The arrival of winter citrus fruits in our stores makes me almost grateful for the season. Those plump pink grapefruit, daisy tangerines, teeny kumquats and Meyer lemons are the best-tasting foods in the produce aisle; they’re the only fruit in season.
So far, reports of this year’s crops are promising. Florida has (mostly) recovered from last year’s devastating storms, and California and Texas are shipping out more fruit than they did last year. The uncertain weather makes them seem more precious.
When shopping, look for citrus that is firm and heavy for its size. Avoid any that are scarred or wrinkled. Store them in plastic bags in the refrigerator, where they’ll stay fresh for about two weeks.
Citrus salads make a refreshing alternative to the limp, tired looking lettuces in our stores. Their bright pink, orange and red colors and sweet-sour flavors make a nice anecdote to the rich foods served through the holidays. There are no hard and fast rules for citrus salads, so use whatever you like best.
The easiest way to peel citrus fruit is to cut off both ends so that you have a flat surface. Place one cut end on a cutting board and using a sharp knife, cut as close to the pulp as you can, slicing off the skin in strips and removing the bitter pith (no worries if a little is left behind). Turn the fruit on its side, and slice it about an inch thick or section the fruit by slicing between the membranes.
The tiny kumquats and their limequat cousins need not be peeled because the whole fruit is entirely edible, popping with orange-lime taste. Slice these thin and add to the salad or roast the slices in a hot oven to sweeten and crisp them up, as we do in today’s recipe.
A few slivers of fennel add notes of anise and a nice crunch. Finish off this salad with a drizzle of peppery extra-virgin olive oil or lush, nutty-tasting local hazelnut oil, a little lime zest and cracked black pepper. You can make this all ahead and keep it in the refrigerator for several hours.
It’s a pretty side dish to roast chicken or duck, and goes nicely with a bowl of creamy soup and crusty bread for a casual dinner. This simple salad won’t let you forget it’s still winter, but it brings a taste of sunshine to the plate.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.