The holidays are a time of excess, and nowhere is that more evident than in the food we cook in home kitchens, give as gifts and enjoy at parties. Yet much of that food — by some estimates as much as 40 percent — is thrown away, uneaten.
That’s why this recipe for candied citrus peels is a gem on so many levels. It turns a bound-for-the-compost-heap item into beautiful, inexpensive and utterly gift-worthy holiday treats. While it does require a bit of stovetop watching, nothing about the recipe is overly complicated. And when it’s all tied up in a cellophane bag and finished off with some (recycled) ribbon, it looks like a gift that took a great deal of skill to create.
These peels may be made from food waste, but they taste like a fancy treat. Their sugar-stiffened crusts yield to soft, citrusy interiors, and the silky chocolate coating is a perfect foil for the bitter-ish peel. I have a friend who swears that they are perfectly complemented with a glass of red wine, but in the spirit of complete honesty, I must confess that, like me, she thinks everything goes well with a glass of red wine.
Best of all, you won’t have to fight over these treats with your kids. It’s been my experience that children are not fond of even the idea of candied citrus peels, which is just fine, because all the adults in my life really love them.
If you happen to have any leftovers, chop extra candied peels and stir them into the batter for fruitcake, sweet breads or muffins. I stow extras in the refrigerator, as they will keep well past Valentine’s Day.
If you’re thinking, “Sounds great, but I could never eat that many grapefruit or oranges,” I have a suggestion. Buy the fruit you need to make a batch or two of the recipe, then do a Sunday night peel-a-thon.
Stash the peels in the refrigerator until you’re ready to go, and put all the fruit in a big, sealable bowl. Portion to-go containers for breakfasts and lunch, and you’re ready to go for a vitamin C-rich week ahead. You can even get fancy and “supreme” the fruit, that is, cut out the citrus segments from the strips of membrane around them. A quick slice is fine, too. In any case, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can eat up all the citrus once it’s prepared and packaged in advance.
After you’ve scored a hit with the peels this year, you can start saving them for next year. I buy big bags of Texas grapefruit throughout winter, and I also succumb to the Boy Scout troop that sells grapefruit door-to-door. I cut up each big bag in one fell swoop, tossing the peels in the freezer.
This year’s candied peels (pictured here) are the remnants of last winter’s peak citrus crop, and they’re no worse for the wear after a long nap in the freezer.
If you’re not a big grapefruit fan, navel oranges work well, too. Here’s a fun bit of alchemy I’ve yet to figure out: The longer the grapefruit cooks in the syrup, the more the peel turns from yellow to bright orange, until it’s positively carrot-colored by the time you pull it from the simple syrup.
This really is a no-waste recipe, because you also can save that citrus-infused simple syrup that’s left in the bottom of the pan. Store it in a clean jar in the refrigerator and use it to add zing to cooked cranberries, sweeten a cup of tea or add a fancy touch to holiday cocktails.
Who knew you could get so much out of something most people throw away?
Julie Kendrick is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter: @KendrickWorks.