I am tired of having to pull on sweaters to stay warm in my drafty old house.

Bring back summer, already!

It can seem equally bleak at the grocery store. Root vegetables and winter greens make great comfort foods, but they don’t have quite the same pizazz as, say, a basket of homegrown tomatoes or a pint of sun-sweetened local strawberries.

Try as it may, a parsnip just isn’t the same as a peach.

Thank goodness there’s an easy fix for the winter blues: juicy, colorful citrus fruits.

The winter months are peak season for these sweet, sometimes tangy orbs, which bring a much needed dose of sunshine to the table along with a healthful shot of vitamin C and other antioxidants.

From oranges and tangerines to grapefruit, lemons and limes — they’re all available now through late spring, brightening the culinary landscape while tickling our taste buds. And don’t forget about those adorable little “cuties,” an easy-to-peel, super-sweet clementine orange that’s the perfect size for snacking.

It’s shaping up to be another good year for citrus, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasting 103 million boxes (4.64 tons) of oranges out of Florida this season. California also should enjoy brisk sales, with 50 million boxes of fruit expected to hit the market, including tangerines and Cara Cara oranges, a red-fleshed navel grown in the San Joaquin Valley that’s gaining in popularity.

Sweet and tangy, with notes of cranberry and cherry, these bright-orange hybrids are especially prized for their low acidity and lack of seeds.

Navel oranges, which first came to the U.S. in the mid-1800s from Bahia, Brazil, by way of missionaries, also are selling well, said registered dietitian/nutrition coach Samantha Montgomery, along with blood oranges, Meyer lemons and green-skinned pomelos. Also known as Chinese grapefruit, these specialty fruits — the largest of all citrus fruits — can grow to the size of volleyballs. Aromatic and juicy, they’re a bit sweeter than traditional grapefruit.

Minneolas also are getting a lot of second looks, Montgomery said, because the peel doesn’t stick to the fruit as much as a regular navel.

This time of year is also when lemons and limes are at their juiciest; in summer they tend to be a little seedier. And don’t forget about red and white grapefruit, which are for so much more than breakfast. Grapefruit can be peeled and eaten out of hand just like an orange, or sectioned and added to salads, entrees and desserts. And its juice makes a puckery, sweet-sour cocktail mixer.

If you’re not particularly big on citrus, you might want to reconsider. According to the USDA, a healthy diet includes at least 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit a day — or a quarter of what goes on your plate at each meal — and citrus is a budget-friendly way to get those goods in the body.

Not only does citrus help stave off flu and colds, Montgomery said, but it’s also high in fiber, which helps you feel full (good for weight management) and aids with digestion.

“And it’s really easy to take with you, and relatively easy to consume,” she added.

The biggest nutritional benefits come from raw citrus, but it’s still pretty good for you tossed into a stir-fry (cooking it will make it sweeter) or baked or squeezed into a dessert. Using citrus juice and zest as flavoring also is a nice way to reduce sodium-related seasonings in many dishes, adding a little extra zip naturally.

When buying citrus, look for firm fruit with bright, colorful skin. While a few rough spots are OK, avoid citrus that feels soft or spongy or has cuts and bruises. You also want to steer clear if there’s any mold in the stem, or if the skin looks dried out. Weight matters — the fruit should feel heavier than anticipated. Higher water content means it’ll be juicier.

If you plan to use the fruit zest (it’s most aromatic and flavorful when you first remove it, so use it quickly), make sure the peel is really clean and shiny, regardless of whether it’s organic. In addition to insecticides, some fruit is sprayed with color dyes and edible wax to slow the loss of moisture. Always wash the fruit under warm running water, using just the friction of your fingers to scrub it clean.

Here we offer some fresh ideas on cooking with vibrant winter citrus. It’s sure to brighten your mood and bring edible sunshine into the kitchen.

A note about yields

• One lemon yields about 1 tablespoon of zest and 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice.

• A medium orange has about 2 tablespoons of zest and 4 to 6 tablespoons of juice.

• An average lime has about 2 teaspoons of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice.


More recipes online

Find recipes for grapefruit margaritas, lemon mayo and lemon curd at startribune.com/taste