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Recipe-phile: Add splendid color to winter with blood orange and beets

Beets, blood orange, feta and walnuts add hue and flavor to the menu. (Amy Thielen / For the Enterprise)

Navel oranges are but one small part of the citrus universe. Right now, all kinds of interesting varieties are ripening to the south of us and trickling slowly northward.

Of those that have made it into local stores, I've been buying and experimenting with the meyer lemons (more fragrant and juicier than regular lemons, making their higher price justifiable), sweet cara caras and moro blood oranges.

Blood oranges, the most dramatic of those three, almost seem like a novelty fruit with their dark purple insides and magenta-brushed orange skins, but they'd hook me on their flavor, too. The flesh tastes like a very sweet orange, but with a tab of something more caramelized, and deeper.

In every restaurant I worked in, the bartenders would always lumber in and clean out the box of blood oranges around 5 p.m. The fire-red juice makes gorgeous cocktails. Most often, they mixed it with campari (the bitter Italian liquor) and soda, for a compelling drink that tastes especially refreshing before dinner.

At home I like to mix the blood orange juice with a bit of simple syrup and plain sparkling water for a blood orange soda that tastes good any time of the day.

Oranges that look this good deserve your best knifework. I hate to say it, but all citrus fruits taste better when you cut them into segments, or skinless, membrane-less pieces. The membrane and the pith add a slight bitterness to the fruit; the segments taste more like pure juice. And once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy. (Directions are in the beet salad recipe.)

But no matter how you cut them - or even if you don't - blood oranges bring both good flavor and style to anything you're making now. I add them to winter fruit salads because their rusty color looks so stunning against the pineapple and kiwi and, for the same reason, I like to drop cold filets of them on top of warm rice pudding.

Most often, though, they pop up in my salads. This beet and blood orange salad, a boisterous mix of reds, purples and white, might be the most photogenic thing I've ever assembled. In the middle of a monochromatic white winter, I find myself craving not only the bright colors, but the bright flavors.

Campari and Blood Orange Cocktail

Recipe by Bobby Flay, The Food Network

Ice cubes

1 ounce Campari

4 ounces freshly squeezed blood orange juice

orange-flavored sparkling water

thin slice blood orange

mint sprig

Put ice cubes in a rocks glass. Add the Campari, blood orange juice, and a splash of soda (don't mix). Garnish with an orange slice and a mint sprig.

Beet salad with blood orange, walnuts and feta

Serves 6

2 bunches beets (1 3/4 pound)

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 sprigs thyme or rosemary if you have it

2 cloves garlic, smashed

2 blood oranges

1 fennel bulb

1/2 bunch watercress or half-package of mixed greens, washed and spun dry

2 tablespoon red wine vinegar, divided

1 tablespoon blood orange juice

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

5 turns freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces feta cheese, sliced and crumbled

½ cup walnuts, toasted if you like

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Wash the beets and cut off the tops. If they're in good condition, wash them and save for another dish. (Substitute for swiss chard in any recipe.)

Place the beets in a 9 x 13 baking pan and add the water, canola oil, fresh herbs, garlic cloves and a sprinkling of salt. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees until tender, about 1 hour. Uncover the beets and bake until the liquid evaporates into a glaze. When cool enough to handle (but before they cool completely) peel the beets: place each one in a paper towel and rub off the skins, using a knife to cut through the root ends.

Cut the peeled beets into eighths and drop into a bowl. Season the warm beats with 1/4 teaspoon salt, 5 turns black pepper, 1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar and 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Reserve.

For the blood orange, you can either peel it and pull into segments or you can cut it into seedless, skinless segments with the following method:

To segment the orange: Lay the orange on its side. Lop off the top and bottom, just enough to reveal the flesh inside. Stand the orange up on its cut bottom and begin slicing off the peel and membrane, from top to bottom, curving your knife as you go. (Use a good sharp knife, preferably a paring knife or something with a shorter blade.) Take care to cut deep enough to cut off the outside membrane, but not so deep as to remove lots of the good orange flesh. Trim it up to remove any white pith. Now hold the orange in your hand and insert the knife just inside the membrane lines, to the left and then to the right of each segment, freeing the segments to fall over the beets. Squeeze the juice remaining in the carcass over the beets.

Wash the fennel bulb. Cut off and discard the stems. Wash the fennel bulb and peel off the outer layer if it is wilted. Cut the fennel in half lengthwise, cut out the core, and slice very thinly. (A mandoline slicer makes quick work of this.)

Toss the fennel and greens in a bowl with the remaining tablespoons of vinegar and olive oil.

Assemble the salad on a platter, laying down the fennel and greens first, then the marinated beets and blood oranges. Top with the toasted walnuts and crumbled feta and serve.