I’ve always been struck by the perfect timing of the peak citrus season.
Just when the bitter cold winter months are this close to getting me down, FreshDirect gets shipments of zesty oranges, tangerines and grapefruit.
As I break open a citrus peel and revel in the bright floral, almost piney scent, I am virtually transported to a sunny locale (insert mindless hula humming here).
These dazzling fruit can (and should) be enjoyed just as they are, but there plenty of other ways to use citrus’ unmistakable flavors and aromas in baking or cooking. Here are 14 of my favorite fast uses.
Citrus zest is the bees’ knees. Thanks to the essential oils in the peel, it’s also the fastest way to add serious citrus punch to any dish. Tools like zesters, microplanes or carefully wielded vegetable peelers will help you remove just the zest (and not the white, bitter pith directly underneath). Use zest:
- to (1) add flavor to carrot cake, berry muffins and shortbread cookies — for more great baking ideas, check out these One-Click Recipes
- to (2) make your own marinated olives (I like using both the zest and juice of a citrus in this case). Just rinse the brine off the olives and dress with a combination of any of the following to suit your tastes: the juice and zest of citrus of your choice, olive oil, fine-aged balsamic vinegar, pomegranate molasses, cracked pepper or red chili flakes.
- to (3) brighten up braised meat dishes, add a pinch or two of zest during the last 30 minutes of cooking — orange zest is particularly good with braised beef short ribs.
- to (4) fancy up plain vanilla ice cream, just let ice cream soften, stir in zest and refreeze before serving.
For most folks, the best thing about citrus season is (5) a glass of freshly squeezed juice. Here are a few more great ways to use citrus juices:
- use fresh-squeezed citrus juice (from lemons, limes or oranges) (6) as the acid in homemade salad dressings or marinades instead of vinegar or wine. This helps avoid hidden sugars in vinegars (particularly lower-end balsamic)
- use fresh-squeezed orange juice (7) as a natural sweetener in icings and frostings; or in still or sparkling water
- use fresh lemon juice and salt to (8) “quick-pickle” slices of raw onion and tame some of onion’s harsher flavors. Cover the slices liberally with juice and salt, toss, and let sit at room temperature for an hour before adding to salads, pastas, etc.
- Does it seem like your soup or sauce could use a little extra oomph? A squeeze of fresh lemon (9) brings a salt-free splash of brightness to chicken soup, butternut squash soup, gravies and more.
Use citrus segments and suprèmes (a segment that’s been carefully cleaned of all skin and casing) from oranges and grapefruits (10) as a sunny addition to entrées and salads, especially when the dish has a good balance of salt and rich elements like olives, nuts or cheese. A few quick ideas:
- pair slices or segments of orange with thinly sliced fennel, oil-cured olives and red onion (11) to enjoy a classic winter salad from Italy.
- (12) another simple salad idea — stack slices of blood oranges with sliced, roasted beets, toasted walnuts and crumbled blue cheese, then drizzle with olive oil and add pinch of sea salt.
- (13) serve sautéed calamari or octopus on a bed of orange and grapefruit slices, and drizzle with a good olive oil to finish — delicious and lovely!
- serve a scoop of chocolate ice cream on top of orange suprèmes for an (14) effortlessly elegant dessert.
Citrus trivia to impress your family, friends and coworkers:
- Grapefruit has been around for, like, EVER, but only became an eating fruit sometime in the late 1800s. Prior to that, they were considered mostly decorative — much like my yoga mat.
- The bergamot orange is not grown as an eating fruit, but primarily for its essential oil — used as a flavoring in Earl Grey tea and aromatherapy.
- The Satsuma mandarin orange is so popular, there are several U.S. cities named after it in Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama.
- Blood oranges were originally marketed as ‘citrus tomatoes’ in the 1920s and 30s.
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