As we near the winter solstice, with its promise of brighter days and a new year, we still have some hunkering-down to go. Luckily, winter food can be both remarkably frugal and celebratory: long-simmered dishes of lesser cuts and stored root veg, as well as feasts of seafood towers, favorite roasts, rich sides and desserts. But with the holiday table being considerably smaller this year, I’ve been thinking about simple, thoughtful ways to share the gifts of the kitchen. If food is one of your love languages, this citrus confit — slow-cooked in olive oil to render the lemons and oranges plump and silky — might be the most versatile offering you could make. Confit, which comes from the French verb confire, simply means to “preserve”: slowly cooking food in a liquid to preserve it, like jams — fruit cooked in simple syrup — or duck confit, preserved in its own rendered fat.
Many citrus varieties are at their peak. Look for blemish-free rinds, and heavy fruit, preferably with stems and leaves still attached. I’m particularly fond of satsumas and clementines, kumquats and Meyer lemons, and thick, juicy grapefruits. Use a combo of your favorites. If you can’t get organic, just make sure to scrub and rinse the fruit well. You can add all types of flavorings, from whole spices like cinnamon and star anise to herbs and chiles. Use a high-quality olive oil to cover the fruit completely as it simmers and turns the peels tender and the flesh almost custardy.
A spoonful or two adds big punch of flavor. Pan sear some chicken breast or thighs and spoon these lemons over. Same for fish. Or bake feta with small tomatoes and olives and some of this confit. Stir into a vinaigrette for winter salads of crisp fennel and orange or shaved Brussels sprouts and grated Parmesan cheese. Or spread a toasted piece of bread or bagel with cream cheese, a layer of citrus confit, and top with smoked salmon. Serve as part of an antipasti platter with bread, olives, charcuterie; mix into scrambled eggs or spoon over fresh mozzarella; add a layer to shrimp pasta. The possibilities are many and the lingering bright notes will last long after the seasons change.
4 to 5 lemons, preferably organic, Meyer lemons
1 to 2 satsumas or clementines
Olive oil to cover (about 2 cups)
Optional additions: 1 jalapeño or serrano chile; peppercorns; star anise; cinnamon stick; lemon thyme; rosemary; bay leaf; olives; currants or golden raisins
Cut lemons in half lengthwise, remove seeds and cut into ½-inch half-moons. Place in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan along with any added spices or herbs or chiles. Add enough olive oil to just cover completely and place over medium heat for a few minutes to get the oil warmed up. Reduce heat to a very low simmer; the occasional languorous surface bubble is fine, but you don’t want more than that. Let simmer for about 1 hour and until peels are tender. Let cool and spoon into clean jars, seal and store in the fridge up to two weeks. Keep chilled and make sure the lemons are completely covered in olive oil.