There's a reason why a plump, succulent orange is front and center on Florida's official license plate. Citrus is big business in this state-$9 billion annually. But there's more to our love affair with Florida's favorite fruits than money. For generations of new residents, an orange, grapefruit, lemon or lime tree in the back yard stands as a proud symbol of their transplanted roots in the Sunshine State.
More than two dozen varieties of oranges flourish here, some with such exotic names as ambersweet, valencia, Maltese blood, magnum bonum, bahia and temple. And while all citrus originated in ancient China, today these versatile acidic fruits are most readily associated with Florida. Seasonal visitors to our shores wouldn't miss a day of enjoying their morning fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice before they hit the beach or challenge a golf course. It's not surprising that in this part of Southwest Florida, the postcard with the key lime pie recipe is nearly as popular as the one depicting a spectacular orange sunset suspended over the Gulf of Mexico.
Area restaurants understand the significance of celebrating citrus in dazzling and palate-pleasing ways. Every season creative chefs proudly present their newest and most inventive citrus recipes for refreshing beverages, appetizers, salads, entrées and desserts. We've collected a few of the most intriguing. Easy to prepare, gorgeous to gaze at and terrifically tasty-tangy, these tropical citrus recipes can be souvenirs to remind you of good times in Southwest Florida; and they're sure to delight your friends back home. Lucky enough to live here year-round? Here's your chance to sample the latest restaurant or catering menu items that you can fix in your own kitchen. And if there's a citrus tree outside your window, the main ingredients are practically on your doorstep. Now, that's cooking SARASOTA style.
Chef Mario Martinez, Culinary Director of Epicurean Life (the group which includes Fred's and Morton's Market) enjoys the contrast of the bright flavors of citrus with spice island heat. This zippy and colorful salad may be destined for the restaurant or catering menu over the next few months. But you can serve it to family and friends right now.
ISLAND SHRIMP & CITRUS SALAD
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons honey mustard (or 1 tablespoon each honey and Dijon mustard)
2 tablespoons Solomon Gundi* or anchovy paste
1/2 cup Spanish sherry vinegar
1/4 cup reserved rendered citrus juice (more for thinning as desired)
1 teaspoon thinly sliced chives or very thinly sliced scallion tops
1 cup vegetable oil
Scotch bonnet or habañero hot sauce, to taste
*Solomon Gundi is a Jamaican salted fish spread used as a condiment and often mixed with cream cheese to make a dip; it is available in Caribbean markets.
In a food processor or blender, mix the ginger, honey mustard and Solomon Gundi. Add sherry vinegar, citrus juices and chives; blend well. With machine running, slowly add oil in a steady stream. Season to taste with the Scotch bonnet or habañero hot sauce and more Solomon Gundi if desired.
1 cup shelled pistachio nuts
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon dry Jamaican jerk seasoning, available at local stores (more for the shrimp)
Toast pistachios in a large, dry sauté pan set over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown; remove pan from heat. Stir in the butter until melted, then stir in the jerk seasoning; blend and cool.
1 pound peeled and de-veined shrimp, spiced to taste with jerk seasoning, sautéed and chilled
2 oranges or grapefruit, cut into supremes (which means peeled, including the pith, and cut into wedges between the membranes). Reserve juice.
1/2 pound "European"-style lettuce greens mix
1 bunch watercress, coarse stems removed, washed and dried
2 large shallots, peeled, cored, halved and very thinly sliced
In large mixing bowl, toss greens and shallots with some of the vinaigrette; arrange on four chilled serving plates. In the same bowl, toss shrimp and citrus supremes in a little more vinaigrette. Arrange watercress evenly over the four plates of tossed greens. Distribute shrimp and citrus over the watercress. Garnish with spiced pistachios.
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Tommy Klauber, owner and executive chef at Pattigeorge's on Longboat Key, is so devoted to the celebration of citrus that he routinely organizes culinary citrus festivals. Constantly experimenting in his own kitchen and searching the globe for new and unusual citrus recipes, he says this is one of his personal favorites. It's exotic and flavorful, yet simple and quick to prepare.
Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Cilantro
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced inch thick
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
*eight pieces preserved Meyer lemon
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
16 pitted green olives, halved
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Pat chicken dry, season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Sauté chicken until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a plate and keep warm, covered.
Add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and reduce heat to moderate. Cook onions and garlic, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add turmeric and pepper and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Scrape pulp from preserved lemon, reserving for another use. Cut rind into thin strips and add to onions with broth, wine, and olives.
Return chicken, with any juices accumulated on plate, to skillet. Braise, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 12 minutes. Serve sprinkled with cilantro.
* Preserved Lemons:
2 Meyer lemons, each cut into 8 wedges
1/3 cup salt
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Toss the lemon wedges with the salt, coating well and using all the salt. Pack wedges tightly into a half-pint jar with a glass or plastic lid. Cover the lemons with the lemon juice, screw the lid on and leave the jar at room temperature for a week, shaking it occasionally.
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Darwin Santa Maria, the young chef/owner of Selva Grill, grew up eating ceviche the way that American kids eat fast food French fries. Now he creates some of the most artful and most flavorful ceviches anywhere. In ceviche, raw fish is cured by the acid in the citrus. This showstopper makes a great brunch dish or tangy first course at dinner.
Ceviche Selva Style
2 pounds raw sea bass, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup sliced celery hearts
5 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 fresh aji amarillo (yellow Peruvian chili) seeded and sliced
1 pound small red onions, peeled and sliced thin
4 lettuce leaves
1 pound sweet potato, cooked in the skin until soft, peeled and sliced thick
Peruvian corn "choclo" for serving (can substitute available corn, canned or scraped from cob and cooked)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
Mix the fish cubes with lime juice, salt and pepper and set aside. Stir now and then until well marinated. In a food processor, process the celery, garlic and aji amarillo to a moderately thick consistency. Stir into the fish mixture. At the moment of serving, add the onions and mix well. Serve on a lettuce leaf with a slice of sweet potato on the side and a handful of Peruvian corn. Garnish with cilantro.
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Harry Christensen, owner and chef at Harry's Continental Kitchens on Longboat Key, loves adding a new citrus recipe to his restaurant and catering menus because he knows it will be an instant crowd-pleaser. This is a brand-new one, dreamed up while chef was at home recuperating from knee surgery.
Macadamia Nut Crusted Sea Scallops with
Mandarin Orange and Poppyseed Butter Sauce
4 ounces soft butter
2 ounces frozen orange juice concentrate
2 ounces sugar
2 ounces poppy seeds
Dash yellow food coloring
6 ounces macadamia nuts
2 ounces sugar
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1 whole orange rind, grated
12 ounces béchamel sauce*
1 15-ounce can whole mandarin orange segments in light syrup
40 sea scallops
Whip all butter compote ingredients together. Chop all nut crust ingredients together. Place scallops on sheet pan. Squeeze nut mixture and put on top of each scallop. Bake in hot 425-degree oven for 10 minutes or until brown on top. Heat béchamel and add butter compote with whisk. Cover bottom of each plate with butter sauce. Place 5 orange segments around on plate. Place scallops in between orange segments and serve.
* Bechamel sauce (basic white sauce): makes 12 ounces
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 1/4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups of milk, heated to boiling with 1/8 teaspoon salt
Salt and white pepper to taste
In saucepan, melt the butter over low flame. Blend in the flour and cook slowly, stirring until the butter and flour froth together for 2 minutes, taking care not to let the mixture brown. Remove mixture from heat and as soon as it has stopped bubbling pour in the hot milk all at once. Immediately beat the mixture vigorously with a wire whisk to blend the liquid and roux, making sure to gather in all of the bits of rough that may have stuck to the inside edges of the pan. Set the sauce over moderately high flame and stir with the wire whip until the sauce comes to the boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring, remove from the heat and beat in salt and white pepper to taste.
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Dylan Elhajoui, the new executive chef at Bijou Café, comes to Sarasota from Colorado Springs, where he cooked at the prestigious Broadmoor Resort. But he's also from a long line of talented chefs in Morocco, where cooking with citrus is a high art form. This tempting two-part dessert is a cold soup that serves as a tangy bath for a rich orange crème caramel. Master this one and it will become a star of your citrus kitchen repertoire.
Orange Crème Caramel In Citrus Ginger Soup
Zest from 4 oranges
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
3 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
In a small bowl combine the orange zest with the 1/3 cup sugar and rub between your fingers until the zest releases its oil. Combine the zest/sugar mixture with half of the orange juice in a small pot and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Let steep for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the eggs and egg yolks gently so as not to create any air bubbles. Add the rest of the orange juice and mix just to combine. Mix the egg mixture with the zest mixture just to combine and strain through a fine sieve. Discard the zest. Cover and refrigerate the liquid until needed. (This liquid can be prepared a few days in advance). Combine the cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon water and cook over medium heat until dark amber color caramel and pour immediately into four glass ramekins, filling each cup with about 1/8 inch of liquid. Put ramekins in a two-inch- deep baking dish. Now fill the ramekins to the top with the egg custard (it will lower as it cooks). Put baking dish with ramekins in a 325-degree preheated oven. Fill the baking dish with hot water to surround the ramekins two -thirds up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for one hour and 15 minutes to one hour and 30 minutes until the custard sets. Remove from oven and refrigerate until ready to serve (could be made a day ahead).
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
4 teaspoons orange blossom honey
1 tablespoon rum
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
12 raspberries cut in half
6 blackberries cut in half
1/2 kiwi diced small
Combine all the ingredients except the berries and kiwi in a stainless steel pot and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat, cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain and chill in refrigerator.
For the assembly, unmold the crème de caramel custards into individual serving bowls and pool the citrus soup around. Garnish with berries and kiwi and serve immediately.
Charlie Crowley, of Crowley's Nursery in Old Miakka grows and loves these unusual citrus varieties.
By Ilene Denton
A small shiny-leafed tree that grows to just six feet and bears fruit all year, the marumi kumquat is a great container plant for the patio. When ripe, the fruit turns a golden color. The juice is sweet-tart. Kumquats, like all citrus, Crowley explains, originally came from China, were introduced to the Middle East, then Europe and the New World.
A cross between a lemon and a tangerine, the Sanbokan lemon resembles a honeybell, only green, and its yellow juice is so sweet it doesn't require sugar. Crowley says the Sanbokan is remarkably cold hardy, too; in the big freeze of 1989 it was the only citrus tree on his 20-acre property that didn't drop a leaf.
This oversized fruit, which eerily resembles a shriveled hand, is, like its cousin the etrog, a citron. It dates from prehistoric time. With no juice, only flesh and seeds, it is favored for its lemony smell, which is considered a meditative aid in many cultures. That's why it's also known as Citrus medica. You've probably tasted Buddha's hand, though; its rind, boiled with sugar, is the yellow stuff in your Christmas fruitcake.
Known in Spanish as the lima dulce, or sweet lemon, the pale green fruit is a non-acidic cross between a lemon and an orange. Its fruit yields mild-flavored white juice with hints of orange flavor. Rumors of miraculous cures from drinking the juice of the Palestine lime are found in cultures from Iran to Cuba.
Thai food aficionados swoon over the aromatic taste of the leaf of the kaffir lime, sometimes known as the Thai lime, which, along with lemongrass and galanga, is the main spice in that nation's curries, soups and stir-frys. The fruit itself is not edible.
Considered the fruit of the gods in Asia, where it originated, and in America's Asian community, the pomelo is the ancient precursor of the grapefruit. It's known to grow up to 22 pounds, although Crowley's are in the two- to four-pound range. Because it's non-acidic, it is much sweeter than the grapefruit. It's popular around the Chinese New Year because it symbolizes prosperity and good fortune.