, when I see a dish of some sort, I do the same thing.
So, a while back when Heidi shared a recipe for roasted lemon chutney on her site, it tickled my mental taste buds. Intriguing. Very. But, it didn’t quite galvanize me to act. Until last week when the idea shape shifted subtly and reemerged as roasted orange chutney, laced with spices and ginger. Yes! That was what I wanted.
The flavors I imagined were as vivid in my mind as if they had just melted on my actual tongue. I imagined something with all the best qualities of orange marmalade, bittersweet as the memory of a first kiss, and with a hit of hot pepper to make it just as spicy as well. But, none of the jelly stickiness, please. I imagined something coarser. If marmalade is a frequenter of breakfast parlors and tea trays, this would be its cousin who left to work in the spice trade. It’s a little roughed up, seen a bit of the world, but it hangs on to its genteel roots.
Roasting the oranges makes them mellower and even sweeter than they would otherwise be, so I decided I actually would roast some lemons as well. The floral, herbal notes of lemon add an engaging complexity to the thoroughly citrus nature of the orange. They also add acidity, so then you have to spoon in some sugar or honey to bolster the sweetness again, but bear with me because that type of more concentrated sweetness winds up striking just the right balance against the bitterness of the pith and peel that you blend in with the whole.
I wanted a slightly rugged chutney, it’s true, but I figured that adding raw garlic and ginger would be overpoweringly strong and could leave you with a mouth as foul as a sailor. So, I roasted the garlic, the ginger, and a serrano pepper along with the fruit to take off their edge, like smudging the edges to prettify your pastel drawing. Some raw shallots soaked with lemon juice and spices added enough bite for me.
When everything is roasted just to the point where golden brown patches start to appear, you take it and whirr it in the food processor with a stream of olive oil to make a spread, by turns silky, crunchy, and chunky. It had all the flavors I hoped and imagined it would. It’s wonderful on toast with goat cheese or sharp cheddar. I also plopped it on top of some greens that I had sauteed with garlic and olives. You could serve it with fish, pork, or chicken.
My favorite thing I’ve done with it so far, though, was to roast thick slices of sweet potato, like this, until deep chestnut on the outside and creamy on the inside (keep a very close eye on them – I had to whip them out of the oven earlier than the recipe calls for to keep them from incinerating, and even then, well, they had some lovely charred flavors), then top them with a smudge of chevre and a heap of chutney. It tasted good in my imagination, but it tasted even more amazing in real life.
Roasted Orange Chutney (makes about 2 cups)
- 1/4 cup chopped shallot
- 1 bay leaf, broken in half
- 3 whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 lemons
- 2 oranges
- 1 serrano chili pepper
- 2 fat cloves of garlic, skin still on
- 1 1 1/2 inch chunk of ginger, peeled, and cut into half inch thick slices
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for roasting
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar, plus more to taste
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- Juice one of the lemons into a small bowl. Add in the chopped shallots, bay leaf, cloves, and coriander. Stir and set aside to mellow and infuse for an hour.
- Preheat your oven to 400F. Scrub the remaining lemon and the oranges well. Then cut off the ends of each piece of fruit (this part has just a bit too thick of pith), and toss. Cut the rest of the lemon and orange into about 1/2 inch thick round slices. Seed the serrano pepper and cut it in half.
- Spread the fruit slices, the pepper, the garlic cloves, and the ginger slices in a single layer on a lined, rimmed, baking sheet. You should be able to snuggle them all onto one, but if you can’t, divide it up onto two baking pans. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Then, take out and flip all of the fruit slices, return to the oven and roast for another 10-15 minutes, until the fruit slices are quite soft and starting to brown. (you don’t want them to dry out though) The garlic cloves should be soft too.
- Transfer the fruit, the serrano, and the ginger to a food processor. Remove the roasted garlic from its skin and add it to the food processor as well. Pulse a couple of times. Then, fish the bay leaves and the cloves out of the shallot mixture. Pour the shallots along with the lemon juice into the food processor and pulse some more until the fruit pieces are chopped.
- Add the sugar and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Continue to pulse until the mixture is sort of creamy interspersed with the occasional chunk of orange. Season with salt and pepper and more sugar to taste.
- Store in the refrigerator (it will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for at least several days), but when you are going to use it, bring the quantity you are going to use to room temperature because it will have a better texture.