Winter tempts us to roast everything — even fruit. Roasted fibrous apples or almost-ripe pears fill crostatas and crisps, turn up next to meat and game, or get added (sometimes clumsily) to salads.
Citrus, so plentiful in winter, typically gets little oven time, and that’s a shame.
Roasting citrus may seem at odds with the bright fruit that’s mostly juice, spongy pulp and waxy rind. Instead, uncooked segments pop up in salads; the juice and zest go into dressings, marinades and custards.
Try roasting lemons and oranges, however, and you’ll find that the sugars caramelize to create surprisingly intense flavors.
Roasted sweet orange slices add concentrated flavor and texture to dishes; while roasted whole lemons and oranges taste sunshine-bright, candy-rich, and are to the palate what pastels are to pencils. They are as versatile as they are assertive.
Citrus can be roasted successfully in one of two ways: Cut the fruit into thin slices and dry roast it at a high heat; or leave the citrus whole and cook it low and slow in a bit of water and its own liquid.
In either case, you need to foil the ambitions of the bitter pith with vinegar, or by allowing that white membrane to cook until nearly clear and sweet.
Thin-skinned, sweet oranges are the best choice for slicing and dry roasting. Underneath the fragrant, bright peel, the white pith is soapy and bitter. But if the pith is thin, as with juice oranges such as Valencia, the fruit roasts perfectly in slender, pretty slices.
The pulp pulls taut as it roasts, sometimes becoming floss-thin and caramelized at the edges, giving the oranges a little chew. Reinvigorate the roasted slices with vinegar to elevate their sweetness and knock out that residual bitterness.
Roasted orange slices are sturdy enough to toss into a salad, a pan of sauteed greens or a bowl of toasty grains. Like any other dried fruit, they deliver a concentration of flavor.
Roast orange slices on parchment paper, rather than directly on the baking tray. This prevents the thin pieces from sticking to the pan; and the parchment becomes a steaming pouch for re-softening and seasoning the dried slices.
Once the orange slices become tender and begin to brown, pull up the sides of parchment to gather together the pieces, then — after adding a splash of vinegar — fold the paper onto itself to create a pouch that traps the newly created steam. The vinegar at once loosens the bits of fruit and caramelized juices from the parchment, and as it settles into the slices it intensifies their flavor.
For the second roasting method, you cook the fruit whole for a long time over low heat. Slow roasting works beautifully with both lemons and oranges.
A thinly sliced shallot added to the pot at the start becomes a catalyst for caramelization. The shallot melts into the juices released from the citrus, creating a delicious, intense sauce. The softened peel and long-simmered seeds thicken the fruit’s pulp and juices to a golden syrup.
Since I’ve been making them, I stopped buying preserved lemons altogether. The roasted lemons are quite different, taste-wise, and much more versatile.
Pair roasted citrus with a wide range of flavors, including olives, capers and aged cheeses, sweet and hot peppers, dry and fresh tomatoes, shrimp and sardines, any herb and leafy green, and even dates and bittersweet chocolate.
Add pieces of roasted lemon to the pan toward the end of roasting the chicken, meat or whole fish. Mash a small piece into vinaigrette or pesto. At the very least, add to the roasted citrus to olive oil for slathering on bread.