Save the clementines! – Salt and pepper – Italian Cuisine

Save the clementines! - Salt and pepper

Save the clementines, and in particular the Italian ones. We have been one of the most popular producers of these citrus fruits in Europe for decades, at least since the 1930s. But then we invested little, and so the traditional varieties have aged and the their productivity has been reduced and concentrated in a shorter period of time. Meanwhile, for twenty years now, other Mediterranean countries (such as Spain) have aimed decisively at us, developing better varieties and planting citrus groves. The result is that today our clementines they lost the market not only abroad but also in Italy. In fact, in markets and supermarkets they are often replaced by imported ones (arriving from Spain, Morocco and Egypt), especially in the months in which consumption is concentrated, those around end of year holidays. And this has put the Italian producers in crisis: the lowest point was reached in 2020, when the weather penalized the harvest and the selling price barely covered the production costs. It is clear, therefore, that the time has come to turn the page and to restore value to these extraordinary citrus fruits made in Italy, very affected by climate change but with many (beneficial) arrows in their bow ever since Father Clément Rodier he "invented" them, in 1892, by crossing a bitter orange and a mandarin in the garden of his convent in Oran, in Algeria.

A "meteoropathic" cultivation
Clementine growers see the effects of climate change concretely: the increasingly warm and late winters mean that they lack the conditions to have quality fruit, that is, with a perfect balance between acidity and sweetness and with a beautiful skin. orange. To get them you need the right amount of sunlight, the cold at the right time, little wind and regular temperature variations. And so the only way to obtain excellent clementines is to create new varieties that are more suitable for an increasingly hot and arid planet: earlier and later varieties, which ripen from October to March and can be purchased by consumers at times when there is greater demand for this citrus fruit. In Spain it has been doing this for at least a decade, but also some producer organizations (such as the Op Harmony) are investing significantly in it, focusing both on varietal renewal and on new production areas (such as Basilicata and Campania), to be placed side by side with the traditional ones, concentrated in Calabria and Puglia, where the two Italian clementines are born, to which the IGP (Protected Geography Indication). That of Calabria PGI is sweet and fragrant and seedless, while that of the Gulf of Taranto is juicy and aromatic, and has few seeds.

A delicate fruit
Clementines are a fruit with a short life: after harvesting, they deteriorate quickly. For this reason they are generally stored in cold storage for weeks (if not for months). To be sure to buy the freshly picked ones, you just need to prefer clementines sold with leaves, who are an unambiguous spy of freshness because they wither within seven / eight days of harvesting. The presence of the leaves is also one guarantee of naturalness, because it indicates that the clementines were not artificially matured. If they have no leaves, you can still check the color of the rosette where the branch was attached, which must be greenish. If, on the other hand, it is dry and brownish, the clementines will probably have been treated with ethylene, which serves to accelerate their maturation but reduces their taste and aroma.

The quality of this fruit is assessed by the right balance between acidity and sweetness (on which the ripening index is calculated) and by the percentage of juice. The more acidity and sweetness are high (as occurs in premium and branded fruits), the more the clementine leaves that pleasant sensation of "sparkling" on the palate that is its characteristic.

A beneficial citrus fruit
Among the many citrus fruits that grow in Italy, why should we consume more clementines? Because they all agree in the family: they are small and sweet, easy to peel and seedless, and therefore also suitable for the little ones. Their marked sweetness makes them love even those who do not like the sour taste of oranges, whilehigh fiber content which do not irritate the intestinal mucosa makes them well tolerated even by those who have problems digesting citrus fruits. Another peculiarity is that they have a calming effect due to the high content of bromine salts: that's why they are ideal at the end of dinner, especially for whom struggling to sleep.
With their citrus "brothers", clementines share thehigh content of vitamin C, particularly precious in winter: two fruits are enough to cover half of the daily requirement of this vitamin that is friendly to the immune system and an enemy of aging. The peculiarity of clementines is that in them vitamin C is accompanied by different families of flavonoids (such as anthocyanins and xanthophylls) which enhance and strengthen their action, in particular with regard to the greater resistance of the blood capillaries.

A surprising ingredient
Agree that it is good as it is, natural, but clementine also has excellent (and often hidden) skills in the kitchen. And you can use it all, because it's really a zero waste fruit. Their sweetly sour taste is enhanced by the combination with fennel, celery, almonds and carrots. Combined with Chinese cabbage, they create a delicious salad to be enriched with pieces of ginger and dressed with coriander and soy sauce. Irresistible caramelized with a mix of spices, clementines become very greedy covered with chocolate. Just coarsely chop 100 g of dark chocolate and melt it in a double boiler. Then, using tongs, the segments of 2-3 peeled clementines (about 20 cloves) are immersed in them until they are completely covered. Then they are drained, placed on a sheet of parchment paper and sprinkled with almonds. Left to solidify for 30 minutes in the freezer or two hours in the fridge, they become a delight that is really difficult to resist, especially if accompanied with mango coulis.
With the discarded peel you can make an unusual and tantalizing Tempura. Just deprive them of the albedo (ie the white part between the rind and the pulp) and let them rest for one night. Then they are cut into strips and passed in a batter based on water, flour and a little salt. Once fried, they are delicious to be served with bubbles (better extra brut) during the home aperitif, perhaps accompanied by the warm and welcoming scent that they release at home when the peels are left on the radiator, as they used to do in the past.

January 2022
Manuela Soressi

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