Oranges aren’t just for making juice and lemons are just for making lemonade. Citrus fruits make great snacks, flavor dishes and add zest to syrups and teas.
Here are a few ideas that might help you see citrus in a new light.
One of my favorite ways to serve citrus is in a fruit salad. This isn’t your grandma’s mixture (or maybe it is, if she was a really good, slightly fussy cook), and it’s really too simple to justify a full recipe.
Peel and slice the fruit into wheels -- the more types the merrier, so you’ll get a nice combination of colors and sizes. Then just dress them with a simple syrup made of sugar cooked with water until it’s clear. Use ½ cup to2/3 cup sugar for every cup of water, depending on your taste.
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Well, it doesn’t have to be quite that simple. Steep herbs or spices in the syrup while it’s cooking. Vanilla is almost always a great match for citrus; cloves are too. And adding just a little honey adds a sweet muskiness.
Or you can get really creative and use different kinds of teas. Chamomile adds an herbal note. If you can find a really nice jasmine tea, that adds a spectacular floral fragrance. This weekend, I finished a big meal with a salad of blood, Cara Cara and navel oranges in a syrup flavored with orange zest and a good pinch of smoky Lapsang souchang tea. That’s one I’ll definitely use again.
Just be gentle with the seasoning; you want to accent the flavor of the citrus, not disguise it.
Citrus sorbets are just one step more complicated, and they’re terrific either by themselves or in combination with fruit salad. Start with that flavored simple syrup again -- this time equal parts water and sugar. You’ll want about 3 cups of syrup for every cup of juice. Freeze it in an ice cream maker or in a cake pan in the freezer -- the crystals will be coarser, but that’s refreshing sometimes.
Be sure to include lots of zest in the syrup. One thing to remember when cooking with citrus is that there is a big difference in flavor between the juice and the zest. You’ll almost always want to use a combination.
The juice primarily carries the simple flavors of the fruit -- sweetness and tartness plus the broad character of the variety. The zest, where the fruit’s oils are, carries the complex flavors. You can extract them by simmering the zest in a syrup or by simply crushing it with sugar. A bowl and a spoon work just fine for this; just rub the peel and sugar together until the sugar is saturated with the color of the fruit.
One thing that does make it easier to find recipes to use up citrus is that, even though the various fruits are quite distinctly different, they can be used more or less interchangeably in cooking. If you’ve got a favorite orange sorbet, you can easily use grapefruit to get a different but very good dessert.
The one exception to this that comes to mind is the blood orange. Because the anthocyanin pigment that gives the orange its crimson color is heat-volatile, cooking blood oranges for very long can result in an ugly bruised purple rather than that spectacular sunset color. I only use blood oranges raw.
Curds are another remarkably flexible way to use citrus. You can use them as sauces, as fillings for tarts and as frosting layers for cakes. Or, if you’re feeling really indulgent, you can even eat them straight out of the bowl as a kind of super-luxurious pudding. In fact, that’s how my wife and I finished off the leftovers of this grapefruit-Campari curd the other night, with just a sugar cookie.
Curds are fascinating. Try heating eggs, butter, sugar and water together, and you’ll get a really awful version of wet, sweet scrambled eggs. Replace the water with citrus juice and you get this amazing thick cream.
What’s the difference? The acidity in the citrus juice raises the temperature at which the egg proteins coagulate, so instead of scrambling solid, they link up just enough to trap the melted butter.
There are all kinds of recipes for curds varying from the puckeringly tart to the extremely buttery. My favorite is on the buttery side but with still a pucker and fruit character.
You won’t believe how simple it is to make: Basically, you just heat citrus juice and zest with a combination of whole eggs and egg yolks, sugar and butter until it thickens. You do need to keep stirring the whole time, but it takes only about five minutes.
If that’s too complicated, even easier to make is the lemon tart Mary Constant posted on the Food52 website. In a blender, puree a whole seeded lemon -- yes, that’s right, the whole thing, peel and pith and all -- and blend eggs, vanilla and sugar until the mixture’s smooth. Pour it into a tart shell and bake.
It’s delicious -- kind of a spin on the old dessert called Shaker lemon pie, but instead of slicing the lemons paper-thin, you just puree them.
Another supremely easy citrus dessert is this pudding from my friend Deborah Madison’s book “Seasonal Fruit Desserts,” a real treasure chest of great ideas.
Simply simmer 2 cups of citrus juice, along with zest and sugar, with 3 tablespoons of cornstarch (that seems like a lot, but the acidity of the citrus reduces the thickening power of the cornstarch).
Cook it just past the point where it boils, stir in flavorings (honey and orange flower water or yuzu juice are what she recommends, but there’s plenty of room for experimentation) and chill.
The result is creamy and rich feeling but has very few calories -- of course, it’s better when topped with a little whipped cream, but that’s up to you.
Because let’s face it, when life hands you lemons like we’re getting now, it would be a shame to settle for lemonade.
LAZY MARY’S LEMON TART
Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes plus cooling time
1 unbaked (9-inch) tart shell
1 large Meyer lemon (about 6 ounces), cut into 8 pieces and seeded
1 ½ cups superfine sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prick the bottom of the tart shell lightly with a fork, line it with parchment paper or aluminum foil and fill it with pie weights (you can use dried beans and save them to use as weights the next time you bake). Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake until the rim of the tart is dried and set, about 15 minutes (time may vary depending on the dough or brand). Remove the weights and the aluminum foil, and return the tart shell to the oven to bake until the crust is set but not completely baked through, about 10 more minutes.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a blender, puree the lemon, sugar, butter, vanilla and eggs until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. This makes about 3 cups of filling. Pour the filling into the pre-baked tart shell until the filling almost reaches the top of the rim of the crust; you may not use all of the filling.
3. Place the tart in the oven and bake until puffed and golden and the filling jiggles only slightly when tapped, about 40 minutes. The filling will brown around the edges but should not be overly brown in the center; if it begins to brown too quickly, cover the top lightly with aluminum foil and continue cooking. Remove and cool on a rack.
Note: Adapted from “The Food52 Cookbook” by Amanda Hesser, Merrill Stubbs and the Food 52 community.
Total time: 20 minutes, plus chilling time
Note: Adapted from Deborah Madison’s “Seasonal Fruit Desserts.” This is especially good when topped with a little whipped cream flavored with Grand Marnier or Cognac.
1 tablespoon finely grated tangelo zest (from 2 to 3 tangelos)
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups freshly squeezed tangelo juice (from 10 to 12 tangelos)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon orange flower water
1 ½ teaspoons honey
In a small bowl using a fork or spoon, smash the tangelo zest with the sugar to moisten the sugar with the fruit’s aromatic oils. Transfer the mixture to a 1-quart heavy-bottom saucepan along with the cornstarch and a tiny pinch of salt. Whisk in just enough of the tangelo juice to make a smooth slurry, then add the remaining juice and whisk to smooth.
Place the pan over medium heat and gently bring the mixture to a boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until the juice has thickened, just a few minutes. Cook for 1 minute more, then remove from heat and whisk in the butter, orange flower water and honey. This makes a generous 2 cups of pudding.
Divide the pudding among juice glasses or Champagne glasses and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.
TART WITH GRAPEFRUIT CURD AND CAMPARI
Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, plus chilling time
1 unbaked (9-inch) tart shell
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup grapefruit juice (from 2 large grapefruit)
1 teaspoon grated grapefruit zest (from 1 large grapefruit)
1 teaspoon Campari
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prick the bottom of the tart shell lightly with a fork, line it with parchment or aluminum foil and fill it with pie weights (you can use dried beans and save them to use as weights the next time you bake). Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake until the rim of the tart is dried and set, about 15 minutes (timing may vary depending on the dough or brand). Remove the weights and the aluminum foil and return the tart shell to the oven to bake until it is well browned, about 30 more minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, beat the whole eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar until smooth and light colored. Add the grapefruit juice, zest, Campari and butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter melts, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the curd is thick enough that it coats the back of a spoon and that when you draw your finger across the curd it leaves a definite track, about 5 minutes. The curd should be as thick as thick hollandaise. Remove from heat.
Pour the curd through a strainer into the pre-baked tart shell and chill until firm. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios over the top before serving.