Produce of the Week - Grapefruit
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Grapefruit, like navel oranges and, on the Central Coast, at least, lemons, a winter citrus, bring that bit of brightness to otherwise largely fruitless months. There's a tendency to pair grapefruit and breakfast, either halved on a saucer or as juice: I remember being met with gasps of incredulity when I pulled a grapefruit from my lunch sack at college and peeled and ate it like an orange. Winter months are also low in acidic produce - specifically, they're tomato free unless you buy hydroponic or foreign - so the acidity of citrus (as we've mentioned in earlier columns) increasingly finds a use in mixed salads.
The grapefruit is an interesting illustration of the relationships between nature and plant breeding. The citrus family is native to Southeast Asia, but was developed as an agricultural item early enough to make it to Europe in Classical times. All the citrus fruit we know today, hundreds of varieties, may be descended from just four wild species. "May", because citrus have been cultivated for a very long time, and the different natural species, however many there were, have a proclivity to cross breed, bringing forth new species, and these in turn are sometimes propagated by humans (clonally, that is, by grafting), and also, guided by nature, themselves sometimes interbreed, either with other new species or, as chance offers, with a handy 'natural' species. However, the grapefruit is a new species that resulted from such accidental breeding - paternity likely unknown - in Barbados, in the mid seventeen hundreds, and over the next century and a half was selectively developed from an ornamental into a desireable fruit. Part, or perhaps much, of this transformation has to do with the forces of commerce; for instance the grapefruit, native to Barbados, became, in its (patented) Ruby incarnation, the unofficial fruit of Texas, and, I suspect, the basis of commercial Texas orchardry.
We've mentioned the unadorned breakfast use of the grapefruit, suggested it as a somewhat unorthodox fruit for whenever fruit is desired, and recalled its uses in mixed salads. In this latter context, it's worth mentioning that grapefruit sections (bare, stripped of membranes) go quite nicely with sections of another winter fruit, Avocado, in a salad, where the oil of the latter and the acid of the former pretty much provide what dressing you need, with the addition, if you're taken that way, of some chopped garlic, dried chiles, or nuts. For some reason, though, earlier this week the notion of cooking with grapefruit crossed my mind. A brief spell of research was very suggestive.
As you might expect, grapefruit are used in all the ways you can use other citrus - mostly lemon - in cooking, so you find recipes for Grapefruit Chicken (chicken marinated in grapefruit juice, cooked, and served with sections of fruit) and Shrimp, for example. A bit more ventursome, though, are the recipes for Grapefruit Souffle. So, yes, there are lemon and orange varieties of this, and possibly even baked in crepes. But the grapefruit's size makes possible something neither of the smaller fruit can: souffle baked in the fruit's peel. It's worth noting that, since orange and lemon are standard confectionary flavors, but grapefruit isn't (a grapefruit jellybean, for example, would really stand out) there's something of a difference in kind between orange or lemon souffle and grapefruit souffle.
We also find a warm salad, combining broccoli cooked al dente with grapefruit sections, fine chopped onion and strips of bell pepper dressed with a vinaigrette. Another dish consists of cut up orange and grapefruit sections, toasted sliced almonds, and sliced pitted olives, dressed with a bit of olive oil. Avocado would happily join this mix, which could serve, in small portions, as a sort of salad, or as a fruit course to finish a meal, or at the other extreme, paired with fresh bread, become a meal in itself.
The notion of cooking with grapefruit came to me when I was noticing this year's first wild fennel, and wondered about braising demembraned grapefruit sections together with fennel and thin-sliced onion. This could make a sort of vegetable side on its own, or, over chopped romaine, shredded butter lettuce, or small sections of Little Gem, would, with a bit of dressing, make a nice salad. And why stop there? Add the salad just described to some coarsely cut up steamed potatoes, maybe together with some floury beans, or barely cooked peas, and you've got a whole meal.
Before or after a meal you might want a bit of a lift. The after could be a 'granit' or sorbet of grapefruit. The 'before' might be this pick me up which spikes the tonic properties of grapefruit juice with some fresh ginger and smoothes it with some fennel (run all this through a blender). Freeze it, and you have another 'granit'. A gentler cooler substitutes mint for fennel, and adds sugar.