Going to the grocery store, it sure seems like all fruits and vegetables are in season year round now, which at first glance appears to be a blessing. We now can eat all our favorites year round; but at the same time we realize that most produce has lost it’s flavor and appeal. If you do some research you might find that many items in the produce isle are months old and have been bred for long shelf life and handling toughness. It can be quite mind boggling to think of all the energy that goes into transporting, cold storing, preserving through atmosphere alteration and irradiation of most of our produce. Besides all that, I fondly remember strawberries coming in season when I was a child; and how we ate all the strawberries we could, because we knew they would be gone again in no time. And it wasn’t just strawberries, it was true for most produce.
For all these good reasons we try to eat local and in season as much as we can. In the early winter when citrus is at it’s peak on the Gulf Coast, I usually buy a bushel each of various citrus fruits from a grower near New Orleans and we keep these bushel boxes in the cool garage all winter long. When I first bring them home everyone eats clementines, grapefruits, tangelos and oranges to their heart’s content, but later in the winter we are all getting tired of citrus fruits and the last ones start drying up or rotting.
I could get on my second soap box and talk about “food waste”, but I might save that for another time. So, rather then letting the last citrus go to waste, I love making an Italian Soda Syrup from it.
Growing up in Southern Germany, I fell in love with a bitter orange soda when I was a child traveling to Italy often on short vacations: Chinotto was the Italian’s answer to Coca Cola, with a slightly bitter, not so sweet taste; made from local Chinotto oranges. The same fruit is used for Campari and other French and Italian sweet and bitter beverages. A few years ago I found a recipe for homemade Chinotto and it surely has brought many happy childhood memories back.
Since I don’t have any Chinotto oranges, a good variety of citrus fruits does the trick. It is best to stick with more sour and bitter varieties. Nevertheless, today I will use what I have left in my garage, especially since our local farmer Sam harvested the first strawberries yesterday. When using old fruit like that, make sure it still looks and smells good on the inside. And since we are using the whole fruit, you don’t want any fruit that has been treated with chemicals.
Chinotto how to:
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Roughly slice the fruit and place it on a baking sheet or two and liberally sprinkle it with cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds and a little nutmeg. These are the most important flavors. I also like to add a little: allspice, anise, cardamom and pepper. Put your baking sheets in the oven and bake until the sugar in the fruit caramelizes and the edges begin to look burned. In the meanwhile make a Simple Syrup. You are going to need enough to submerge your fruit in the syrup. To make Simple Syrup heat equal amounts of water and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Fill a large glass jar with the roasted citrus and spices, and pour in enough syrup over the fruit to cover it completely. You can place a small jar on top of the fruit, to make sure it stays submerged. If the fruit does not stay submerged it will mold and all your efforts will be wasted. Keep the syrup in the refrigerator and in a few weeks you can start straining some off and enjoying it with sparkling water.
Chinotto is also a nice base for some mixed drinks. Here is a simple one: www.saveur.com/article/recipes/Sotto-Chinotto
Once we can enjoy the hot summer days again, I’ll be glad to have a stash of my Chinotto Syrup in the back of my fridge.