Virginia Willis Blog

What’s in Season: Cooking with Citrus

Cooking with Citrus on

Cooking with Citrus

Winter is citrus season and the produce departments are overflowing. There are the diminutive Tangerines, Clementines, Tangelos, Mineolas, and Satsumas in the “cutie” citrus club. Down the aisle, big bold Navel oranges with their thick skins and bright colors rest aside their more thin-skinned, but certainly no-less-sweet juice oranges. With their intense colors and vibrant aromas, the decidedly more exotic Blood Oranges, Cara Cara Oranges, and Meyer Lemons often are featured in decorative baskets to highlight their preciousness — and higher price. Lastly, oversized red, pink, and white Grapefruit and the nearly comically large Pomello round out the bunch. There are a lot of kitchen choices for cooking with citrus.

Spicy Baked Chicken with Clementines on

Usual Suspects

Lemon and limes are so commonly used when cooking with citrus that they are almost taken for granted. Both are available year-round and we hardly think about them having a season. They do, of course, it’s just that they are in the market year-round because they are being shipped from all over the world from where ever they are grown. Having said that, Lemon Roast Chicken is one of my all-time favorite recipes and my absolute go-to for down-home comfort. Check out my recipe for Whole Roast Lemon Chicken on Food  But, with so many choices in the market, it’s nice to consider cooking with citrus of all kinds. Last year we fell in love with a recipe for Spicy Chicken with Clementines. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of thinking outside the ordinary when cooking with citrus.

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What’s the Difference between a Tangerine and Clementine?

One of the most often asked questions regarding cooking with citrus is “What’s the Difference between a Tangerine and Clementine?”  To answer, we need to take a step back and consider that they are more alike than different.

Mandarin Oranges

All smaller oranges such as tangerine and clementine are in the master category of Mandarin oranges. It’s  a large category that contains all the zipper-skinned and easy-to-peel fruits. (Their tender skin is what makes cooking with them so intriguing because they literally melt into the dish.) Mandarins probably originated in northeast India, but like most citrus fruits were cultivated in China – hence the name “mandarin.” They are less tart than “regular” oranges.


Cooking with Citrus on www.virginiawillis.comMandarin oranges were exported through North Africa and tagged with the name “tangerine,” from the city of Tangiers, Morocco. (You will notice there are still a good many tangerines imported from Morocco.) However, the name “tangerine” has become less generic. Three commonly grown cultivars are Sunburst, Robinson, and Murcott. This photo is of a Murcott and you will notice the reticulated white veins of the fruit, which are present to some degree in all Mandarins.


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Clementines have a tart, tangy and slightly sweet flavor. They are usually seedless and honey-sweet. They’re even easier to peel than tangerines, hence their popularity for children.The Mandarins branded as “Cuties” and “Sweeties” are clementines. According to  the University of California Riverside Citrus Variety Collection Website, the mother load of citrus information, this highly important North African variety “originated as an accidental hybrid in a planting of mandarin seedlings, presumably of the common or Mediterranean mandarin, made by Father Clement Rodier in the garden of the orphanage of the Péres du Saint-Esprit at Misserghin, a small village near Oran, Algeria.”


Cooking with Citrus on

Satsumas are the Mandarin oranges that are most often canned. They’re seedless and the easiest to peel due to a leathery skin. Often you’ll see them with their leaves attached. I love to display a big, colorful bowl on my kitchen counter. Satsumas are more fragile than some other madarin oranges and most prone to shipping damage, which is why it is harder to find them fresh as compared to clementines or tangerines.


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Tangelos are a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine. They’re especially juicy and lack grapefruit’s acidity. Minneolas and Orlandos are types of tangelos. The Honeybell tangelo is particularly distinctive due to their slightly bulbous knob at one end.

Black Trumpet

Cooking with citrus can go either the sweet or savory route. My friend and colleague Evan Mallet has a new cookbook out and in it he shares a delicious recipe for Olive Oil and Orange Cake. The Mediterranean-influenced combination of the earthy olive and fragrant orange is delightful. Evan is the chef owner of Black Trumpet Bistro in Portsmouth, NH. His book is called Black Trumpet: A Chef’s Journey Through Eight New England Seasons. It is a beautiful book — and while the South often seems to have 2 1/2 seasons — hot, hotter, and spring — New England has more than the assumed four. There’s early winter, late winter, early spring, late spring, early summer, late summer, early fall, and late fall. (Daffodils are blooming in Atlanta today and a Nor’easter blizzard enveloped New England yesteday.)

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Chef’s Collaborative

Evan is a thoughtful, talented chef. When I’ve had the pleasure of dining at his restaurant I’ve been blown away by his superb technique and incredible flavor combinations. He’s also committed to local and sustainable in a way that is truly inspirational. Evan sits on the boards of Chef’s Collaborative, Slow Food Seacoast, and the Heirloom Harvest Project, an initiative to join farmers, chefs and educators to identify and restore a food system native to the greater NH Seacoast. (I’m a big fan and member of Chef’s Collaborative, an organization that aspires to change menus and change lives. Their mission is to promote sustainable cuisine by teaching children, supporting local farmers, educating one another, and inspiring the public to choose good, clean food.) Evan’s cookbook is a reflection of both his skills as a chef, as well as an advocate for the good food movement.

Variety of Recipes

However, don’t be alarmed if you don’t reside in the Northeast. The cookbook offers more than 250 innovative recipes that draw both on classic regional foodways as well as the author’s personal experiences with classic world cuisines. Recipes include: Chestnut Butter and Fig Jam Finger Sandwiches, Moroccan Chicken, Pork Schnitzel with Pretzel Spätzle, and Cauliflower and Chickpea Fritter with Curried Spinach Puree. Unlike some restaurant cookbooks, the recipes are well-written and clear. Brimming with tips, techniques, and mouth-watering photographs of Evan’s dishes, it’s more than just a cookbook, it’s an insight into the sensibilities of one of New England’s most talented chefs. Black Trumpet: A Chef’s Journey Through Eight New England Seasons is a must-have for an aspirational cook that endeavors to cook with the seasons.

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No Kid Hungry

I am pleased to announce I am a member of the inaugural No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society! The No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society is comprised of individuals like myself committed to increasing philanthropic support and awareness of No Kid Hungry. Twenty-three members were specially selected to join the groundbreaking 2017 class, with an initial fundraising cumulative goal of $125,000. We will celebrate at Atlanta’s 29th Annual Taste of the Nation for No Kid Hungry on Thursday, April 20th, 2017. If this groundbreaking program proves to be successful it will be rolled out in other cities. It’s a huge honor — and a huge job. Please consider donating to my fundraising page

I hope you enjoy my simple recipe for Citrus Avocado Salad, Evan’s recipe for Orange and Olive Oil Cake, as well as my mini tutorial on Mandarin oranges. Thanks for reading!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

Cooking with Citrus on


Cooking with Citrus on

Citrus and Baby Kale Salad

Serves 2
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
10 minutes
Servings 2
Author Virginia Willis


  • 2 handfuls baby kale
  • 2 tangerine clementine, or honeybell oranges, skin removed and cut into wagon wheels
  • 1/4 sweet onion sliced very thin
  • 1 stalk celery thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 avocado sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons of chopped almonds
  • Good quality sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Place the baby kale in a bowl. Remove the skin from the mandarin oranges. You can simply remove the skin with your fingers or use a French technique known as piler a vif that removes the stringy webbing, as well.
  2. To section the orange, using a small sharp knife and a cutting board, slice off the top and bottom so the orange will stand upright. Squeeze the juice on the ends over the salad greens. Set the fruit upright on the board. Working from top to bottom and following the curve of the fruit, slice off the peel, white pith, and outer membranes from the orange to expose the segments. (You could then segment larger oranges by cutting each segment out of the white pith, but for these smaller oranges, we're just going to slice them across into wagon wheels.) Make sure to squeeze any pulp remaining on the interior of the skin over the salad greens. Pop out any seeds and set the wagon wheels aside.
  3. Add the onion and celery to the baby kale. Drizzle over the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate. Top with reserved wagon wheels and avocado. Top with almonds and serve immediately.
Cooking with Citrus on

Orange and Olive Oil Cake

Serves 12

1⁄2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from 3 or 4 oranges)
2 1⁄2 cups sugar, divided
2 cups all purpose flour
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1 1⁄4 cups whole milk
1⁄4 cup brandy
1 1⁄2 cups olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons ground anise seed
1 teaspoon fine salt

Heat the oven to 325°F . Spray the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan. Combine the orange juice and 1⁄2 cup of the sugar in a small pan over medium heat and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium bowl and set aside.Whip the eggs in a stand mixer (using the whisk attachment) on medium speed for 1 minute. Slowly add the remaining 2 cups sugar and whip on medium speed until dissolved, about 3 minutes.

Pour 1⁄4 cup of the cooled orange syrup, along with the milk, brandy, and olive oil, into the egg-and-sugar mixture; whip on low speed until incorporated. Add the zest, anise seed, and salt, and mix just until combined. Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the batter, mixing just until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and bake on the middle shelf for about 1 1⁄4 hours, until the cake is dark golden brown, it’s set in the middle, and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let the cake cool to room temperature and brush with the remaining orange syrup before slicing into twelve pieces. Serve with Prune Jam and Whipped Ricotta (both recipes follow).

TO SERVE THE CAKE: Place a slice of cake on a dessert plate. Dollop some Whipped Ricotta on top, sprinkle with chocolate shavings, and serve with a spoonful of Prune Jam. Repeat with the remaining slices.

Prune Jam
Serves 12

8 prunes
4 dates, pitted
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons apple brandy
2 tablespoons honey
Zest of 1⁄4 orange
Combine all the ingredients in a small, heavy-bottomed pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the pan. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times, stopping often to scrape down the bottom and sides. Continue pulsing until the ingredients are fully incorporated and smooth.

Whipped Ricotta
Makes about 1 pint

2 cups whole-milk ricotta
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whip the cheese on low speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue whipping until combined.

These recipes are adapted from Evan Mallett’s book Black Trumpet: A Chef’s Journey Through Eight New England Seasons (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016) and are printed with permission from the publisher. Cover photo credit: Copyright © 2016 by Enna Grazier. 

Other photography by Virginia Willis


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Copyright © 2017 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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2 Responses to “What’s in Season: Cooking with Citrus”

  1. Please, please add a print button to all of your recipes not just the entire article. I look anxiously for each to arrive but it is difficult to print and try if no print button exist on each recipe.
    Thank you

    • virginiawillis

      yes ma’am I will try! It might be above my pay grade so I will ask my IT folks. Thanks so much for reading! Best VA


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