Citrus in January is Like Ray of Sunshine

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By Emily Paster

I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This shop at Mariano's has been compensated as part of a social shopper amplification for Collective Bias and its advertiser.

Have I convinced you yet that now — right now — is the absolute best time of year for citrus fruits? If my posts about Meyer lemons and Key limes have not convinced you, then get yourself to a Mariano's store pronto and check out the produce section. The wealth of citrus fruits will astonish you. Just look at the display in the above picture. Multiple kinds of lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, and even some really citrus exotic varieties like pomelos and kumquats.

Mariano's is a store for serious cooks. The produce section, as you can plainly see, is filled with the freshest fruits and vegetables, including many organic varieties. Not only does Mariano's carry all the fruits and vegetables that you expect to find, but it also has plenty of exotic and hard-to-find varieties as well.

If you want to try your hand at really authentic Indian, Mexican, Chinese or Middle Eastern  cooking, you will find the special ingredients you need at Mariano's, both in the produce section and in the pantry aisles as well. And the spices! Oh, the spices. Right next to the produce section, the Mariano's in the West Loop has a wall — no joke, a wall — of every spice imaginable. I am not exaggerating when I say that I love this store and I only wish there was one closer to me. As it is, whenever I am near a Mariano's, I make it a point to stop in and indulge myself at the cheese counter, the bakery, the deli, and of course, the produce section.

But back to the citrus. Seeing all this beautiful fruit, at the peak of its season, is like a ray of warm sunshine in the middle of winter. As a cook, I find this wealth of different kinds of citrus incredibly inspiring. While oranges and tangerines are delicious eaten out of hand and grapefruit makes a refreshing dieter's breakfast, citrus fruits are also incredibly versatile in cooking and baking.

On the sweet side of things, I've already given you recipes for Meyer lemon sour cream pound cake, Key lime meltaways and citrus curd. But the fun does not end there: citrus fruits are delicious in winter salads and even in savory dishes. Try stuffing a roast chicken with lemon or marinating pork in lime juice. Mariano's actually has numerous recipes on its website to give you inspiration and new ones are added each week.

I was excited, when I stopped by Mariano's, to see blood oranges among the many varieties of citrus for sale. In terms of color, perhaps no citrus fruit is as much fun as the blood orange. Named for the deep, beet red color of its flesh, blood oranges are usually smaller than navel oranges — you might confuse it for a tangerine from the outside — and have a more dimpled peel. There are several varieties of blood orange, most of which originated in Spain and Italy; the one that I see most often is the Moro. Blood oranges are prized not only for their color but also for their sweet, fruity flavor. Blood oranges are often showcased in salads or their juice is used in cocktails and sauces.

I treated myself to a new ice cream and sorbet maker right after the holidays and I have been having a blast making frozen desserts for my family. (Yes, during one of the coldest winters ever in Chicago, I keep making ice cream and sorbet. Brrr!) I had already made a Meyer lemon sorbet that was exquisitely flavorful and refreshing. So when I saw the blood oranges, my first instinct was to make a sorbet with them. I couldn't wait to see how the rosy-red color of the blood orange juice would look as sorbet. And sorbet is a nice, light treat for this time of year, when we are all trying to shed those extra holiday pounds.

As you can see, blood orange sorbet is an absolute stunner. Imagine serving this rosy-hued concoction to your friends at your next mid-winter dinner party. Wouldn't that just put a smile on everyone's pale, wan faces? And the sorbet tastes as good as it looks. It's not an especially tart sorbet — the Meyer lemon one was — so it will please all palates. But it is not cloying either. It's just sweet and oddly warming like a ripe juicy orange.

You will have a lot of leftover orange zest from this recipe – but don't throw it away! I mixed my zest with sugar to make a blood orange scented sugar, which I will bring to the next Chicago Food Swap. Just use about 1 tablespoon of zest per cup of sugar. The orange sugar would be wonderful in baked goods, pancakes or to sweeten hot or iced tea.

What I really want you to take away from this post, though, is excitement about trying new varieties of citrus. If you live near a Mariano's, I encourage you to swing by and check out the huge selection of citrus fruits. Pick up one that you've never had before, be it a Meyer lemon, a blood orange, a pomelo or even kumquats. Eat them, cook with them, bake with them — just have fun. Not many fruits and vegetables are at their peak right now, but citrus fruits are, so enjoy!

Blood Orange Sorbet

  • 12 blood oranges
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Pinch salt

Instructions

  1. Zest and juice the blood oranges. You should end up with 3 cups of blood orange juice.
  2. Make an orange simple syrup by combining the water, sugar and 2 TB of the orange zest, reserving the excess zest for other uses, in a small sauce pan. Heat the syrup over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Once the sugar is dissolved, combine the syrup with the orange juice and salt and chill for several hours or overnight.
  4. Make the sorbet according to the instructions for your ice cream maker.
  5. If not serving right away, freeze the sorbet in a freezer-safe container. Allow to soften prior to serving.

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