Citrus historically has symbolized eternal love, having been adored by royalty and coveted by Olympian gods. Its culinary usage may be more quotidian, but, in my opinion, no less euphoric. Gremolatas, crêpes Suzettes, piccatas, and franceses would be nothing without their citrus inamorata. My own caramelized orange dessert has elicited the occasional sigh over the years. Fennel salads, pork braises, and a thousand vinaigrettes have known its charms.
And January is prime seduction time. Honeybell tangelos, blood oranges, and jewel-like kumquats are poised to conquer: a glossy, perfumed tsunami launched from Floridian ground zero.
That state is a citrus mecca of about 82 million trees and the world’s leading grapefruit producer (but the runner-up to Brazil in oranges). The nascent orange grove Spaniard Ponce de Leon supposedly planted in St. Augustine in the early 16th century has seeded a multi-billion-dollar business; its progeny now account for more than 70 percent of U.S. production.
A miniscule fraction of that is on delectable display at Armonk’s Moderne Barn (430 Bedford Rd 914-730-0001; modernebarn.com). Kumquats lend bittersweet complexity to Chef Ethan Kostbar’s port reduction for roasted duck breast, and blood oranges jolt an olive- and pistachio-studded salad with crimson tang. His baby-beet salad partnering with seared dayboat scallops is a culinary Pantone chart of golden lemons, pink pomelos, fiery Honeybells, and scarlet beets. “I love that the citrus lends such sweet acidity and color,” he says. It’s an ode to artistry, yes, but more a pledge to ingredient integrity. “I don’t like to deconstruct things,” he states. “I want people to recognize what they’re eating. I try to represent the ingredients for what they are.” And he’s not just spouting locavore/artisanally correct jargon; Kostbar grew up on a farm and worked in greenhouses and on a kibbutz. “I understand the growing process,” he says, “I’ve taught my cooks to treat the food that comes through the door with respect.”
Considering the new restaurant’s popularity, it’s a lesson they, and we, have learned well. Respect, yes, and, like those ancient royals, adoration.
Blood Orange Salad
Courtesy of Ethan Kostbar, Moderne Barn
(Yields 6 to 8 servings)
3 Tbsp shelled pistachios, toasted
3 Tbsp sherry vinegar
3 Tbsp honey
Salt and white pepper, to taste
¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb mesclun greens
2 15.5-oz cans chickpeas
(garbanzos), drained and rinsed
¼ cup Gaeta olives, pitted and
thinly sliced (any black olive can
3 blood oranges, peeled and
segmented (Honeybells can be
2 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
1 English cucumber, unpeeled,
seeded, and diced
â…“ cup blue cheese, like Stilton,
Toast pistachios in baking pan in 325° F oven, 3 to 4 minutes.
Make vinaigrette: combine vinegar, honey, salt and pepper, then slowly whisk in oils until emulsified. Put greens, toasted nuts, and remaining ingredients into large bowl. Add vinaigrette to taste, and toss.