Try roasting lemons and oranges, however, and you’ll find that the sugars caramelize to create surprisingly intense flavors.
Roasted sweet orange slices add concentrated flavor and texture to dishes; while roasted whole lemons and oranges taste sunshine-bright, candy-rich, and are to the palate what pastels are to pencils. They are as versatile as they are assertive.
Citrus can be roasted successfully in one of two ways: Cut the fruit into thin slices and dry roast it at a high heat; or leave the citrus whole and cook it low and slow in a bit of water and its own liquid.
In either case, you need to foil the ambitions of the bitter pith with vinegar, or by allowing that white membrane to cook until nearly clear and sweet.
I stumbled up on the process of roasting citrus. One day, I had a surplus of citrus and just thought, “what if?” I kept roasting until the richness balanced out the bitterness, and I was hooked.
Thin-skinned, sweet oranges are the best choice for slicing and dry roasting. Underneath the fragrant, bright peel, the white pith is soapy and bitter. But if the pith is thin, as with juice oranges, such as Valencia, the fruit roasts perfectly in slender, pretty slices.
The pulp pulls taut as it roasts, sometimes becoming floss-thin and caramelized at the edges, giving the oranges a little chew. Reinvigorate the roasted slices with vinegar to elevate their sweetness and knock out that residual bitterness.
Roasted orange slices are sturdy enough to toss into a salad, a pan of sauteed greens or a bowl of toasty grains. Like any other dried fruit, they deliver a concentration of flavor.
Roast orange slices on parchment paper, rather than directly on the baking tray. This prevents the thin pieces from sticking to the pan; and the parchment becomes a steaming pouch for re-softening and seasoning the dried slices.
Once the orange slices become tender and begin to brown, pull up the sides of parchment to gather together the pieces, then — after adding a splash of vinegar — fold the paper onto itself to create a pouch that traps the newly created steam. The vinegar at once loosens the bits of fruit and caramelized juices from the parchment, and as it settles into the slices it intensifies their flavor.
For the second roasting method, you cook the fruit whole for a long time over low heat. Slow roasting works beautifully with both lemons and oranges.
A thinly sliced shallot added to the pot at the start becomes a catalyst for caramelization. The shallot melts into the juices released from the citrus creating a delicious, intense sauce. The softened peel and long-simmered seeds thicken the fruit’s pulp and juices to a golden syrup.
Since I’ve been making them, I stopped buying preserved lemons altogether. The roasted lemons are quite different, taste-wise and much more versatile.
Pair roasted citrus with a wide range of flavors, including olives, capers and aged cheeses, sweet and hot peppers, dry and fresh tomatoes, shrimp and sardines, any herb and leafy green, and even dates and bittersweet chocolate.
Add pieces of roasted lemon to the pan toward the end of roasting the chicken, meat or whole fish. Mash a small piece into vinaigrette or pesto. At the very least, add to the roasted citrus to olive oil for slathering on bread.
Slow-roasted Whole Lemons
Slow-roasting whole lemons requires nothing more than a pinch of salt, a shallot, a heavy-lidded pot and a bit of water. Roasting whole citrus takes a long time, but is a largely hands-off process. Use thin-skinned citrus for best results. The roasted lemons make a great condiment for cheese boards and add a burst of flavor to sauces.
- 5 small, thin-skinned lemons, preferably Meyer (about 1 pound), scrubbed, cut almost in half across middle, remove exposed seeds
- 1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Place the oven rack in the middle position, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Put the lemons, shallot, water and salt in a Dutch oven or any ovenproof, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Cover the pot, place in the oven and roast for about 1 hour and 30 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, check on the lemons every 15 to 20 minutes, stirring gently to coat the lemons with the liquid. If the lemons begin to brown, lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees to prevent scorching.
Watch for the lemons to begin to collapse, and for the liquid in the pot to take on a golden hue and thicken slightly. The shallot will melt into the liquid.
Remove the pot from the oven when the lemon pith is completely translucent and the juices have turned syrupy and caramel brown. Using tongs, grab a piece of lemon and use the softened fruit to mop the sides of the pot, loosening any bits. Drop that lemon back into the pot with the others.
Remove the lemons and the accumulated liquid from the heat and let cool completely. Serve as a condiment, or use to add flavor to sauces.
Recipe note: The size of the lemons, the thickness of the pith, the heaviness of the pot, even swings in oven temperature, all affect the cooking time. Sometimes the lemons may need additional roasting time beyond the suggested 1 1/2 hours for the pith to turn completely translucent.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Ronna Welsh’s name and gave an incorrect title for her. This version has been corrected.
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Calories: 25; Total Fat: 0 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Trans Fat: 0 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 0 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 60 mg; Carbohydrates: 11 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugars: less than 1 g g; Protein: 1 g.