Our main squeeze: Florida citrus

 

This is the best time of the year for Florida citrus, and Ortanique chef Cindy Hutson has fresh ways to enjoy it.

By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley | Special to The Miami Herald

The dining-room walls and upholstery are orange. The floor is orange and gray. Charger plates specially ordered from Germany are rimmed with oranges, and there’s a picture of an oversized orange on the wall.

Well, it’s actually an ortanique.

In fact, this Coral Gables restaurant is named for the little-known citrus fruit, a cross between a tangerine and a Seville orange that first appeared in Jamaica.

So when we wanted fresh ideas for using Florida’s seasonal citrus bounty, we couldn’t think of a better person to ask than Cindy Hutson, chef and co-owner of Ortanique on the Mile. In her orange-trimmed chef’s jacket, she even dresses the part.

Despite the severe early-winter cold, there are plenty of tangerines, oranges, pomelos and grapefruits to enjoy.

“The crop is good this year,” says Steve Futch, citrus extension agent for the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. “Only isolated areas were damaged. There’s lots of good-quality fruit available.”

Try local citrus in Hutson’s multi-purpose pomelo mojo, her shrimp ceviche and her lush lemon and blueberry cake.

A sweeter, less acidic grapefruit look-alike with thick skin and membranes, pomelo can be expensive, but a little goes a long way. Hutson likes it for breakfast, and says one big fruit lasts her four days.

“I just break it open, peel the sections and enjoy it in all its purity.”

She serves the mojo with yuca fries at her 12-year-old Coral Gables restaurant and newly opened Ortanique Grand Cayman, part of a Miami contingent on the tony island that includes branches of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and Books & Books.

The mojo can also be a marinade or basting sauce for just about any seafood or meat you grill. Just don’t marinate fish for more than an hour or it will “cook” in the citrus juice as it does in ceviche.

Hutson likes to parboil the shrimp for her ceviche and finish it in fresh lime juice. Most ceviches need to be made just before serving so the fish doesn’t break down in the acid, but shellfish is more forgiving.

“The shrimp gets better the longer it sits in the lime juice,” she says.

She created the cake recipe when working with an Andalusian olive oil producer. Using oil instead of butter gives it a very tender crumb, and a glaze flavored with lots of lemon zest that is poured onto the warm cake makes it exceptionally moist.

She adds blueberries to the batter because they remind her of the bushes her grandfather had in Summit, N.J., where she grew up.

The dishes are prime examples of her signature “Cuisine of the Sun,” which lets her “use anything under the sun and gravitate toward the foods of hotter climates.”

Hutson is a self-taught chef who began cooking with her grandmother as a 10-year-old.

“I’ve been exposed to good food since I was little,” she says.

Food remained a theme on visits to her grandparents after they retired in Florida’s Panhandle. She especially loved spending the day with her grandfather in his small motorboat, buying fresh catch from fishermen and stopping to hunt scallops along the beach.

Her grandfather, who had been an electrical engineer, rigged an electric skillet to tilt so the fat from his frying bacon would pool on one side, the better to cook eggs and lightly breaded baby scallops. It’s a memory that still brings a warm smile to Hutson’s face.

Once grown and on her own, she got tired of the “gray northern winters” and moved to Miami in 1977. She got her boat captain’s license and began taking customers out for a day of fishing on a 36-foot Bertram yacht.

“I’d be on the dock in a swimsuit breaking down and gutting fish, which surprised people to see a girl do it. But it meant I always had fresh fish.”

She met and married a Jamaican native, Charles Hutson, and through him learned to love the flavor and spice of island cooking.

“It’s a lush island and even though they are poverty-stricken, they eat well,” she says. “Their food has wonderful flavor.”

The couple ran a coffee and Caribbean sauce import business. The marriage didn’t last, but the frequent trips to Jamaica set Hutson’s life on a new course.

Her current life and business partner, Delius Shirley, is the son of Norma Shirley, “the Julia Child of the Caribbean,” whose well-known restaurants include Norma at the Wharfhouse in Montego Bay.

When he decided to open a restaurant in Miami in 1994, Delius Shirley named it Norma’s on the Bay for his mother — but wanted Hutson to be the chef.

“Like my mother, she’s Picasso with a palate,” Shirley says. “Seeing what my mom accomplished, I knew what Cindy was capable of doing.”

Though Hutson had no formal training or restaurant experience, he believed she should be chef. “It was her calling, her niche in life,” he says.

“I did it because Delius said I could,” she says. “He said my food was great.”

Her customers on Lincoln Road seemed to agree, but it wasn’t easy. “Every night I was in tears,” she says.

She persevered and thrived, and in 1999 the couple relocated their renamed restaurant to Coral Gables, where her fresh and flavorful cuisine has become a mainstay on Miracle Mile.

“I’m an artist at heart, and food is like painting and writing,” Hutson says. “It’s my art form. I love that it is constantly changing.”

If you go

Ortanique on the Mile, 278 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-446-7710, www.cindyhutsoncuisine.com

Ortanique Grand Cayman, Camana Bay, 345-640-7710; www.camanabay.com

Dessert

Lemon Blueberry Sour Cream Cake

Coating the berries with flour keeps them from sinking to the bottom of the pan. Look for agave nectar, a natural sweetener, on the baking or natural-foods aisle at the supermarket.

Cake Batter

3 cups flour, divided, plus more for dusting pan

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups fresh blueberries

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Zest of 1 lemon

4 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon Glaze

1/2 cup agave nectar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon

To make batter: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray and dust with flour. Set aside.

Measure 3 cups flour into a large bowl. Remove 2 tablespoons of it to a smaller bowl. Add baking powder, baking soda and salt to the large bowl; whisk to combine. Add the blueberries to the smaller bowl and toss to coat; set aside.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the sugar, olive oil and lemon zest until well-blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

With mixer on medium-low, add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla extract.

Fold in the blueberry mixture; pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 1 hour or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

To make glaze: In a small saucepan, combine the agave, lemon juice and lemon zest. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Set aside off heat for 10 minutes. Strain out the zest, return glaze to the pan and keep warm.

Remove finished cake from oven and, still in its pan, immediately poke holes all over its top surface with a toothpick or skewer.

Spoon about a third of the glaze over the cake. Let it soak in about 5 minutes.

Invert cake onto a platter and remove pan. Poke the exposed surface of the cake with a skewer or toothpick and spoon the rest of the glaze over it. Makes 12 servings.

Source: Adapted from chef Cindy Hutson.

Per serving: 336 calories (16 percent from fat), 6.7 g fat, (2.5 g saturated fat, 2.7 g monounsaturated fat), 67 mg cholesterol, 5.9 g protein, 63.6 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 271 mg sodium.

Appetizer

Shrimp Ceviche

The court bouillon can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 months. Either way, return it to a boil before using.

Court Bouillon and Shrimp

2 cup white wine

Juice of 3 lemons

2 onions, chopped

2 celery ribs, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon peppercorns

10 sprigs fresh thyme

3 bay leaves

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

Ice water

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Ceviche

1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

1/4 cup diced yellow bell pepper

2 tablespoons diced red onion

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper

1/4 scotch bonnet pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1/4 cup fresh lime juice plus more to taste

To make court bouillon: Combine wine, lemon juice, onions, celery, garlic, peppercorns, thyme and bay leaves with 8 cups water in a nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer 8 minutes. Strain, returning the bouillon to the pan.

To prepare shrimp: Add the shrimp and boil about 3 minutes, until just opaque. Drain and place in ice water until cold; drain. Cut each shrimp into about 4 pieces. Place in a nonreactive bowl with the lime juice; toss. Set aside 30 minutes at room temperature; drain.

To make ceviche: Wrap the grated ginger in a square of cheesecloth and squeeze its juice into a nonreactive bowl. Add remaining ingredients, including the shrimp; toss to combine. Adjust the lime juice to taste. Makes about 4 cups.

Source: Adapted from chef Cindy Hutson.

Per serving: 137 calories (14 percent from fat), 2.1 g fat, (0.3 g sat fat, 0.3 g monounsaturated fat) 172 mg cholesterol, 23.4 g protein, 5.4 g carbohydrates, 0.6 fiber, 416 mg sodium.

Side Dish/Appetizer

Crispy Yuca Fries With Florida Pomelo Mojo

For the fries, purchase frozen yuca in the ethnic section of the freezer case at your supermarket. You can cook it without defrosting. The sweetness of the pomelo balances the heat of the pepper flakes. You can substitute grapefruit if you can’t find pomelo. With either fruit, be sure to remove all the bitter membrane.

Florida Pomelo Mojo

1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/2 cups sliced sweet onions

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes or to taste

1 pomelo, peeled, sectioned and white membrane removed

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/2 cup agave nectar

Kosher salt, to taste

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Yuca Fries

Kosher salt, to taste

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 small onion, peeled and quartered

1 lemon, halved

1 pound frozen yuca

Vegetable oil for deep frying

To make mojo: In a nonreactive large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until tender. Add the chili flakes, pomelo sections and orange juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook at a slow boil about 4 minutes. Add the agave nectar.

Remove from heat and place the pan in a bowl of ice water to chill the mixture.

Place half the mixture in an electric blender, puree. Return puree to the remaining mixture. Add the salt, cilantro, parsley and vinegar; set aside.

To make fries: In a large pot, flavor 5 cups water with salt (enough to make the water “taste like the sea” says Cindy Hutson), the garlic and onions. Squeeze the juice from the lemon halves into the water, then add the rinds to the pot.

Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the frozen yuca, return to a boil and cook over medium-high heat 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and let cool.

Once cooled, remove any woody vein from the centers of the yuca pieces and cut the flesh into strips like French fries.

In a heavy skillet or saucepan, bring 1 1/2 inches oil to 375 degrees over high heat. Fry the yuca strips in small batches until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm with mojo for dipping. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from chef Cindy Hutson.

Per serving: 361 calories (44 percent from fat), 17.7 g fat, (2.5 g saturated fat, 12 g monounsaturated fat) 0 cholesterol, 2.4 g protein, 49.4 g carbohydrates, 4.3 g fiber, 16.3 mg sodium.

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