Sour oranges have appeal in hands of creative cook


A box of oranges has recently entered our lives. Since the oranges came through the door, every meal has had at least one orange-influenced course.

At breakfast everybody in my family gets freshly squeezed orange juice, whether they ask for it or not. Also on the table, for easy grabbing, are sliced-up pieces of orange.

These are custom-cut pieces. I cut the oranges into quarters, then slice away any "white parts." The kids don't care for the "white parts." Ordinarily I wouldn't bother to remove these pith and seeds. But these are not ordinary times. We are a household in orange overload, and any action that reduces the orange supply is an action I support. I cut out the white parts.

I bought the box of oranges from a young woman who lives in the neighborhood and who was selling the fruit to benefit her high school.

I am easy pickings for a neighborhood kid selling anything edible. I am especially fond of oranges. I peel so many oranges that often the peeling comes off as one, flowing piece of refuse. This one-piece orange peel is what chefs might call a "signature" of my culinary style. I had a hard time, however, applying my signature to the oranges in this box. They were not "eating oranges," with the thick rinds. These were juice oranges, with thin skins. Instead of zipping out of their skins in one graceful movement, these oranges were reluctant peelers.

Then there was the matter of their flavor. Some members of our family called their flavor "sour." Others referred to it as "tart." I called it "not-so-sweet." Whatever it was called, the flavor made it hard to move the goods. I sought professional help.

I called up Jimmy Schmidt, a chef who runs the Rattlesnake Club and three other restaurants in the Detroit area as well as the Rattlesnake Grill in Denver. I had spotted his recipe for a fancy salad in a new cookbook called "Home Food" ($25 Potter). The book is a collection of recipes from 44 American chefs. It is edited by Debbie Shore and Catherine Townsend, associate directors of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit, hunger-relief organization.

I was attracted to the recipe because it called for both 1 cup of fresh orange juice and for four large oranges. This salad could make a major dent in our supply of "not-so-sweet" oranges.

Schmidt understood what I was after. He told me a box of grapefruit had recently entered his life and he has been coming up with creative new uses for grapefruit. For example, he served grapefruit with mahi-mahi. He also used a grapefruit juice marinade for shrimp and scallops, which allowed the acid of the fruit to "cook" the fish in the ceviche-style.

As for my oranges, Schmidt said mixing them with greens would result in a "bright salad with clear tastes." He noted that while the recipe called for fancy greens such as Belgian endive, watercress and radicchio, other less-expensive greens, such as Romaine and red leaf lettuce, could be used.

Jimmy Schmidt's Winter Greens

With Orange-Sherry Vinaigrette

Serves 4

1 cup fresh orange juice

tablespoons sherry vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup chopped scallions, green part only

sea salt to taste

coarse black pepper to taste

2 large Belgian endive

2 watercress bunches, seeds and stems removed

1 head radicchio, (roll leaves into cylinders, cut crosswise into thin strips)

1 small red onion thinly sliced

4 large oranges, peeled and membranes removed

In a small saucepan, bring orange juice to simmer, cooking over low heat until it has reduced to 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature. In a small bowl, combine reduced orange juice, vinegar, oil and scallions. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove outer endive leaves and place approximately 6 leaves, with pointed ends outward, on each plate. Cut remaining endive into bite-size pieces. In a large bowl, combine endive pieces, watercress, radicchio, onion and orange segments. Add the dressing and toss. Serve on endive-covered plates.

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