For me, the festive season is savoury flavoured. Truckles of perfectly ripe cheese, devils on horseback, glistening baked hams and vats of steaming braised cabbage – there are so many delicious things to dig into before pudding that by the time we get to it, I’ve rarely left much room for dessert.
Luckily, the fruit that survives the winter cold is naturally suited to act as a refreshing palate cleanser, before the onslaught of the post supper chocolates. Whether you’re a satsuma or a clementine family, Christmas is the time of year when winter citrus is entering its prime. As temperatures drop across Spain and southern Italy, where some (I would) argue the best citrus fruit grows, both the flavour and the colour of its flesh intensifies. It’s worth looking out for fruit that is not just described as an ‘easy peeler’, as the variety makes all the difference. Satsuma, mandarin, clementine, tangerine – almost all will have the sweetness of a sun-ripened fruit, but only clementines have the little jolt of acidity that I think makes them a complex, refreshing eat. To me, one of the most festive puddings of all is a bowl of leafy citrus, plonked in the middle of the table to be peeled and shared amongst your loved ones.
But if you need something slightly more elegant, winter presents us with the opportunity to redefine the British fruit salad, one of the strongest bastions of seasonless cooking. More often than not, a fruit salad is an incongruous mix of varieties which would seem hugely ill-suited in any other bowl – bananas, 1980s style balls of melon, rock-hard kiwi fruit and chunks of a tinned fruit or two. I’ve never quite understood why we do this, when citrus, stored pears and the wonderful pomegranates now coming straight from Italy, give us more than enough ingredients to make a really fantastic seasonal fruit salad. The colours alone are striking enough to earn it a prominent place on your Christmas table, but its beauty is more than that. The combination of sweetness, acidity and textures are stunning, and well worth saving space for.
Winter citrus salad with pistachio shortbread
For the shortbread
140g cold butter, diced
190g plain flour
85g caster sugar
50g pistachios, chopped
- To make the shortbread, preheat oven to 160/140 °C fan. Line the base of a roughly 25x17cm rectangular tin with baking parchment.
- Rub the butter and flour together with your fingers until no lumps of butter remain. You could also whizz them to the right consistency in a magimix.
- Combine with the sugar and the chopped pistachios.
- Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and press it down firmly, making it as flat as you can.
- Dredge with more sugar and bake for 25-30 mins until golden-brown.
- As soon as it’s out of the oven, use a blunt knife to cut into whatever size biscuits you’d like to serve.
- Cool in the tin.
For the fruit salad
200g caster sugar
1 chunk stem ginger in syrup
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
- Bring the water to a boil in a small pan and stir in the caster sugar. Using the fine side, grate in the stem ginger to make a ginger-infused poaching syrup.
- Peel, core and slice the pears into 2cm wedges. Drop into the syrup and reduce the heat to low. It’s important that the pears don’t boil – that’s what makes them fall apart. Poach for 5-7 minutes until soft and then set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, peel the clementines and slice widthways into rounds.
- Prep the oranges. Using a sharp knife, slice downwards to cut away the skin peel and pith, leaving a round ball of flesh. I use the line of white pith as a cutting guideline if I’m being fastidious. Holding the orange in your non-knife hand, cut out each individual segment of orange flesh, using the lines of membrane as your guidelines.
- Cut the pomegranate into four quarters and remove the seeds. I find the best way to do this is to whack each segment with a wooden spoon, holding my hands over a bowl to catch both the seeds and juice.
- Combine all the fruit and the cooled syrup & pears in your serving bowl. Serve with the pistachio shortbread.