If you're anything like me, your relationship with citrus fruits usually went no further than the occasional twist in a martini or fresh lime juice for homemade margaritas (do you see a pattern here?). Sure, they add zip and zing to just about everything, have been used by people the world over for hundreds of years and prevented traveling sailors from coming down with that awful Barlow's disease, but seriously folks, how exciting could citrus fruits REALLY be?
It was a work assignment a few years ago that made me fall in love with winter citrus.
I had to put together a small winter citrus guide, complete with recipes, history, varieties and flavor profiles. I ate my way through cases of Meyers, crates of clementines, bags of pomelos, devouring key limes and kumquats and everything in between. Rest assured this boy wasn't ever gettin' scurvy, that's for damn sure. What developed after that project (along with a permanent sour puckerface) was a true appreciation of citrus. I experimented in the kitchen, testing and making things like Texas Grapefruit Pie ('twas horrible, don't ask, and I'm even from Texas), homemade limoncello, Moroccan-style preserved lemons, Mexican candied orange slices, satsuma dressing, grapefruit pomander, the list goes on. I squeezed, juiced, zested and baked myself to a Vitamin C nirvana. Some things were quite delicious, other recipes were ruined by citrus' uncanny ability to bully just about everything else it comes in contact with. Live and learn, live and learn.
The color of citrus fruits only develop in climates with a cool winter, which is why a huge percentage of American grown citrus comes from California, Texas and Florida. Winter citrus is beginning to trickle in now, and some of the more unique varieties are coming to market as we speak, so it's time to get in the kitchen and start experimenting. Out of everything I tested, one salad recipe became a favorite in our house, and during the peak of winter citrus season I can't help but prepare this at least three times a week. I'm obsessed with it. My friends laugh at me and wonder how on earth something so simple can yield such spectacular flavors, but come on people, it's from Alice Waters, one of the pioneers of fresh, simple California cuisine. If you make this and don't like it, well, I just don't know what to tell you. You'll make me sad.
Alice Waters's Avocado, Grapefruit, and Curly Endive Salad with Citrus Dressing
6 small heads curly endive
1 large shallot
2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Wash and spin dry the curly endive. For this salad, use only the
blanched hearts and save the green leaves for cooking greens.
Peel the shallot and dice it fine. Let macerate with the vinegar, 1
tablespoon each of lemon juice and orange juice, and a pinch of salt.
Cut away the grapefruit peel, all the pith below, and the membrane
around the grapefruit flesh. Then cut the sections free, carefully
slicing along the membranes. Peel a little lemon and orange zest and
finely chop enough to make about 1/4 teaspoon of each.
When you are ready to assemble the salad, whisk the olive oil into the
shallot mixture. Add the orange and lemon zest and taste. Add more
olive oil or lemon juice if necessary. Cut the avocados in half
lengthwise. Remove the pits. Using a sharp knife, cut the avocados
into lengthwise slices about the same size as the grapefruit sections,
keeping the skin on. Scoop out the slices with a large spoon. Toss the
curly endive and grapefruit sections in a bowl with about two thirds
of the dressing. Taste the salad and add more salt if necessary.
Arrange on a platter or individual dishes. Distribute the avocado
alongside the endive and grapefruit, season them with a pinch of salt,
and drizzle the rest of the dressing over them.
Matt's notes: I prefer bibb lettuce (also known as Butter or Boston Lettuce), as the endive texture can be a bit too curly and then you have dressing all over your mouth. Oh heck, just skip the greens altogether and eat the grapefruit and avocado tossed in the dressing. Lord knows I've done that a thousand times.