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Getting Ready For Spring

Palate-Cleansing Citrus

I went to the farmer's market looking for signs of Spring to inspire me. There was the first crop of asparagus prominently displayed, a handful of baby artichokes, leeks and all sorts of carrots, but in California we're spoiled, we can actually get these year round even if they're supposed to be springtime vegetables. I was looking for something different; something that would really signal my need for gloves and three layers of long sleeves was about to end. What I came up with was a bit of a surprise: citrus.

I always think of oranges, grapefruits and lemons to be winter fruits and the only things worth eating fresh in December. Actually, March is the height of blood orange season, and the pomelos are flooding the market -- as well as all sorts of grapefruits: cocktail, white, mellowgold, pink, and ruby red. While I originally had in mind some delicate spring green or baby vegetable of some sort, I let my mind wander on the possibilities of all the pithy orbs before me. There is a definite refreshingly sunny vibe to a juicy sweet orange.

After a few long months of braised meats, red wine sauces, and mushrooms, think of the pomelo and all its cousins as your palate cleanser before the light, fresh, greenness of fettuccini with pesto, grilled asparagus, and of course, my favorite, fava beans. Now what to do with it all besides just peel and eat? Honestly the options are endless.

Baby spring lettuces are in full force, and nothing brightens up a basic salad more than a few segments of deep red grapefruit. Or make the citrus the main event; a favorite salad of mine is a mixture of grapefruit (both red and white), blood oranges, pomelos, and meyer lemons with shaved fennel and ricotta salata. Grapefruit is also a fabulous acid to use in marinades. It not only adds a zingy sweetness, but is also a great tenderizer. Try a bit of fresh juice instead of vinegar or wine next time you make a marinade for fish or chicken or even in a salad dressing.

Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Mixed Citrus Salad
Makes a side dish for 4

1 ruby red grapefruit, peeled and segmented
1 white grapefruit, peeled and segmented
1 blood orange, peeled and segmented
pomelo, peeled and segmented
1 Meyer lemon, peeled and segmented
cup fresh basil, chiffonade
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil
1/3 cup crumbled ricotta salata
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Put all the segmented fruit into a bowl, toss with the oil, basil, cheese, and pepper. Serve as is or over a bed of arugula or other greens. Add shaved fennel or sliced radishes for a bit more texture.

Yucatan Chicken
Serves 4

4 large grapefruits juiced
cup dry white wine
cup fresh cilantro, chopped
cup white onion, finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp brown sugar
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix all ingredients except chicken in a bowl. Place the 4 chicken breasts in a shallow baking dish or container, pour the marinade over the chicken and let sit for at least an hour, the longer the better though.

In a large skillet heat 1 Tbsp oil, when hot place the chicken breasts in the skillet reserving the marinade. Cook halfway through on one side then flip to finish cooking, about 5-10 minutes on each side depending on thickness of the breast. When the chicken is cooked through, remove from pan and keep warm in a slightly heated oven. Pour the marinade liquid into the skillet and simmer till reduced by about half. Pour over chicken and serve.