Comfort food overload? Get a taste of the tropics with fresh citrus fruits

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters

It’s about this time of year when I start to get a little restless with winter cooking. Stews and soups all start to taste the same and I get tired of feeling weighed down by roasts, curries and dense starches like potatoes and winter squash. One can only take so much comfort food before they take up permanent residency on the couch.

Then I remember, it’s citrus season. While we try to keep warm and dig our way out of the snow, southern regions of the world are out picking beautifully ripe oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes and their many variations. That’s hard to believe when the only visible part of my garden is the top of the frozen compost bin.

Citrus is a welcome reprieve just when I start to think I’ll never make it to spring with my sanity intact. Yet citrus fruits are at their prime now, and they offer us the freshness and vibrancy we’ve been missing. With the flu going strong, the boost of Vitamin C couldn’t hurt, either.

Oranges, clementines, tangerines and grapefruits all make for good snacking, to name just a few. I keep a bowl full of oranges in the fridge, and since they come with their own natural packaging, they’re easy to grab and take on the go. You can also easily incorporate citrus into your meals. A salad of greens, orange segments, dried fruit and chopped nuts is one simple idea to pair with any lunch or dinner. Speaking of salad, citrus juice is excellent for a homemade dressing. Whisk the juice with chopped garlic, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. For even more flavor, toss in some of the zest. This could also serve as a marinade for seafood, chicken or pork.

One combination I’ve always enjoyed is orange and fennel. Fennel has a nice crunch, like celery, and a unique anise flavor similar to licorice. Orange and fennel are great together raw, but when you roast them, you get a sweet caramelization with just a hint of the bitterness from the orange and a just a touch of the licorice flavor. Many don’t like the taste of licorice, but fennel is a terrific vegetable worth giving a chance. The health benefits — everything from improved digestion and brain function, to boosting the immune system and helping combat bad breath — make it worth a try.

When roasting orange and fennel, you don’t need much to dress them up. Oil, salt, a red onion and a bit of heat create a roasted winter salad that will reawaken your dulled winter taste buds and brighten up just about anything you pair it with, from a tender cut of steak to a filet of salmon.

Roasted orange and fennel

Serves 4 as a light side dish

  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 1 large organic sweet orange
  • 1 large red onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • Kosher salt

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Trim off the stalks and fronds of the fennel. Chop the fronds and set aside. Discard the stalks. Halve the remaining fennel bulb, then thinly slice each half. Add to the baking sheet.

Scrub the orange, slice in half and then each half into quarters. Slice each quarter into ¼-inch pieces. Add to the baking sheet with the fennel. Next, halve the onion. Remove the peel, then slice. Add to the baking sheet.

Toss everything with the oil, ginger and ½ teaspoon of salt. Place the baking pan in the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Toss everything around and roast for another 15 minutes or until the fennel is tender.

When ready, taste and add more salt, if needed, until you really get the flavors of the orange and fennel coming through. Top with the fennel fronds and freshly ground pepper.

I wasn’t going to get into the steak. But it is at the center of my photo, so perhaps I should at least mention how I prepared it in case it lured you into reading this far. I made a quick rub chock full of ground coffee beans and peppery spices. Cook it at the same time as the orange and fennel.

Coffee-spiced ribeye

Adapted from “Bon Appetit,” January 2013

For the spice rub:

  • 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ground coffee beans
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

For the steak:

  • 1 bone-in beef rib eye, about 1 ½ pounds, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed or other high-heat oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

Combine all of the rub ingredients in a small jar. Put on a lid and shake well to combine. This should make enough rub for about two steaks. Whatever you don’t use now can be stored with the lid tightly sealed for a month or two.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Generously rub the spice mixture and salt onto your steak, being sure to coat all sides. Heat a large-sized cast-iron pan over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of oil. Be sure to turn on your fan if you’re concerned about smoke.

Add the steak to the hot pan and sear on the first side for about a minute. Flip the steak over and let brown another minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, garlic and spices. Flip the steak over to coat.

Transfer the steak to a rimmed baking sheet lined with a wire rack. Place the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 15 minutes or until a thermometer reads 125 degrees F. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 20 minutes until the temperature is up to 145 degrees.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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