Grapefruit, good for every meal

Top vanilla ice cream with spiced grapefruit compote Top vanilla ice cream with spiced grapefruit compote and a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts for a tasty winter sundae. (Feb. 6, 2013) Photo Credit: Eve Bishop

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Lauren Chattman

Lauren Chattman is a cookbook author, freelance writer and former professional pastry chef. Her recipes have appeared in ...

I love a good Honey Crisp or Macintosh as much as the next person. But I've been eating and cooking with apples since September, and even the biggest fan of the Fuji needs something different at this point in the year. Luckily, the markets are bursting with refreshing and versatile grapefruits.

If you think grapefruit is just for breakfast, you've been missing a big kitchen opportunity. There's still time to make a grapefruit and avocado salad, a spicy grapefruit and mint chutney, or a grapefruit custard tart before the season ends in early spring.

Grapefruit is a decidedly New World fruit. Discovered in Barbados in the 17th century, it is believed to be an accidental hybrid of the orange and the pummelo, which was brought to the West Indies from Indonesia early in the 1600s. Most grapefruit available today comes from either Florida or Texas. Naturally, natives of the Sunshine State prefer Florida-grown Ruby Reds, claiming grapefruits from their state have thinner skins and a higher sugar content. Texans are loyal to the Red Star, which they boast is 10 times as red as any Florida variety. As a Long Islander, I impartially choose what is available and on sale when I'm at the supermarket.

A grapefruit should be firm but slightly springy

Ripeness is more important than origin when it comes to choosing a good grapefruit. How do you know if a grapefruit is ripe? It should be firm but slightly springy when gently squeezed. Looks aren't everything. Discolorations and scratches are not an indication of taste or texture. Look for fruit that feels heavy for its size. Heavier fruit has a thinner skin, and thus more juicy flesh. Avoid grapefruits with soft spots at the stem end, which indicate decay. Store them at room temperature if you are planning to eat them within a few days. In the refrigerator, they will keep for two weeks.

Growers of red and pink grapefruits swear otherwise, but blind taste tests generally indicate that white, pink, and red grapefruits are equally sweet. Scientists give a slight nutritional edge to red and pink varieties, which have a little more lycopene (a cancer-fighting antioxidant) and vitamin A. But even white grapefruits are nutritional powerhouses, rich in immunity-boosting vitamin C, cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and DNA-repairing flavonoids.

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Recently, grapefruit has gotten some bad press because of its interactions with a number of medications, including widely prescribed statins. There are chemical compounds in grapefruit that can boost the potency of certain drugs, increasing the chance of an accidental overdose. Most of these cases involve large amounts of grapefruit juice, and generally people can tolerate a few grapefruit sections with their medications. But it is better to be safe than sorry, so check labels and ask your doctor before you make a bulk purchase.

Try grapefruit in salads and with seafood

Because of its flavor profile -- tart and sweet at the same time -- grapefruit can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. A salad of grapefruit and fennel in a mustard vinaigrette is a lively way to start a late-winter meal. Or arrange grapefruit sections and thinly sliced prosciutto over baby arugula and drizzle with olive oil. Briny sauteed scallops or shrimp pair well with sectioned grapefruit, as does lobster. Fish or chicken tacos can be garnished with a grapefruit salsa. A pound cake made with grapefruit juice and zest is a nice change from plain old lemon.

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SPICED GRAPEFRUIT COMPOTE

To section a grapefruit while removing the tough membranes, follow these steps: With a sharp chef's knife, cut off the stem and blossom ends and stand the grapefruit on one of these cut ends. Cut away the rind and bitter pith. Slice into one section along the edge of one membrane. Cut along the other side of the section near the opposite membrane and remove the section. Repeat with the remaining sections.

3/4 cups water

3/4 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

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1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

4 pink grapefruits, peeled and sectioned

1. Combine water, sugar, cinnamon stick and ginger in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened, 25 to 30 minutes.

2. Place grapefruit sections in a large mixing bowl. Pour syrup through a strainer and into the bowl. Serve immediately over pancakes, waffles, hot cereal, or ice cream. Or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days and rewarm briefly (don't boil) in a microwave before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

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