How discontented would our winters be without the glorious summer promise of oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes?
It happens that these fruits come ripe in the dead of winter, and we crave their lively, sunny flavors during the dark, cold months. Limes, lemons and varieties of grapefruit and oranges, including the ruby-fleshed blood oranges, are abundant in stores now.
Our demand for citrus is so high that when Florida crops were threatened with freezing temperatures in early January, there was an immediate reaction from the orange juice futures market. No wonder: Florida accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s supply of orange juice. Our demand is steady even though supplies are down. According to recent U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, current frozen orange juice concentrate stores are at 500 million pounds. There were 800 million pounds during the same period last year.
In California, which is the country’s second largest citrus producer, the majority of the crop goes to the fresh produce market. Mandarins, such as the Cutie variety, have been gaining popularity year after year. More mandarins are being planted in California these days than any other kind of citrus tree, says Tracy L. Kahn, a botanist and curator of the Citrus Variety Collection at the University of California, Riverside.
Most of us think of the four biggies of citrus fruit, but Kahn oversees a collection of more than 1,000 citrus cultivars. Established in the early 1900s, the collection houses rare and common cultivars, which are used primarily for research. Sometimes that research requires a taste test or two. Or five.
“It’s one of the perks of my job,” Kahn says. She adds that it is “probably best if we don’t go into all of my favorites. I have a lot of favorites.” Lately she is partial to Seedless Kishu mandarins, which are ripe right now.
The Citrus Variety Collection is open for occasional public tours — yes, visitors can sample the fruit — and Kahn is busy planning a Citrus Day for Thursday, aimed at citrus growers, industry representatives and anyone else in the general public who is curious about the current state of citrus research.
In cooking, citrus fruits are versatile. Each component, rind, juice and pulp, can serve a different culinary purpose. Lemons and limes are popular in many cuisines, especially Italian, French, Spanish, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Moroccan and Turkish.
Citrus fruits balance sweetness and bitterness, providing depth of flavor to sweet and savory dishes.
Marc Bianchini, a chef and owner of the restaurant group that includes Osteria del Mondo in Milwaukee, Wis., which will reopen in a few months, observes that “fruits are very important in what I cook.”
All good cooking should have the goal of balancing acids and fats, Bianchini says. Citrus juices provide acidity and can smooth out the richness of fats in both savory and sweet foods, he says.
The recipes we have selected to highlight citrus fruits — a clementine cake, grapefruit curd tarts, lemon-thyme pork and shrimp ceviche — are “perfect examples of what an acid (citrus) can do,” Bianchini says. A stronger acid such as that from a grapefruit works well in a curd, while Clementine imparts “sweetness of the flesh and the perfume of the oils in the skin” to a moist cake, he says.
When making ceviches, the trick is to find the right acid for the fish. Lemon and lime work well with shrimp, Bianchini says; with more delicate fish, chefs will often use coconut milk to offset some of the citrus’ acid.
Here are a few more interesting facts to consider when you next savor a juicy, sweet-tart navel orange at breakfast:
• The citrus season runs from early November to April or May, depending on the fruit. Some varieties bear fruit as late as July.
• Oranges left on the tree will not overripen.
• Citrus fruit is believed to be native to Southeast Asia. The Greeks and Romans were early cultivators of citron, a sour citrus fruit. Columbus brought orange, lemon and citron seeds on his second voyage to the Caribbean.
• Except for Key limes, which come from South Florida, virtually all of the limes sold in the United States come from Mexico. The main U.S. transfer point for Mexican limes is McAllen, Texas.
• The word “ascorbic,” from ascorbic acid (vitamin C), means “no scurvy.”
• Only 10 mg of vitamin C per day will prevent a vitamin C deficiency, which leads to scurvy. But most nutrition experts recommend up to 200 mg per day for optimum health and to prevent chronic disease. One medium orange provides 70 mg of vitamin C; a medium grapefruit provides 56 mg. An 8-ounce glass of orange juice contains about 100 mg of vitamin C.
• A compound in citrus, limonin, has been found to prevent several cancers, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx (directly behind the tongue and nasal cavity), larynx, esophagus and stomach.
RUBY RED GRAPEFRUIT CURD TARTLETS
1¼ cups flour, plus more for rolling
5 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
Generous pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 to 3 tablespoons ice water
1½ ounces good-quality dark chocolate, finely grated
Grapefruit curd and garnish (see recipe)
½ cup whipping heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
In food processor, combine flour, powdered sugar, orange zest and salt and pulse to blend. Add butter and pulse 10 to 15 times, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and pulse about 15 times, or until dough starts to come together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more water if necessary.
Scrape dough onto work surface and shape into a 5-inch disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze or refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes.
Divide dough into 6 pieces and shape each into a disc. On lightly floured work surface, roll out each piece into a 6-inch round. Fit each round into a 4½- or 5-inch tartlet pan. Place on baking sheet and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line each tartlet shell with foil and fill with dried beans or rice. Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake 8 to 10 minutes longer or until pastry is golden brown.
Transfer tartlets, on baking sheet, to wire rack and immediately sprinkle about 1 tablespoon grated chocolate over bottom of each tartlet shell. Let stand about 1 minute to melt chocolate and then, with back of a small spoon, spread chocolate evenly over bottom of each shell. Let cool completely.
Make grapefruit curd and garnish and let chill at least 1 hour.
In medium bowl, combine cream and granulated sugar and beat until firm peaks form. Gradually fold whipped cream into grapefruit curd. Spoon about 2 mounded tablespoons of curd mixture into each tartlet shell. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until curd is set. (Tartlets can be refrigerated up to 1 day, loosely covered.)
Just before serving, place 2 to 3 reserved grapefruit sections on each tartlet.
GRAPEFRUIT CURD AND GARNISH
2 large ruby red grapefruits (divided)
4 large egg yolks
cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
Pinch of salt
Grate 1 tablespoon zest from one grapefruit; set aside. Squeeze 6 tablespoons juice from zested grapefruit; set aside.
With a sharp knife remove peel and white pith from other grapefruit, exposing flesh. Slice between membranes to release grapefruit sections for garnish. (If necessary, slice large sections lengthwise in half.) Cover and refrigerate.
In medium-size, heavy, nonreactive saucepan, combine egg yolks and sugar and whisk until well blended. Whisk in grapefruit juice, zest, butter and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with wooden spoon, until curd thickens enough to coat back of spoon, about 10 minutes.
If desired, strain curd through fine strainer into medium bowl. Let cool, stirring occasionally, then cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until chilled.
Adapted from Godiva.com.
CLEMENTINE CAKE WITH CHEESECAKE CREAM
12 seedless clementines (divided)
2¼ cups superfine sugar (divided)
1¼ cups water
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature, plus extra for greasing
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (divided)
1 package (10 ounces, 2½ cups packed) blanched ground almonds
¼ cup farina (Cream of Wheat)
1 small tub (7 ounces) Greek yogurt
Cheesecake cream (see recipe)
Thinly slice 5 clementines, rind on, horizontally, discarding ends.
In a small pan, combine 1¼ cups sugar with the water and bring to a simmer. Add clementine slices, cover and cook until slices are tender, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, grease a 10-inch springform pan and line with parchment.
Use a slotted spoon to lift out clementine slices from syrup. Arrange slices neatly over bottom of springform pan, overlapping where necessary. Zest remaining 7 clementines. Divide zest in two and reserve one half for cheesecake cream. Squeeze juice from 4 of the zested clementines.
Stir clementine juice into syrup in pan. Boil gently uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or to desired thickness — up to 30 minutes if you prefer a thicker sauce. Set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Beat remaining 1 cup sugar with the ½ cup butter, lemon zest and half of the clementine zest until pale. (Reserve lemon juice for cheesecake cream.) Beat in eggs one at a time.
Peel 3 remaining zested clementines and separate into segments. Place segments in food processor and process until pulpy. Stir pulp into butter-sugar mixture, along with ground almonds, farina and yogurt. Mix until smooth.
Spoon batter carefully over candied clementine slices in springform pan. Bake in preheated oven until a skewer inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool cake in pan on rack. As cake bakes, make cheesecake cream.
Invert fully cooled cake onto serving platter. Peel off parchment. Serve wedges of cake topped with a dollop of cheesecake cream and a drizzling of syrup.
1 small tub (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
1 small tub (7 ounces) Greek yogurt
½ cup superfine sugar
Reserved lemon juice (from cake recipe)
Reserved clementine zest (from cake recipe)
Combine all ingredients until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Adapted from the BBC’s food blog, Good Food, bbcgoodfood.com.
LEMON-THYME PORK TENDERLOIN
2 pork tenderloins (1 pound each), trimmed of fat
½ cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1½ teaspoons dried thyme leaves
Pierce tenderloin all over with fork and place in baking dish. Combine lemon juice, zest, olive oil, garlic, salt, white pepper and thyme and pour over pork. Cover and marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight, turning pork once or twice.
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tenderloins on a shallow baking pan, 2 inches apart. Roast in preheated oven 40 to 45 minutes, until pork registers 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. Let stand 5 minutes, then slice to serve. Pork will be light pink in center.
Adapted from About.com.
A South American favorite that originated in Peru, ceviche combines fresh raw fish or seafood with citrus juices to “cook” the fish over a long marinating period of up to several hours; that is, the acid in the juices alters the proteins in the fish, turning it opaque as if it were cooked. Citrus juices do not kill bacteria to the same extent that heat does, so it is safest to use cooked or partially cooked fish and marinate for a shorter period.
This recipe calls for flash-cooking shrimp in boiling water before adding it to the citrus mixture.
Servings: 8 to 10
3 pounds medium tail-on shrimp (16 to 20 per pound), shelled and deveined (not frozen)
8 ribs celery, strings removed and julienned
12 green onions, julienned
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1 red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, julienned
½ cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
½ cup lime juice (about 4 limes)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons coarse salt
½ teaspoon dried fennel (ground) or tarragon
2 jalapeno or serrano peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or dill
Fill a large pot or Dutch oven with water and bring to a rapid boil. Drop in shrimp and blanch 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and cool.
Place celery, green onions, carrot and bell pepper in bowl with ice water until very crisp, up to 1 hour.
In a nonreactive bowl, combine lemon and lime juices, garlic, salt, fennel or tarragon and hot peppers. Add olive oil and mix well. Drain julienned vegetables thoroughly and add to citrus mixture, along with cooled shrimp. Marinate 10 to 15 minutes. Do not allow to marinate longer as shrimp flesh may begin to break down in the citrus juices.
Sprinkle with chopped cilantro or dill and serve.
Adapted from “The Art of South American Cooking” (1991) by Peruvian chef Felipe Rojas-Lombardi.