by Emily Monaco
As a lover of food and travel, I think there is a part of me that feels as though I should be able to taste places in the foods that come from them. I should be able to eat a spoonful of apricot jam and taste the Roussillon; I should eat a slice of perfect pecorino off a knife and taste Rome. And yet, there are few foods that do that for me. Sure, there are recipes I associate with a place, but the actual ingredients that taste like their homes are few and far between.
And then, there’s Seville and its oranges.
Seville oranges are famed for being bitter; I’m a fan of bitter – I dig the burned popcorn kernels out of the bottom of the buttery microwave bag, and I drink my coffee blacker than black. I used to eat baking chocolate plain, letting squares of it melt in my mouth for languishing minutes. This isn’t the same bitter; the bitter of Seville oranges tastes like 40 degree (Celsius) Spanish sunshine, so hot it cooks the pavement and makes everything smell thick and metallic. It gets up into your nose and stays there, so that you’re forced to remember days walking through Seville, feeling the heat creep up into your clothing and parching you as you explore the giant plazas, built of pale stone — the sunlight seems to have cooked out its color. The bitter orange reminds you, like a whisper into your nose and onto your tastebuds, of stone and palm trees and sunsets that last forever… and then, as though the last memory was waiting to deal the final blow, you remember the cathedral.
Seville’s cathedral is one of the largest in the world, with over 23,000 square meters of floorspace, a famous dome designed by Michelangelo and a famous tower you can climb to take in a beautiful panorama and even more pure sunlight. As for me, I’m most distracted by the cathedral’s internal courtyard, planted with Seville orange trees.
The shade of the courtyard is welcome, like the sugar addition to Seville’s bitter oranges, just enough to make a marmalade that is palatable while still retaining that unique Andalusian punch. I can spread it plain on toast and eat for days, but for something a bit more special, I like this semi-traditional recipe for a marmalade cheesecake. I doubt Seville’s nuns were mixing Philadelphia with the oranges from their trees, but Spanish bloggers seem to love this simple play on the typially American dessert, and so I took a stab at it in my own kitchen. The oranges may have been imported, the marmalade from a jar instead of from a cauldron bubbling in my Andalusian kitchen, but the bitter orange flavor… well that just brings Seville to Paris.
Pastel de queso con mermelada de naranja amarga
Cheesecake with bitter orange marmalade
makes 3 individual-sized cheesecakes
200 g. (7 ounces) cream cheese
2 Tbsp. Sugar
¼ cup sour cream
5 Tbsp. Bitter orange marmalade, separated
the juice of one orange
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Bring a pot of water to a simmer.
Combine the cream cheese, sugar, egg, sour cream, 2 Tbsp. Of the marmalade and the orange juice in a bowl. Whisk until creamy and smooth.
Spread a tablespoon of marmalade into the bottom of each of three small ramekins. Divide the cheesecake batter amongst the ramekins.
Place the ramekins in a baking dish and pour the simmering water around them, being careful not to get any water into the ramekins themselves. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn off the oven and allow the cheesecakes to cool in the warm oven for about an hour.
When ready to serve, run a knife along the edge of the cheesecake and place a plate over the top of the ramekin. Turn the ramekin over and tap the bottom a few times with a knife. Wait 2-3 minutes before gently removing the ramekin, shaking it a bit if needed to let the cheesecake come loose in one piece.
Emily Monaco is native New Yorker, living and writing in Paris since 2007. She loves discovering new places and, of course, their local cuisines! Read about her adventures in food and travel at tomatokumato.com or follow her on Twitter at @emiglia