By Romney Steele | Photos by Carole Topalian

Winter in California brings more than just colder weather. Among the glad tidings are the promise of spring on the way and an abundance of locally grown winter produce at our grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Alongside the chard, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are freshly sprouted mustard greens, rapini, fava greens, Italian chicories, and arugula. Mâche, the delicate French salad green, cress, and nettles begin to show up as we move closer to spring and can be used in both salads and cooked dishes. Winter squash and root vegetables add their earthy flavors to soups and stews.

Keep an eye out for celery root, another French favorite. Known for its strong celery taste, it is delicious in salads, raw or steamed, and can be cooked and mashed into a delicious purée.

Mistresses of Winter

Kiwi fruits are a prize of our Northern California winter, but what I look forward to most in this season is citrus—the mistresses of winter. By midseason, lemons, blood oranges, navel oranges, grapefruits, mandarins, and kumquats are at their peak and all vying for attention at the table.

If you happen to have a lemon or orange tree in your backyard, as many people do in the East Bay, you just might be overwhelmed with citrus, so don’t hesitate to share with your neighbor. These winter gems add sparkle to all kinds of savory and sweet dishes; the juice can easily be stored in the freezer and pulled out when needed, the peels can be candied for a special treat, or the whole fruit can be made into marmalade. Use lemon juice instead of vinegar for your vinaigrette or try a salad of chicory and thinly sliced fennel with sections of blood orange. Fill a glass jar with sliced lemons and pour honey over top, then after a day or so, take a spoonful of this elixir and add to a cup of hot water for honey lemon tea to stave off a cold and warm the throat. Avocado and tart grapefruit are a blissful pairing with watercress and crème fraîche dressing. Eat plenty of oranges and tangerines right out hand. And finally, make a Meyer lemon tart, my absolute favorite dessert of all, and a sweet charmer with family and friends.

 

 

Chicory Salad with Fennel and Blood Oranges

The sweet tart taste of blood oranges complement the bitterness of the greens and visually make for a very pretty salad. Use a mix of your favorite winter lettuces with the chicory.

Serves 4

  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh blood orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
  • 3–4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 6 cups chicory and assorted winter lettuces, torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1 small bulb fennel root, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 blood oranges, peeled and cut into sections
  • 2 ounces Reggiano Parmigiano

Combine shallot, juice, and vinegar; whisk in olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the chicory, lettuces, and fennel with the vinaigrette in a large bowl.
Arrange on plates with the orange sections and thinly shave cheese over top.

 

Meyer Lemon Tart

The lemon curd can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. It can also be used as a filling for a cake, as an accompaniment to scones, or spooned into mini tart shells purchased off the shelf (no need to bake). The shortbread crust is no fuss and can be easily pressed into the pan. It is best to use a tart pan with a removable bottom for this recipe.

Makes one 8-inch tart

Lemon Curd

  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

Shortbread Crust

  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350°. You will need a double boiler for the lemon curd. A medium-size heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water works great. Have a second bowl well chilled ready to go.

For the lemon curd, combine lemon juice, sugar, yolks, and eggs in a heatproof bowl and set over a pot of simmering (not boiling) water. Whisk continually until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, 7–10 minutes. Pour through a strainer into a chilled bowl and stir in lemon zest. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Whisk occasionally until completely cooled. Makes 2 cups.

For the crust, mix butter, sugar, flour and salt in an electric mixer until combined. The dough will be sticky. Gather into a ball and lightly pat to form a disk shape; wrap in plastic and chill for about 15–20 minutes. Press dough evenly into the pan; prick the bottom with a fork and then place in freezer until thoroughly chilled. Bake unfilled shell for 25 minutes until lightly browned.

To assemble the lemon tart, pour curd into pre-baked shell to fill and spread evenly with a spatula. You will have a bit more curd than you actually need. Use the extra curd for another use. Bake for 15–20 minutes until set; the edges will be firmer but the center will jiggle slightly. Cool on a rack then chill completely. Carefully remove outer ring from pan and place tart on a platter (no need to remove tart bottom). Serve with a dusting of powdered sugar or lightly sweetened whipped cream. Fresh berries or a berry sauce complements this tart perfectly.

Romney Steele (aka Nani) grew up in a family owned restaurant on the central coast, where she first learned to cook. She is interested in food economies and community gardening programs and has a fondness for lemon trees. Romney lives in Oakland with her two children.

Widely recognized for her work as a professional photographer and creative director, Carole Topalian, is also co-founder of Edible Communities, Inc., where she shares her considerable talents with members nationwide. When she’s not behind her tripod, she can be found riding America’s bike trails. View her work online at: topalianphoto.com.