Sunny citrus saves the day

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

On a chilly day recently with the forecast calling for even colder temps, I sought solace at the fridge. There, buried inside, was a drawer of sunshine brimming with lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and more. The beautiful bounty of vitamin C ensured a bright and healthy day, despite what Mother Nature had in store. How thoughtful of her that she bestows them upon us just as the last of the fall fruits are fading.

A pretty, little, book “Citrus,” by Valerie Aikman-Smith and Victoria Pearson (Ten Speed Press, $19.99) was my inspiration for stocking the crisper. I have had it sitting in a prominent spot on the counter for months for just that very moment. Now, with this handy guide, I’ve been able to bake, cook and compose beautiful and foolproof citrus dishes while the thermometer dips and my appetite soars.

I always have a supply of lemons, limes and oranges on hand to use in juicing, cooking or cocktails, but “Citrus” had me seeking out blood oranges, cara cara oranges, pomelos and kumquats, and other members in the diverse group of fruit. I keep some cute little clementines in a bowl by the sink so I can peel, eat and delight in their sweetness as I watch the snow fall. And this is the second year that my Meyer lemon tree has rewarded me with edible sunshine.

But citrus isn’t a one-trick pony: A citrus marinade can enhance the flavors of grilled meats, brightens salads with its colors and flavors and turn baked goods into something sublime.

In fact, I used some to create a beautiful Meyer Lemon & Thyme Hearth bread served with a salad of fresh greens for a light lunch.

And citrus takes to heat like a dream. The natural sugar in the juice caramelizes to create taste and texture as evidenced in an Orange and Rosemary Polenta Cake.

The lemons were also terrific when roasted along with a blood orange to create a Roasted Citrus and Avocado Salad. This salad is so pretty, especially this time of year, when served with watercress, fresh mint and avocado.

I also experimented with adding the juice from a fresh lemon, lime or orange to a basil pesto. The flavors, along with the fresh basil, made a bowl of pasta turn into a promise of spring. Citrus peel powder is a breeze to make and is lovely sprinkled on a bowl of oatmeal or used to rim a cocktail glass. I also like to mix some of the zest from a fruit I’m using with flaky sea salt for sprinkling on salads and meats. Absolutely nothing goes to waste when using citrus — except for the seeds that can live on to create more citrus, if you are so inclined.

But aside from citrus simply making everything better, the health benefits of eating citrus fruits should be reason alone to make you want to rush out and grab every bright yellow and orange fruit in sight.

Not only are the citrus fruits in this diverse group delicious and refreshing, they earn their definition of an all-star food because they contain compounds called flavonoids, which may have anticancer properties.

Citrus fruits are also high in vitamin C and are good sources of folate and thiamin. Vitamin C is also required for the synthesis of collagen, which helps wounds heal and helps hold blood vessels, tendons, ligaments and bone together. Folate is necessary for cell division and DNA synthesis. Thiamin is a B vitamin important in metabolism.

Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about health benefits when I made a Citrus Pie. As a lover of Key Lime Pie, I couldn’t imagine any improvement on my favorite dessert. I was wrong.

Kate Lawson is the retired Detroit News food writer.

Szechuan Shrimp and Ruby Grapefruit Salad

The delicate, sweet flavor of the ruby grapefruit is hit with a dazzle of heat from Szechuan peppercorns, which are a delightful peppery spice used in Chinese cooking. You will find them in the spice rack at your local market; use them whole or grind them up as I’ve done here.

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, with tails on

6 ounces dried vermicelli rice noodles

1 large ruby grapefruit, peeled

1 cup torn mint leaves

For the dressing

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns

Bring a saucepan filled with water to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until they are opaque and cooked through. Drain and place in a large ceramic bowl.

Place the noodles in a heatproof bowl and pour in boiling water to cover. Let stand for 10 minutes, until soft, then drain and rinse under cool running water. Add to the shrimp.

Cut the grapefruit into segments and add them and any juices to the bowl with the shrimp and noodles. Add the mint leaves.

To make the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients. Pour over the salad, toss gently to coat evenly, and serve at once. Serves 4.

Per serving: 413 calories; 8 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 17 percent calories from fat); 64 g carbohydrates; 23 g sugar; 179 mg cholesterol; 1,108 mg sodium; 21 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Orange and Rosemary Polenta Cake

There’s a farm stand near Victoria’s house that sells all kinds of oranges, and it’s the inspiration for this cake, which uses a variety of oranges to give it a colorful, jeweled top. Soaked in syrup and with the herbal taste of rosemary, it is delicious served with tea as an afternoon treat.

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/4 cup water

2 Valencia oranges, thinly sliced

2 blood oranges, thinly sliced

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup fine-grind polenta

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan. In a saucepan, combine / cup of the sugar and the water and heat over medium-high heat. Allow the sugar to dissolve without stirring. Boil the mixture for about 5 minutes, until it starts turning golden brown. Remove from the heat, pour the syrup into the prepared pan, and swirl the cake pan to cover the bottom.

Arrange the orange slices in concentric circles on the syrup, overlapping them and covering the bottom of the pan completely.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, polenta, baking powder, and rosemary and set aside. In another bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat together the butter and the remaining / cup of sugar on low speed until creamy, then increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture is light, fluffy, and pale ivory. On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, until combined.

Reduce the speed to low and add the polenta and flour mixture a little at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until combined.

Spoon the mixture over the orange slices and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a serving platter and serve warm.

Per serving: 539 calories; 15 g fat (15 g saturated fat; 43 percent calories from fat); 70 g carbohydrates; 38 g sugar; 154 mg cholesterol; 108 mg sodium; 8 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Citrus Marinated Chicken Thighs

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced

1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems only (optional)

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

Set aside 1/4 cup sliced scallions. Pulse cilantro, garlic, citrus zests, citrus juices, soy sauce, oil, salt, and remaining scallions in a food processor or blender until a coarse purée forms. Set aside 1/4 cup marinade; place remaining marinade in a large resealable plastic bag. Add chicken, seal bag, and turn to coat. Chill at least 20 minutes.

Preheat broiler. Remove chicken from marinade and place, skin side down, on a foil-lined broiler proof baking sheet; discard marinade. Broil chicken until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Turn; continue to broil until cooked through and an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of thigh registers 165°F, 12-15 minutes longer. Serve chicken with reserved marinade and scallions.

Chicken can be marinated 2 hours ahead. Keep chilled.

Per serving: 278 calories; 20 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 65 percent calories from fat); 2 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 78 mg cholesterol; 698 mg sodium; 21 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Citrus Pie

Recipe adapted from Gourmet

1 7-ounce jar roasted macadamia nuts

3/4 cup ground vanilla wafer cookies

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling

2 cups fresh pink grapefruit juice

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

9 ounces imported white chocolate (such as Lindt or Callebaut), chopped

1/4 cup whipping cream

1 1/4 cups chilled whipping cream

For the topping

1 cup chilled whipping cream

2 tablespoons sugar

7 thin lime slices, cut in half

8 ounces imported white chocolate (such as Callebaut), shaved into curls (optional)

For the crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Finely chop nuts in processor. Add ground cookies, sugar and butter and blend in using on/off turns until moist crumbs form. Press mixture firmly onto bottom and sides of 9 1/2-inch deep-dish glass pie dish. Bake crust until golden, about 10 minutes. Cool.

For the filling

Boil grapefruit juice and 1/4 cup sugar in heavy medium saucepan over high heat until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over lime juice and let stand 10 minutes. Add gelatin mixture, white chocolate and 1/4 cup cream to grapefruit mixture and whisk over low heat until white chocolate and gelatin melt and mixture is smooth. Pour into large bowl. Refrigerate until cool, but not set, whisking occasionally and scraping down sides of bowl with rubber spatula, about 2 hours. Whip the 1 1/4 cup of cream to soft peaks then fold into the cooled grapefruit reduction/lime juice and chocolate mixture.

Mound into pie shell and smooth top.

Beat cream and sugar to stiff peaks. Spoon whipped cream into pastry bag fitted with large star tip. Pipe 15 rosettes of cream around edge of pie. Place 1 lime slice rounded side up between each rosette. Fill center with chocolate curls if desired. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Refrigerate.) Serves 8.

Per serving: 983 calories; 74 g fat (35 g saturated fat; 68 percent calories from fat); 78 g carbohydrates; 69 g sugar; 124 mg cholesterol; 222 mg sodium; 9 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Citrus Pesto

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves (from about 4 bunches)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

3 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

Combine all ingredients in processor. Blend until almost smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Season pesto to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Transfer pesto to small bowl. Cover and refrigerate.) Makes 1 cup.

Per 2 tablespoon serving: 88 calories; 8 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 82 percent calories from fat); 2.5 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 3 mg cholesterol; 60 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Roasted Citrus and Avocado Salad

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

1 blood or Valencia orange, sliced 1/8-inch thick, seeds removed

1 Meyer or regular lemon, sliced 1/8-inch thick, seeds removed

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh Meyer or regular lemon juice

1 bunch watercress or arugula, thick stems trimmed

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

1 avocado, cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss orange and lemon slices with 1 tablespoon oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast citrus, tossing occasionally, until lightly charred in spots and starting to caramelize, 10-15 minutes. This makes the citrus flavor more complex. Let cool.

Meanwhile, combine onion and lemon juice in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper and let sit 5 minutes (onion will soften a bit and get slightly sweeter and less harsh.)

Add roasted citrus to bowl with onion, along with arugula and mint. Drizzle remaining 3 tablespoons oil over; season with salt and pepper and toss everything to combine and coat.

Add avocado and very gently toss until lightly dressed. Serves 4.

Per serving: 206 calories; 19 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 83 percent calories from fat); 12 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 135 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Meyer Lemon and Thyme Hearth Bread

Juicy Meyer lemons and freshly picked lemon thyme add a perfumed, zesty kick to this simple, no-nonsense focaccia. It will surely become part of your life very quickly.

1 cup warm water (about 110 ºF)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

4 Meyer lemons, thinly sliced

1 small bunch lemon thyme

Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

Pour the water into a measuring jug, stir in the oil, and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until frothy.

Place the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse until mixed. Then, with the motor running, add the yeast mixture to the flour and process for about 4 minutes, until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap, set aside in a warm place, and let the dough rise for about 1 / hours, until it doubles in size.

Oil a 9-by-13-inch sheet pan. Transfer the dough to the center of the prepared sheet pan, punching it down to deflate it. Then, using your fingers, press and stretch the dough out evenly in the pan, extending it to the edges. Using your fingertips, dimple the entire surface of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Uncover the dough, arrange the lemon slices on top and scatter with the lemon thyme. Sprinkle generously with the coarse sea salt.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm. Serves 8.

Per serving: 245 calories; 7 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 26 percent calories from fat); 42 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 355 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Citrus tips

■Look for firmness to the peel and no shriveling, rupture or other signs of decay. Pick fruit that feels heavy for its size — that’s a sign of juiciness, said Sunkist PR manager Joan Wickham. Rock-hard fruit was stored improperly or is past its prime.

■Store citrus fruit at room temperature if you’ll eat it in a week or so; otherwise, it will keep in the crisper for six to eight weeks. Both the juice and zest freeze well. Sealed in zippered bags, they’ll keep for at least six months.