Fab fruit New World treat offers all kinds of possibilites

NewsdayMarch 27, 2013 

If you thought grapefruit was just for breakfast, you’ve been missing a big 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 today comes from Florida or Texas. Naturally, natives of the Sunshine State prefer Florida-grown Ruby Reds, claiming grapefruit from their state has 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. I impartially choose what is available and on sale when I’m at the supermarket. Here’s more you should know:

MAKE A WISE CHOICE

Ripeness is more important than origin when it comes to choosing 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 more juicy flesh. Avoid grapefruit 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.

NUTRITIONAL POWERHOUSE

Blind taste tests generally indicate that white, pink and red grapefruit 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. Even white grapefruit is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in immunity-boosting vitamin C, cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and DNA-repairing flavonoids.

DANGEROUS INTERACTIONS?

Recently, grapefruit has gotten bad press because of its interactions with medications, including widely prescribed statins. Chemical compounds in grapefruit 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.

DELICIOUS IDEAS

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.

SPICED GRAPEFRUIT COMPOTE

3/4 cups water

3/4 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

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

4 pink grapefruits, peeled and sectioned

Note: 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. Stand the grapefruit on one of the cut ends. Cut away the rind and 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 other sections.

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, 25-30 minutes.

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.

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