This is the shoulder season, when anticipation builds for spring flavors. I can’t wait for ripe strawberries. I wander through our neighborhood farmer’s market on Saturdays, taking the produce pulse. Have the ramps come in? When will we see asparagus?
Luckily, we still have citrus. Shipped in from Florida, Texas and the west coast, pink grapefruits and Mineolas are delicious right now. Tangerines, navels, kumquats and pummelos. Even the fruits’ names carry me away to sun-soaked places. Sumo, Valencia, Golden Nugget. They could be names on the Las Vegas Strip. Or given to champion race horses in Saratoga Springs.
I learned this simple, outstanding dessert recipe when teaching my very first cooking class at The Sylvia Center, in Soho. One of my dearest old friends, a fellow food-lover and chef-instructor named Nina, invited me to be her assistant. The students were reluctant teenagers, struggling academically and exploring career options in the food industry. We taught them knife skills. But we also exposed them to vegetables and fruits some had never tasted. It was a revelation.
This is no ordinary fruit salad. It marries the tart with the sweet (citrus plus maple syrup), with an exotic overlay of earth and warmth (spices). Make it with whatever citrus fruit you have. The more variety of oranges you add, the more colors and hidden flavors your salad will contain.
At first, supreming citrus seems challenging. Using a sharp knife, you cut away the peel and pith, leaving a naked orb of fruit. You then cut out neat segments, filling a bowl with bright, colorful citrus wedges. Be sure to squeeze every last drop of juice from the remaining membrane before discarding.
The fruit will perk up your taste buds. It is fresh and succulent. The “broth” tastes like nectar. You will want seconds. It’s my favorite cold weather dessert, good for parties and those who avoid dairy, gluten and carbohydrates. Unbelievably delicious and packed with vitamin C.
Citrus with Spiced Maple Syrup
Count on about 2 whole citrus fruits per person. Choose an assortment of citrus, including at least 3 different ones from the following (suggested) list, preferably of different colors:
Cara Cara oranges
½ cup maple syrup, preferably grade B
1 cup of water
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
4 juniper berries
4 cardamom pods
1 small knob of fresh ginger
Pomegranate seeds from 1 pomegranate (optional)
Put maple syrup and water in a saucepan. Add star anise, cinnamon stick, juniper berries, cardamom pods, cloves and fresh ginger. If there are certain spices you prefer, feel free to eliminate some and/or add others. Bring syrup and spices to the boil, then lower heat, and simmer gently, until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, supreme all citrus into sections over a bowl, squeezing the juice of each before you throw out the membrane. Be sure to remove all the pith and seeds. Depending on the overall quantity of juice, you may want to pour some off and drink it separately.
Add strained, cooled maple syrup broth to the citrus and juice, and stir gently. Serve in glass bowls, with optional pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top, as a garnish.
When serving, citrus should rest in about 1 cup of “broth,” juice with maple syrup mixed, with fruit piled up and not floating in too much liquid.