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In Late Winter, Citrus Flavors Call

  • Grapefruit, arugula and avocado. Monday, March 3, 2014.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Grapefruit, arugula and avocado. Monday, March 3, 2014.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Navel and Moro. Monday, March 3, 2014.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Navel and Moro. Monday, March 3, 2014.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tangelo. Monday, March 3, 2014.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Tangelo. Monday, March 3, 2014.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Grapefruit, arugula and avocado. Monday, March 3, 2014.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com
  • Navel and Moro. Monday, March 3, 2014.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com
  • Tangelo. Monday, March 3, 2014.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

The last two months in Northern New England have delivered a real, old-fashioned winter. The way winters used to be, say the old timers, when towns used horse-drawn snow rollers to groom the roads, and six weeks of nights below zero were to be expected. We’ve endured relentless cold, ice sheets the size of glaciers and storms that dump snow as if it were being shaken out of a giant cereal box in the sky. It is now March and sugaring season, which requires warm days and nights below freezing for the sap to run freely, allegedly looms. But winter will not release its choke hold.   

Which is why I have spent the last two months inhaling citrus and tropical fruits as if I lived in a place where the trade winds blow and the water is always 85 degrees and a crystalline turquoise.

My compulsion to eat pineapple, oranges, mangos and bananas must speak to an instinctive urge for warmth, sun and light — or a serious Vitamin C deficiency. Luckily, it happens to be the season for citrus and tropical fruits. The range of citrus fruits available today is far beyond your Average Joe navel orange, and there are easy ways to use them in food that don’t always involve fruit salad. They add a brightness that is redolent of spring and summer, even on the coldest days.

Take the Ugli fruit, a large hybrid of the tangelo, grapefruit and orange, with a subtle taste that is somewhere between the three. Or the Cara Cara orange, with its sunset pink flesh, and hint of apricot. Try the Honeybell tangelo, which is as large as a grapefruit, and as its name suggests, sweet as honey.

Blood oranges have an aromatic, slightly bitter taste, and the fruit is the color of a Campari. Meyer lemons, a cross between lemons and oranges, are delicious sliced and slid under the skin or into the cavity of a roasting chicken or Cornish game hen.

It’s hard to get top-quality lettuce at this time of year here that isn’t prohibitively expensive so I bypass it altogether, and use such greens as arugula, endive, spinach, radicchio and watercress. Their peppery, mineral flavors happen to meld very nicely with an oil and citrus dressing, and slices of orange or grapefruit and avocado. The trick is to balance oily, buttery flavors like olive oil, avocado or olives with the tang of citrus. Throwing in a few tablespoons of walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts also adds to the texture.

I make salad dressings that use, instead of vinegar, lime, lemon, orange or grapefruit juice mixed with oil. Sometimes I throw in a little grated fresh ginger. And don’t waste the zest: whenever you’re using a citrus fruit in cooking or a salad, remove the zest first and use it as a garnish or as an accent in cooking or baking.

Basic Salad Dressing With Olive Oil And Citrus Juice

This is just a blueprint. The key is to play with the ingredients until you hit the combination you like best.

1-2 tablespoons lemon, orange, lime or grapefruit juice, or to taste. Lemon would be used more sparingly than orange or grapefruit juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

¼ cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Blend the citrus fruit juice with the mustard, and then add the honey. (Or you could use premade honey mustard.) Mix so they begin to emulsify. Then add the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Spinach and Arugula Salad With Orange And Black Olives

1 bunch baby spinach, washed

1 bunch arugula

2 blood oranges, peeled, pith removed and sliced crosswise, and then quartered

4 tablespoons Kalamata or other black olives, pitted

Using the basic dressing salad recipe above, with orange juice, toss the greens with the oranges and olives.

Arugula, Avocado And Grapefruit Salad

1 bunch arugula, washed

1 ripe avocado, diced

2 grapefruit, halved and sections removed

Basic salad dressing above, using grapefruit juice from one of the grapefruits

You can prepare this salad ahead of time, but save dicing the avocado for the last minute because it starts to discolor quickly.

Fruit Salad

Do you really need me to tell you how to make a fruit salad? Probably not, but here’s a suggestion for how to make it livelier.

2 blood oranges, peeled, halved, sliced thin across

1-2 cara cara oranges, peeled, halved, sliced thin across

2 grapefruit, halved and sectioned

2 tangelos, peeled, sliced thin, peeled, halved, sliced thin across

2 ripe mangos, peeled and sectioned

1 Ugli fruit, peeled, halved and sectioned Optional

1 can pineapple chunks or 1 fresh pineapple, skin cut away, core removed and chunked

1-2 tablespoons dried, unsweetened coconut, optional

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, optional

juice of one lime

1 teaspoon honey, or to taste

Mix all the fruit together and flavor with the coconut and/or almonds, if using. But do add the lime juice and honey because they fuse the fruit flavors together.

Nicola Smith can b e reached at nsmith@vnews.com