Produce of the Week - Citrus
sponsored by Coleman Farms
A lot of Southern California real estate was sold with Citrus. Starting about 1900, images of oranges and lemons - the trees and their fruit - were prominent in East Coast ads for California property. There's something about Citrus that suggests a perfect climate - sunny but equable, neither desert nor tropics - even to a person who knows nothing about their cultivation.
A special quality of Citrus is that for the most part it's in season now, when practically no other fruit is. This makes them useful in all sorts of ways - eating out of hand and for other typically fruity purposes, of course - but their combination of acidity and sweetness gives them a place in cusine, too: focus on just these properties and you'll probably realize how close, in this measure, Oranges and some other Citrus are to Tomato.
My own practical introduction to this came when I found Orange or Grapefruit sections in a green salad. Sure, an Orange isn't Tomato, not even Yellow Tomato - the odor, texture and juiciness are different, and the 'Summer' isn't there, but while you can find Tomatoes this time of year, you'll be lucky to find any 'Summer' in them, and if you're looking for just the right acid edge to highlight a lettuce, well, good luck. In these circumstances, try Orange, Grapefruit or Pommelo: it's a change, but the acid/sweet does much the same for lettuce as a good tomato does.
So far, so raw, but the Tomato/Citrus analogy carries over to cooking too. We all know about using Lemon slices with fish, where the Lemon is discarded like a bouquet garni. But what about using Orange - cook it with the fish, serve it with the fish, eat it with the fish. See our link 3; or see link 5 for a soup incorporating Oranges.
This week's non-recepie builds on both these as well as our earlier fixations with roots and squash. Take some combination of beets, carrots, parsnips, hard squash and fennel. Prepare these for steaming or brasing, remembering their different cooking rates - so cut the beets smallest of all, or else start cooking them first, and add the fennel towards the end, the more you like the anise flavor, the later. Don't forget some brown onion and garlic, too. What you want to aim for is fairly uniformly cooked vegetables, well-cooked but still holding their shape. If you're braising them, you'll want some caramelization but no scorching. If you're steaming them, you can finish by draining the pan and drying the vegetables by tossing a bit over a low flame. Now is the time to add any seasoning - anything from Thailand to Tehran to Tikal, selecting from ginger, chiles, nuts, raisins, cumin, cilantro.... You can make this into a meal by adding lots of nuts or topping with a bit of cheese, or including tofu when you cook. Together with bread, pasta or cooked grain, you're ready to eat.
How far can we go? I haven't tried pasta with Citrus, but if I had some fennel, big pitted well-rinsed black olives, feta cheese, maybe some mint and blood oranges or pink grapefruit I'd give it a shot, sectioning and de-membraning the Citrus and then very gently simmering in a bit of olive oil while the pasta cooked.
A quick trip to Oz: