The tart, sunny flavors of citrus fruits are the cure for the evils of winter.
Loaded with vitamin C, these colorful fruits grow on trees and shrubs and grow in warmer climes. They are native to Southeast Asia, but in the States, most of our citrus fruits come from Florida, California, and Mexico. Oranges, lemons, limes, and (to a lesser extent) grapefruit are used almost every day in most households, but have you tried a large puffy pomelo, the intriguingly shaped lemon (aka the Buddha’s hand), or the ruby blood orange? ? Tiny kumquats and finger limes can often be found in Asian markets and are well worth it.
Citrus photo by Julie Chernoff
These versatile fruits can be found in almost every global kitchen. Wrinkled kaffir lime and its leaves are used throughout Southeast Asia, while tangerines are popular in Chinese cuisine. Limes and bitter oranges are favorites in Mexican and Central American cuisines, and blood oranges and giant Sorrento lemons are culinary favorites in Italy. To find the best citrus fruits, they should be free of bruises, soft spots, and heavy to the touch for their size, which suggests they are nicely juicy. Dried fruits weigh less.
Citrus juice and zest give every dish a light, sour taste and can be used in many ways in your kitchen. If a pea or lentil soup tastes a little bland, it will need a little lemon juice to emphasize the taste rather than more salt. The same goes for a smoothie, where a splash of lime or orange can take your morning drink from blah to wow. I use citrus fruits to balance dishes. Sometimes they’re the star of the show and sometimes a backing note, but they always make a dish better. More nuanced, spicier and somehow lighter. Citrus is your culinary sleight of hand.
Serve a zesty lemon noodle.
Spaghetti al Limone is one of the great gifts of Italian cuisine and very easy to prepare. Take a large lemon, rub the zest and save it. Halve the fruit and squeeze out 2 ½ tablespoons and save. Take a medium saucepan and toss in 1 cup of whipped cream and all of the lemon zest and cook, stirring as needed, until simmering. Reduce the heat and whip in one tablespoon of butter at a time to emulsify. Turn off heat and set aside. Bring a large saucepan of heavily salted water to a boil, then add a pound of spaghetti (yes, you can pickle linguine or bucatini) and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Save 2 cups of the pasta water and drain the pasta immediately as it will cook a little more in the sauce. Pour the drained pasta into the lemon cream and add a cup of the pasta water. Cook over low heat and gradually add a cup of grated parmesan cheese. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and salt. Serve hot.
Throw on a Mediterranean-influenced salad.
One of my favorite flavor combinations is fennel and blood orange. I love a salad made from thinly sliced fresh fennel, pieces of blood orange, chopped marcona almonds, some crumbled feta cheese, and a few kalamata or oil-dried black olives, drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice, and a touch of white wine vinegar. I serve this on a bed of fresh arugula for color, toss a handful of pomegranate seeds on top and it’s a great addition to the holiday table.
Make a wet infusion with the Buddha’s hand.
For those of you who love a citrus cocktail, this is a fun experiment. Rinse your Buddha Hand Lemon under cold water and wipe it dry to remove any grit that is hidden between the “fingers” of the fruit. Cut off the fingers / tentacles and wipe again. Cut each finger in half lengthwise and place in a large airtight jar to hold the fruit as it macerates in a full 750ml bottle of vodka. Once the jar is filled with citrus and vodka, seal the jar and store it in a dark place like a cupboard or even in the refrigerator if you have space. Shake the jar at least once a day and taste it to check the taste and smell. Usually it takes about a week. Then strain the vodka through a sieve with a coffee filter (or cheesecloth) to catch any solids. Pour infused vodka into a clean glass or bottle, cap and store in the refrigerator, as vodka is best served cold. It’s ready for your lemon drop!
Fry a chicken with lots of lemon and garlic.
Preheat the oven to 425F and place the rack in the center. Cut a FULL clove of garlic in half across the equator. Halve a lemon and remove the stones. Take a whole chicken (about 4 pounds) and rinse the den. Pat dry the inside and outside with kitchen paper. Season all around (and in the hollow) with plenty of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the chicken breast-side up in a 12-inch cast iron pan and nestle the lemon and garlic cut-side down. Drizzle the chicken with 2 tablespoons each Melted butter and extra virgin olive oil and place in the preheated oven. Check the degree of cooking after 50 minutes. Chicken should be browned and juices should be clear when you test the leg meat. If not, it goes back to the oven and checks at five-minute intervals. Take out of the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Squeeze the roasted lemon over the top of the bird before carving it. Squoosh the roasted garlic into the dripping fats and pour it over the carved bird and enjoy.
Candy some citrus peel.
Take some organic citrus fruits – let’s say three lemons, three limes, and two oranges. Cut off the top and bottom of each fruit, then score the peels vertically into 4-6 sections to peel the fruit neatly. Pull off shell segments. (This would be a great time to make a citrus salad or sangria as you will have lots of pulp or make a large glass of citrus ade.) Cut each citrus peel into strips ¼ inch wide. Fill a large saucepan halfway with water and add all the citrus peel strips. Blanch them in water for ten minutes, then drain them in a colander and rinse them off. Dispose of the water, fill up the pot and repeat the process. This will remove all of the bitterness in the peels. Now put 2 cups each Add the water and sugar to the saucepan and bring to the boil to dissolve the sugar, then add the citrus peel and bring to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shells become translucent and the liquid is syrupy. Take it off the stove. Put a cup of sugar in a shallow bowl and use a slotted spoon to remove the citrus peel from the saucepan to drain the liquid. Sprinkle in sugar spoon by spoon and then place on a wire shelf to cool. I put paper towels under the frame to catch the occasional drops. Let the pods cool and air dry for at least 24 hours. After drying, store in a closed container. Add to muffin and cake batter, garnish a cocktail, go crazy.
Try one of these proven recipes.
The internet is an infinite resource for recipes, but how do you know which one to trust? Not all recipes are created equal. Here are some that I keep coming back to, showing off the citrus fruits in all their glory.
Claire Saffitz’s inverted cake with blood oranges and olive oil
Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill Ceviche
Lime Quark Tart from Smitten Kitchen