I thought I had seen lemons before, but until this week I had no idea how large, mighty, and fragrant this beautiful yellow fruit could be. I’ve certainly been spoiled by the Italian Coast these past few days. You can’t step three feet out the door without being surrounded by lemon trees fragrantly filling the air, fresh lemons for sale, or street vendors whipping up zesty treats.
Italians are no strangers to back yards filled with lemon trees or even a simple lemon tree in a potted container resting in their kitchen. Although the lemons was originally native to Asia, they were brought into Italy during the time of the Roman Empire. With the lush volcanic soil that surrounds the Italian Coast, Italian lemons are now considered to be some of the finest in the world.
Most Italian dishes rely on the lemon as a key ingredient. Weather sweet or savory, this Delicious Fruit can be found squeezed over Seafood, whipped into a refreshing dessert, or even simply used as a centerpiece on a beautiful table.
Every meal I have enjoyed has had the option of delicious lemoncello, a classic Italian liqueur. Most of you know I never meet a stranger, and the cooking conversations I have had with home chefs and restaurant tours has proved to show me that everyone has their own limoncello recipe. A classic in every family cookbook.
I couldn’t be more pleased with the time of year this Italian Adventure has taken place. Although lemons grow year-round, their Peak Harvest is in the winter months and they are an extremely popular spring ingredient. Lemons are a catalyst for many other ingredients. What makes them so special is they allow the taste buds to react to other flavors even stronger than they normally would. Containing citric acid, they are a wonderful marinade that allows Meats to loosen up their connective tissue and become even more tender. They even take the fishy flavor out of fish with their acidic juices.
Today I have included a variety of simple zesty recipes. If you might seem somewhat familiar but with a few new twist. Give them a squeeze. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Stay tuned for next week, the last of my Italian series featuring another key ingredient from this beautiful country, olive oil.
Lemon Butter (Great on blueberry muffins, fish, or even ice cream. Also can be made with margarine for my vegan friends.)
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup grated lemon zest
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
In a saucepan over medium heat combine sugar, cornstarch, and lemon zest. Stir in water and lemon. Continue to stir. The mixture will begin to thicken quickly. Continue to heat and stir for 2 minutes reducing heat if it begins to Bubble too much. Remove from saucepan and stir in butter. Best served warm. May be refrigerated however I recommend heating before serving. Give it a taste, you’ll be surprised how many things you want to put it on.
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
Sea salt, to taste
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Whisk all ingredients together or place all liquid in a food processor adding dry ingredients on a low setting. Fresh herbs may be also added for additional flavor.
Dressing may be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated. However make sure you shake it in container or throw in the food processor again and for a second to mix.
Springtime Lemon Cupcakes
Preheat oven to 350/makes 24 regular sized muffins (line pan with cupcake liners)
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, soft
1 cup sugar 3 large eggs
12 ounces chilled mascarpone cheese
1 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 teaspoons lemon zest
Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and chill combined thoroughly. In a separate Bowl combine milk, olive oil, lemon zest and vanilla. Set both aside.
Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy, I prefer to use an electric mixer for about 3 minutes to save time.
One at a time, add eggs and beat thoroughly. On low speed, add flour/milk mix, alternating. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick sticks through smoothly.
In a mixing bowl, beat cheese and zest with sugar on medium speed. After frosting begins to be light and fluffy it is ready to go on cupcakes. However, make sure cupcakes have completely cooled before frosting.
Cupcakes may be served immediately or placed in an airtight container and served later.
Lemon Granita (lemon ice)
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (6-7 lemons)
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemons peel
2 teaspoons lemon extract
Combined two cups of water with sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium Heat. Add salt, stir, and remove pan from heat. Stir in remaining water and allow mixed to cool at room temperature.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Two to three is recommended even more.
Place a large cake pan in the freezer to chill, or metal container that can hold at least two and a half quarts. Allow this to chill while mix is being refrigerated.
Remove mix from refidgerator. Add lemon juice, lemon peel, and extract to mix. Stir until very well blended and pour into metal cake pan. Freeze for 45 minutes. Stir ice crystals on rim of pan into center. Repeatevery 39 minutes for 3 hours or until cake pan mix is crystalized, not frozen.
To serve, use hollowed out lemon peels or chilled dessert bowls. Chilled glasses will also work. If pan is to frozen, scrape with a large metal spoon and serve immediately.
Granita may be prepared 4 days in advance, covered. To serve, allow to thaw until crystals may be broken up. I like to skip this step and throw in the food processor on the pulse setting a few times.
The recipes and photos used in today’s article are from the kitchen of Chef Babz ([email protected]) with a little help from the beautiful country of Italy.