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Citrus fruits can offset the winter blahs

SHARE Citrus fruits can offset the winter blahs

Citrus fruit adds a splash of sunshine to cold-weather menus, brightening winter days with a little tang and vitamin C.

From now until mid-April, we can expect to see lots of juicy oranges, grapefruit and other citrus fruit in the produce section. This year's orange crop is much better than that of two years ago, when freezing weather wreaked havoc in the orange groves. Due to that freeze, the following year's crop matured late.

"It wasn't until about the last of May that we were flooded with oranges," said Marie Rama, author of "Cooking for Dummies" and spokeswoman for Sunkist, a co-operative of about 6,500 California and Arizona citrus growers. Rama was in Salt Lake City a couple weeks ago promoting lemons, which are grown year-round. She said 90 percent of the nation's lemon crop is grown in California and Arizona.

Growers have used cross-breeding to come up with new and improved varieties of citrus fruit, Rama said. Remember when the only grapefruit you could find was a lot smaller, full of seeds and extremely bitter? Today, you can find such varieties as the Star Ruby, which are watermelon-pink inside, with fewer seeds and a lot less bite.

If you haven't met some of the lesser-known members of the citrus family, it's time to get acquainted:

Mandarin: This is a class of orange that is small, with a thin, loose peel; dubbed "kid-glove oranges," because ladies could eat them without soiling their hands. (Mandarin orange sections are the type you buy in cans.)

Tangerines: A type of mandarin, with rough skin and bright orange-red flesh, named for Tangier, Morocco.

Clementine: A small mandarin, similar to the Satsuma mandarin, with a thinner membrane, plentiful juice and virtually no seeds. It's named for Father Clement Rodier, who developed it around 1900 in the garden of his orphanage in Algeria.

Minneola tangelo: A cross between a grapefruit and tangerine, recognized by its knoblike "nose" at the stem end. Juicy and mildly sweet, it's available in the West from January to April. Orlando tangelos don't have the knobby nose.

Blood orange: This small orange has deep burgundy flesh. Growers, worried that the term "blood" might scare consumers away, are pushing the term "Moro." It's not as sweet as a regular orange, but it's become a favorite of restaurant chefs for salads, salad dressings and desserts. In North Africa, strips of the peel are dried and used in stews, according to Rama.

Kumquat: It looks like a tiny oval orange with a sweet, edible golden orange rind. The flesh is dry and tart. The entire fruit — skin and flesh — can be served raw in salads or as a garnish. But it's more likely to be found candied or pickled whole, or in preserves or marmalades.

Navel oranges: These are the usual seedless oranges you find in the supermarket. They're harvested in the winter and have a "button," or navel, opposite the stem end. They were discovered around 1820 growing as a mutation in Brazil and introduced to the United States in 1870.

Valencia oranges: Spring and summer oranges, with seeds, that are grown primarily in Florida and mainly processed for juice.

Ugli fruit: A tangerine-grapefruit cross that resembles the grapefruit side, with a thick, bumpy, orange-green rind and sweet juicy flesh with few seeds. It can be used in the same way as grapefruit segments.

Pummelos: These look like giant grapefruits on the outside, but the peel is much thicker. The flesh is sweeter than a grapefruit but more dry.

Key limes: These are only grown in southern Florida and have a very thin, greenish-yellow skin. The juice is more tangy and intense than a regular lime. These have long been considered the "key" ingredient for Key Lime Pie. But an article in the March 1997 Cook's Illustrated magazine says the fresh Persian limes (found in Utah supermarkets) will work as well, if not better. After testing several methods for making Key Lime Pie, the author, Stephen Schmidt, wrote, "Despite the name of the pie, I actually find the juice of Persian limes preferable as an ingredient."

SELECTING CITRUS: Look for bright, smooth skins, free of soft spots. The fruit should feel firm and heavy for its size. Look for advertised specials, since the stores will advertise sizes that are most plentiful and thus the best buy.

Citrus fruit is washed in the packing house to remove the field dust that accumulates during the growing period. To prevent shriveling, a little wax is used on the peel to replace the natural wax removed during the washing process. The thickness of citrus peel depends on the weather. The peel is nature's way of protecting the fruit's interior against extremely hot or cold temperatures, excess wind and rainfall.

USING IT: Bringing fruit to room temperature yields the most juice, especially when it is rolled on the counter with the palm of the hand before squeezing. Citrus "zest" is the grated outer peel of the citrus fruit, which has tiny oil sacs that are full of flavor and aroma.

STORAGE: Most citrus fruit will keep at room temperature for about a week to 10 days. Tangerines may not last as long. Store away from heat in a well-ventilated room. In the refrigerator, store in the covered vegetable crisper where temperatures are warmer. The best temperature range for oranges and tangerines is 45 degrees. For lemons, grapefruit and limes, 55 degrees is optimum. since it is impractical to store fruit at different temperatures, you can keep the latter fruits longer by storing in sealed plastic bags. In the refrigerator, citrus should last for two to three weeks.

Whole citrus fruit should not be frozen. Fresh-squeezed lemon and Valencia orange juice may be frozen for up to four months. Navel oranges contain a component that turns the juice bitter when frozen.

Vitamin C is well-protected in fresh citrus fruits. The fruit contains a substance that inhibits vitamin C oxidation — the same substance that keeps avocados, apples and bananas from turning brown when you squeeze fresh citrus juice on them. Fresh citrus is subject to very little vitamin C loss during shipping. If you cut open the fruit and use only part of it, wrap the rest and refrigerate it to preserve the vitamin C.

Here are recipes using citrus fruit:


CLASSIC LEMON CURD

This lemon sauce can be served hot or cold over fresh fruit and cake.

1 egg

2 egg yolks

Grated peel of 1/2 lemon

Juice of 2 lemons (6 tablespoons)

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter or margarine

Dash of salt

In a saucepan, lightly beat the egg and yolks; add the remaining ingredients. Cook over low heat, stir constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 5-8 minutes. Serve hot or cold. — Recipe from Sunkist.


CALIFORNIA CARROTS

1 pound carrots, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 3 cups)

Boiling water

Grated peel of 1/2 orange

1 orange, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened

1 tablespoon chopped green onion (scallion)

In a covered saucepan, cook the carrots in I inch of boiling water until just tender, 10-15 minutes. Drain and return the carrots to the saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients and heat.

Variation: Omit green onion; stir in 2 tablespoons of light brown sugar or 1 tablespoon honey with the remaining ingredients. Serves 3 to 4.


CHICKEN PICCATA

2 large lemons

1 1/2 pounds chicken cutlets, or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, rinsed, dried thoroughly and cut in half horizontally

Salt and ground black pepper

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons) or 1 small garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)

1 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons drained small capers

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, set large heatproof plate on rack, and heat oven to 200 degrees. Halve one lemon pole to pole. Trim ends from one half of the lemon, and cut crosswise into slices 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick; set aside. Juice remaining half and whole lemon to obtain 1/4 cup of juice; reserve.

Sprinkle both sides of cutlets generously with salt and pepper. Measure flour into pie tin or shallow baking dish. Working one cutlet at a time, coat with flour and shake to remove excess.

Heat heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot; add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl pan to coat. Lay half of chicken pieces in skillet. Saute cutlets until lightly browned on first side, 2-2 1/2 minutes. Turn cutlets and cook until second side is lightly browned. Remove pan from heat and transfer cutlets to plate in oven. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in skillet and lightly brown remaining chicken pieces; transfer to plate in oven. Add shallot or garlic to skillet and return to medium heat. Saute about 30 seconds for shallot or 10 seconds for garlic. Add stock and lemon slices, increase heat to high, and scrape skillet bottom with wooden spoon or spatula to loosen browned bits. Simmer until liquid reduces to about 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes. Add lemon juice and capers and simmer until sauce reduces again to 1/3 cup, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and swirl in butter and parsley. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately. Serves 4. Recipe from Cook's Illustrated (February 2001).


MANDARIN STIR-FRY BEEF

8 ounces beef top sirloin or top round steak, cut into bite-size strips

Juice from 1 to 2 tangerines (about 1/4 cup)

2 tablespoons hoisin or oyster sauce

1 tablespoon salt-reduced soy sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken or beef broth

1 1/2 cups broccoli flowerets

1/3 cup sliced green onion

4 cups Chinese or Napa cabbage, sliced

1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained

2 tangerines, peeled and segmented

Hot cooked rice

Remove excess fat from steak strips; place in shallow non-metal dish. In small bowl stir together tangerine juice, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and garlic. Pour mixture over meat; toss to coat. Cover and chill 30 minutes to several hours. In a wok or large skillet over high heat, place 3 tablespoons broth. Stir-fry the broccoli 3 minutes. Remove from wok. Add more broth if needed; stir-fry onion and cabbage 2 minutes. Remove from wok. Add more broth if needed; stir-fry water chestnuts and tangerines for 1 minute; remove from wok. Add meat and stir-fry until meat is cooked. Add cooked vegetables, water chestnuts and tangerines back to wok. Toss well; cover and heat 1 minute. Serve with hot rice, cooked in unsalted water.

Nutritional information per serving: 290 calories; 3 grams of fat; 46 grams carbohydrate, 38 milligrams cholesterol, 246 milligrams sodium. Supplies 58 percent of daily recommended allowance for vitamin A; 133 percent RDA for vitamin C, and 22 percent for calcium. Recipe from Sunkist.


ZESTY FRESH LEMON NUT BARS

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Grated peel of 1 lemon

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Lemon Glaze (see recipe below)

To make crust, in bowl cream together butter, granulated sugar and 1/2 of the lemon peel. Gradually stir in 1 1/4 cups flour to form soft crumbly dough. Press evenly into bottom of 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Meanwhile prepare filling. In bowl combine brown sugar, walnuts, eggs, baking powder, remaining 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 of lemon peel. Spread over baked crust. Bake for 20 minutes longer. Remove from oven; thinly spread with Lemon

Glaze while still hot. Cool; cut into 36 pieces. Recipe from Sunkist.


LEMON GLAZE

1 cup confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon butter or margarine, softened

2 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

In bowl, gradually blend a small amount of sugar into softened butter. Add lemon juice and remaining sugar; stir to blend well.


MEDITERRANEAN STEW WITH BLOOD ORANGES

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds beef or lamb stew meat, cut in cubes

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 red pepper, roasted, seeded, and coarsely cut; or 1 jar (8 ounces) red peppers

3 large strips of Moro orange peel

1 to 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

3 Roma tomatoes, diced, or 1 can (15 ounces) tomatoes, drained, cut

2 cups chicken or meat broth

1 cup pitted black olives

1 Moro orange, peeled, sectioned

In Dutch oven, brown meat in hot oil in two batches. Add onion and garlic. Cook one minute, stirring as needed. Add remaining ingredients, except orange. Braise, covered, in 350-degree oven or over low heat for 2 hours, until meat is tender. Add orange sections just before serving; season to taste. Serve over rice, noodles or couscous. Serves 6. Recipe from Sunkist.


KEY LIME PIE

Crust:

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs

3 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

4 teaspoons grated lime zest

1/2 cup strained juice from 3 or 4 limes

4 large egg yolks

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Topping:

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

Thin lime slices for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare crust by combining graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter. Press mixture evenly over bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake until lightly browned and fragrant, 10-15 minutes.

Whisk zest and yolks in medium bowl about 2 minutes. Beat in milk, then juice; set aside at room temperature to thicken. Pour filling into prepared crust and bake in center of oven until filling is set but still wiggly when jiggled,15 to 17 minutes. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap laid directly on filling, then refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 1 day. Before serving, whip cream with confectioner's sugar until it holds firm peaks. Swirl with rubber spatula over the surface of the pie. Garnish with lime slices before serving. Recipe from Cook's Illustrated, March/April 1997.


E-mail: vphillips@desnews.com