Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Loads of Lemons

Lemons, lemons everywhere (with some strawberries thrown in for good measure...)

In addition to the lemons we “rescued” from our absent neighbors’ tree a few weeks ago (see blog post of Feb 21) and a few times since (irresponsible to let them rot), another neighbor, Jeanette, took a week of holiday and left us a huge basket of lemons from her father’s tree.

I love all things lemon, but even to me, the pile was quite daunting. Nothing to do but get on my lemony way.

First I made a double batch of Nigel Slater’s Demerera Lemon Cake with Thick Yogurt. The recipe name alone sounds good enough to eat. I have fond memories of demerera sugar from childhood when Lex and I would mush the crunchy golden crystals into softened butter and eat the mixture by the spoonful. I loved how you caramelize the lemons for the top and the cake had beautiful texture from the ground blanched almonds (you can buy them already ground in the supermarket here – not in Vermont I don’t think?). He also uses the time-honored technique of poking the oven-hot cake with a skewer and drenching it in citrus syrup. Salivating yet? Recipe below.

[Major aside: Have I mentioned already how much I love Nigel Slater? I owe the Wanganui library for 10 days of overdueness on his stream of food consciousness, slightly-more-robust-than-twitter-but-not-overly-verbose daily eating and cooking journal, The Kitchen Diaries, which I pored over every night in bed for about a month until Mark said, “How can you just read recipes like that night after night?” (We’ve only been together for 25 years and this is not a new habit.) Other recipes of Nigel’s – lemony and not – that we have recently tried and loved include Chicken Patties with Rosemary and Pancetta (a great easy weeknight supper and huge hit with all three boyz who begged that I not just make it once in their lives and move on as I tend to do), Pork and Lemon Polpettine with a secret flavor punch of finely chopped anchovies, and Strawberry Mascarpone Tart – elegant and easy and not too sweet, which I really appreciate. (See photo below - even though it isn't lemon.) The Roast Pork Sandwiches – a slab of belly roasted with peppercorns, fennel, bay leaves, and lemon juice piled on good bread (I found some!) with arugula (rocket here) and thick slices of summer tomatoes from the market – were really good too, but the kids couldn’t quite deal with all that belly fat. I’ve got to try the Roast Lamb with Anchovy and Mint too, but my family is a little lambed out right now. ]

I also made the kids’ favorite: lemon squares, although the recipe I found on the web seems to be a bit eggier (4 eggs?) than the one I make at home (Does anyone have a perfect one to share with me?) and, for the lovely ladies in my knitting, spinning, and weaving Wednesday group, a slightly messed-with version of a Lemon Yoghurt Cake.

This recipe came via Chris, another food-loving neighbor, from an Alison Holst cookbook; she’s a New Zealand icon in the kitchen. You’re supposed to bake it in a tube pan but I don’t have one here so used a large springform and made Nigel’s caramelized lemons (doubled with one lemon and one orange) to form a decorative circle on the top. I overbaked it a touch because I forgot to set the timer for the last 10 minutes, but it was still delicious, with the super-caramelized fruit, chewy and almost toffee-like on top.

On the savory side, I had already made a big batch of preserved lemons but, with this new harvest, I made another two jars, one for Jeanette and one for my friend Margot. I love preserved lemons; they are simply the best combination of salty and puckery and so simple. See method below. This is a basic recipe. Some recipes include hot chile peppers, star anise, cinnamon etc. but I like mine straight up for most flexibility.

You need a large super-clean glass jar with tight-fitting lid. Figure out how many lemons will fit in it quite tightly. Wash the lemons well – and don’t even think about doing this with sprayed lemons. Put a kettle on to boil. Cut each lemon like a flower into quarters but leaving the stem end intact. Get a bowl of non-iodized coarse salt (sea or kosher) ready and use your fingers to fill each lemon “blossom” with about a tablespoon, placing each filled lemon in the jar as you go. Squeeze the juice from another set of lemons - half the number of lemons you have in the jar and pour that lemon juice into the jar. Fill the rest of the jar with boiling water, sliding a clean knife around the side of the jar if necessary to make sure no air bubbles are taking up space. Screw lid on tightly. Let jar sit on counter for about 10 days, turning it upside down every day to redistribute juices and salt. Then refrigerate and start using. Notes for use: always use a clean fork to remove lemons from jar, rinse preserved lemons before using, and always remove flesh before using -- it’s the rinds you want.

The photo at left is a recipe test I did for a food friend, Deborah Krasner, who is finishing up a tome on cooking all parts of the animal back in Vermont. It is a lamb shank tagine with green olives and preserved lemons along with some cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and saffron and only water to braise. It took all my willpower not to throw in a little wine or stock, but after aggressive reduction and fat-skimming of the final sauce, it came out quite delicious. (Deborah assured me, after the fact, that the recipe comes by way of Mediterranean cooking goddess Paula Wolfert and that water is authentic, which I figured.) You’ll have to wait for her book to get this particular recipe, but if this has whet your appetite, lamb tagine recipes using preserved lemons are plentiful.

Other things to do with preserved lemons:
· Blend a vinaigrette with the salty, briny punch of preserved lemon. Whiz the rinsed peel of half a preserved lemon in a blender or processor with 1/4 cup olive oil, a tablespoon of fresh oregano or parsley or cilantro, freshly ground pepper, a pinch of sugar, 2 T lemon juice, and a little water . Depending how salty your lemons are, you may not need to add salt. Inspired by Bill Granger, Bill’s Open Kitchen. Serve on a sturdy salad or with fish, chicken, and pork.
· Roast a whole chicken with a rinsed preserved lemon rubbed over the skin and then put in the cavity, or chicken pieces with slices of rind tucked among them.
· Make a preserved lemon and tomato salsa to serve with fish – from the gorgeous NZ Dish magazine try this: ½ small red onion, thinly sliced and soaked in water for 15 mins, drained, squeezed dry + 3 quarters of preserved lemon rinsed and scraped of flesh and thinly sliced + 2 tomatoes, halved, seeded, and sliced + 2 T lemon juice + 3 T olive oil + 1 clove crushed garlic + ¼ tsp toasted cumin seeds + ¼ tsp sweet paprika + 2 T chopped coriander. Mix together and season to taste.
· Whip up a preserved lemon mayo by folding a couple tablespoons or so of finely chopped rinsed rind into 1/2 cup blend of mayo and crème fraiche (or sour cream) and a small handful of chopped dill or chives to serve with grilled chicken breasts, chicken burgers, salmon, or salmon cakes (thanks to for this idea)
· There’s this great pasta recipe in Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Pasta with Sweet Peas and Morel Mushrooms. It has cream and tarragon and lemon in it too. After we developed it for the cookbook, Rick started serving it at the Inn in a restauranty version enriched with a dollop of crème fraîche and he used finely minced preserved lemon rather than the lemon zest.

OK, I’m hungry now.


Demerera Lemon Cake with Thick Yoghurt
by Nigel Slater from The Kitchen Diaries

Abridged from headnote: Serve with thick Greek yoghurt or tart crème fraiche. Use unwaxed or organic lemons. My note: US measurements in parens.

For the topping:
a lemon
demerara sugar – 2 tablespoons (soft brown sugar fine here)
water – 4 tablespoons

For the cake:
butter – 2oog (about two sticks)
demerara sugar – 200g (use soft brown sugar although it’s not quite the same, a scant cup)
plain flour – 90g (2/3 cup)
ground almonds – 90g (2/3 cup)
baking powder – ½ teaspoon
a large lemon
large eggs – 4

For the syrup:
demerara sugar – 2 tablespoons (soft brown sugar fine here)
the juice of a large lemon

Set oven to 160 degrees centigrade (320 degrees F). Line a large loaf tin with baking parchment (simply cut a piece of paper the exact length of the tin and lay it inside the tin and up the longest sides). To make the topping, slice the lemon thinly and put it in a small saucepan with the sugar and water. Bring to the boil, then watch closely for five minutes or so, until the water has almost evaporated and the lemon slices are sticky. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a food mixer till they are light and fluffy. [I managed this all with a hand mixer, which is all I have here.] You can expect it to take a little longer than it would with caster sugar. Meanwhile, weigh the flour and almonds and mix them with the baking powder. Grate the lemon zest and add it to the flour mixture. Break the eggs and beat them lightly with a fork, then add them to the creamed butter and sugar a little at a time. The mixture will probably curdle a bit but don’t worry. Remove the mixing bowl from the machine and gently fold in the flour, almonds and baking powder with a large metal spoon (a wooden spoon would knock the air out). Scoop the cake mixture into the lined tin, then lay the reserved lemon slices on top, overlapping them down the center of the cake. Bake for 45 minutes, till risen and golden. Insert a metal skewer to see if it is ready. If it comes out clean, then the cake is done; if it has mixture sticking to it, it needs a few minutes longer. Remove the cake from the oven and set aside. For the syrup, stir the demerera sugar into the lemon juice; it will only partially dissolve. Spike the top of the cake with a metal skewer, then spoon over the lemon and sugar. Leave to cool.

Citrus Yoghurt Cake
Adapted from Alison Holst’s Lemon Yoghurt Cake

For topping: make Nigel’s caramelized lemons above – doubled with one lemon and one orange
For cake:
1¾ cups sugar
rind of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 eggs
1 cup oil (I used half canola and half olive oil)
½ tsp salt
1 cup yogurt (I used Greek whole milk plain – she says use whatever you want including flavored, but I’m a purist)
3 T lemon juice
2 cups self-raising flour (you can find this in US or use 2 cups a-p flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt)

Preheat oven to 180 c (350 f). Easiest to use food processor: Process sugar and rinds together until finely chopped together. Add the eggs, oil, and salt and process until thick and smooth, then add the yoghurt and lemon juice and blend enough to mix. Add the flour and process just enough to combine. Pour cake mixture into buttered and floured pan (bundt or large springform). If using springform, lay caramelized fruit, alternating lemon and orange slices, in circle on top of cake. Bake for 30 mins (more like 45 if not in bundt), until a skewer comes out clean.


jeanseattle said...

What a lovely post! I know how luxurious it is to get whole, unsprayed lemons (my inlaws in No.CA have lemon trees and I sometimes take them back). The Nigel Slater cake is definitely something I'll try (I love his book and writing)..

mara said...

Hey there Melissa!

I've always wanted to try preserved lemons - haven't had a chance as of yet, but they sound divine - so wonderful to be able to make your own! You asked for a lemon bar recipe, I just happened to stumble upon this one at for ginger pecan lemon bars - it sounds good anyway!