Let the sunshine in with juicy citrus

Fruit can perk up even coldest days.

The thermometer may tout chilly temperatures, but winter brings with it a sunny gift: citrus fruits. Most of these thick-skinned juicy favorites are in season from early winter through late spring. In addition to all that vitamin C, oranges, lemons, grapefruits and tangerines are perfect for pepping up — or taking center stage in — the season’s best recipes. To keep the sunny flavor of citrus all year long, use it in marmalades and preserves.

“Most people associate citrus fruits with warm weather,” says Justin Keith, executive chef at Food 101. “But they are actually cold weather fruits.”

Keith, a Georgia native, grew up putting up jams, jellies and preserves with his grandmother and has been making them, plus pickles, at the restaurant to complement dishes such as duck rillette, which he serves with pickled okra and blackberry preserves left from summer.

“But now that cold weather is here, I’ll be making some marmalades to go with cheeses.”

Keith agrees with most cooks that preserved fruits can be divided into five categories. Jam, which is a soft spread of fruit and sugar; jelly, which combines fruit juice with sugar and is thickened with pectin; preserves, which are the whole fruit cooked with sugar; conserves, which are usually a combination of dried and fresh fruits that have been macerated with sugar and liquor (Keith likes to add nuts, too); and marmalades, which seem to be in a class all their own — made solely with citrus fruits and their flavinoid-filled zests.

“I think of marmalade as fruit and zest suspended in jelly,” Keith says.

“There’s a lot of history in marmalade, too,” he adds. “Some recipes date back to the Romans.”

As for canning, there’s no need to feel afraid. “So many people don’t can because they’re intimidated by the process,” Keith says. “It’s just not that hard. All it takes is a pot of water and some Mason jars.”

Before trying our recipes, keep these tips in mind:

● Have jars and lids at the ready — cleaned and sterilized in a boiling water bath — before you start canning.

● Have a set of tongs (for lifting jars and lids from hot water) and a wide-mouthed funnel (for putting your marmalade into your jars), as well as a large ladle at the ready.

● Clean your fruits well — most marmalades call for rind or zest, so the outside of your fruit should be scrubbed clean.

● A candy thermometer is the easiest way to test syrups for proper consistency, but if you don’t have one, you can use the soft ball test: Drop a few drops of syrup in cold water and with a nudge from your finger, see if it forms a soft ball.


Tart Lime Curd

Hands on: 20 minutes Total time: 30 minutes Makes: 2½ cups (or 20 1-ounce servings)

Use this creamy lime curd to top your favorite pound cake, sandwich or sugar cookies or as a tart treat for ice cream.

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon lime zest

1 cup fresh lime juice

8 eggs yolks, lightly beaten

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed

In a large stainless steel pot, bring sugar, zest and juice to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and gradually whisk about one-quarter of the hot juice mixture into yolks. Add the yolk mixture back to the remaining hot juice, whisking constantly until well blended.

Place the saucepan over medium heat, and cook, whisking constantly for about 10 minutes (the mixture will be almost like a pudding in consistency). Add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking constantly after each addition until it melts and the mixture is well blended. Remove from heat and strain the mixture through a wire mesh into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the warm curd to prevent a film from forming and chill 3 hours. Store in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Per 1-ounce serving: 111 calories (percent of calories from fat, 55), 1 gram protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 7 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 97 milligrams cholesterol, 4 milligrams sodium.


Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 30 minutes, plus 4 to 6 weeks aging time Makes: 2 pints (or 32 one-ounce servings)

This fun, easy recipe for preserved lemons was inspired by David Lebovitz’s blog, “Living the Sweet Life in Paris.” A North African delicacy used in many recipes from tagine to couscous, Lebovitz uses the lemons, preserved with salt and finely diced, to flavor “sautéed vegetables, such as green beans, fava beans, or to elevate lowly rounds of carrots into something interesting and exotic, perhaps tossing in a few cumin seeds as well.” After the lemons age, you can use them to flavor your favorite recipes as well.

1 dozen lemons

8 to 10 tablespoons coarse sea salt

2 fresh rosemary sprigs

2 cinnamon sticks

2 cloves

2 tablespoons tequila

Scrub the lemons with a vegetable brush and dry them off.

Cut off the rounded bit at the stem end of each lemon. From the other end of the lemon, make a large cut by slicing lengthwise downward, stopping about 1 inch from the bottom, then making another downward slice, continuing until the lemon is cut in an X shape.

Pack coarse salt into the lemon where you made the incisions, using about 1 to 2 tablespoons per lemon.

Place the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add the rosemary sprigs, cinnamon sticks, cloves and tequila. You will have enough of everything for 2 pint jars. Press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. If your lemons aren’t too juicy, add more freshly squeezed juice until the lemons are submerged.

Let the lemons rest at room temperature for 1 month, or until the lemons are soft, shaking the jars occasionally to redistribute the salt.

To use, remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. Split in half and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dice. Press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the juice, which can be used for flavoring.

Per 1-ounce serving: 10 calories (percent of calories from fat, 5), trace protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated), no cholesterol, 1,411 milligrams sodium.


Justin Keith’s Pink Grapefruit Marmalade

Hands on: 45 minutes Total time: 1½ hours, plus 10 hours resting time, or overnight Makes: About 3 pints (or 48 one-ounce servings)

Justin Keith says of this marmalade, “It’s a fancier version, I guess you could say — probably not how our grandmothers made it.”

1 large pink grapefruit

2 navel oranges

1 lime

1 lemon

2 cups water

5 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Peel grapefruit, oranges, lime and lemon, keeping the peel intact. With a sharp paring knife, as best as possible, scrape away the inner white part of the peel, leaving only the rind. Cut rind into matchstick-size slivers, then dice.

Segment the peeled fruit and coarsely chop, reserving juice.

In a large, nonreactive pot, place the pulp and rinds with the water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature for at least 10 hours.

Add the sugar and boil rapidly for about 45 minutes until the liquid reaches the jelly stage (220 degrees). Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Add the Cointreau or Grand Marnier.

Remove from heat, skim off any foam and ladle into sterilized half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe rims, seal jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove jars from water bath, let cool for 12 hours and test for airtight seals.

Per 1-ounce serving: 89 calories (no calories from fat), trace protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, no fat, no cholesterol, trace sodium.