This week's look at what's new, bountiful or mysterious in the produce aisles.
Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my daaaaaarrrling Clementine..." You can almost hear shoppers humming this refrain as they reach for boxes of this trendy little citrus fruit piled high in produce sections this time of year.
Clementines, often confused with the slightly larger tangerine, are a member of the mandarin family of citrus fruits. Along with their mandarin counterparts--the dancy, satsuma and tangerine--clementines are known in the industry as "easy peelers," so named for their loose peel. These fruits are also very easily separated into segments and contain more water and (therefore less acid) than oranges.
The clementine also distinguishes itself from the other mandarins with its tart-sweet, honey-ish flavor and its relative seedlessness.
Clementines are catching on. In recent years, mandarin fruits were the ninth largest (by tonnage) fruit crop in the world. Savvy citrus lovers proffer these fruits as gifts during the holiday season, unfazed by the price tag, ranging from $5.99 to $7.99 a pound.
The majority of clementines available locally are shipped from Spain and Morocco, although crops are popping up in Chile, Florida and California; clementine fanatics swear that Moroccan clementines are the sweetest.
HOW TO BUY: Clementines are available from early November to late February. Often packaged in wooden crates, the clementines are somewhat difficult to examine closely. But peek, probe and poke around until you spy several in the same box with a brilliant orange cast, a fragrant and smooth peel and fairly firm but yielding fruits.
HOW TO STORE: Store clementines in the refrigerator for up to one week.
HOW TO PREPARE: In Morocco, clementines complement mint tea and pastries as an afternoon treat. In France, they are served thinly sliced, poached in sugar syrup (along with a hefty splash of Grand Marnier) as after-dinner treats. And the world over, clementines are enjoyed simply peeled and eaten out of hand.
Other uses? Try them in any recipe calling for oranges, mandarin oranges in particular. Try seared scallops with clementine sections. Or roast duck with clementine sauce.
Or add them to other recipes where just a hint of citrus would add wonders. Toss with maple syrup and spoon over pancakes, waffles or blintzes. Sprinkle with sauteed greens. Stir clementine sections into your favorite mayo-based chicken salad or salsa. Saute briefly in butter or oil and serve alongside baked or seared fish.
Clementine sections add a lovely sweet flavor to the dish and also punch up your presentation. Toss them with a salad or use them as garnish for almost any citrus-infused pork, poultry, seafood or fish dish. Drizzle with orange liqueur and spoon over ice cream. Poach in riesling or sauternes with mulling spices and sugar. Serve the sections with a selection of cheeses and roasted nuts. Or dip sections in a dark- or white-chocolate fondue, chill until set and serve as finger food at your next cocktail party.