Sunday, March 05, 2006

A lullaby to lemons...

Dear readers, I am sorry that I have been neglectful of you of late, but it’s getting to be midterm time at school, and I’m a bit swamped! I have SO many papers to grade and projects to complete, all before spring break which is nearly upon us! Yikes! And what makes it all more depressing is, for the first time in six years, I am not going away for spring break. BOO HISS! I will be visiting California at the end of next month for about five days, but still…that’s a long way off! So I’m stuck here in the North Country for spring break, and though the calendar says March, the weather says it’s still January! BRRRR! But today, the sun has come out a little, and it’s a bit above subhuman temperatures, so I am feeling hopeful that spring will surely come…probably by the end of May!

So what’s a gal to do when she can’t shake off the winter blues? What culinary delight could melt the frozen corpuscles of my being? Why, CITRUS, of course! And what could be sunnier on a cold, late winter’s day than dishes made with that most magical of citrus fruits, the Meyer Lemon?! For those of you unfamiliar with this tropical gem (a Martha favorite), it’s a hybrid between a lemon and either an orange or a mandarin, and though it is still incredibly lemony, it is rounder, thinner-skinned, darker-fleshed and sweeter. I was very excited to find my first Meyer lemons just a few weeks ago. I was on my way out of the Big City en route to Albany, NY for a concert, and though we were in a bit of hurry, we had to make a stop in Yonkers at the wonderful dairy-cum-grocery-store, Stew Leonard's. What a FUN place! Even on the eve of an imminent blizzard (or perhaps, because of it), the place was teeming with people, and there was a great energy there. It’s really a hoot! The atmosphere was like a country fair, complete with animatronic figures singing and dancing in the produce section…tee hee! And the food! Wow! Of course, they make all of their own dairy products (we got some delicious smoked boccacini mozzarella balls), but they also make their own bread, sausages, soups, sushi, chocolates, roasted nuts, coffee, even tortillas…pretty much anything you can think of! And the employees are so nice and helpful—best customer service I’ve had in a long time. It’s not surprising that Stew Leonard’s is listed by Fortune Magazine as one of the top 100 companies in the country to work for! I understand that it began as a dairy (there was a line outside for their homemade ice cream even in the dead of winter during a snow storm!), but quickly expanded into farm stand produce as well. And they still have an amazing selection of fruits and vegetables. The kitchen Mage asked what may have been a rhetorical question about where one could get mangoes at this time of year for the mango-jicama relish recipe that I posted. Well, I have the answer—Stew Leonard’s! And in addition to the Meyer lemons, we also acquired the world’s tastiest, most enormous shallots, and the sweetest, crunchiest sugar snap peas which, upon arriving home, I quickly dressed with sesame oil, rice vinegar, garlic, and black sesame seeds (nod to Ina Garten for the inspiration on that one!). It's now my favorite grocery experience...well, neck-in-neck with the beloved Trader Joe's. ;-)

But now I’m really digressing from my Meyer lemon theme. To sum up, I was thrilled to find these citrusy treasures, and I brought them home, and made them into the most wonderful curd (recipe follows), which I enjoyed on some of my beloved pound cake...toasted, of course! And then something even more unexpected and miraculous happened: a few days ago, I found Meyer lemons in my own little town, at the Super Wal-Mart, of all places (where produce is normally an abomination)! So now, I am going to begin swapping them out in all of my favorite lemon recipes. And they are listed below, some savory, some sweet, for your enjoyment. Though these dishes are wonderful with regular lemons, do try and seek out the magical Meyer won’t be sorry!

Lemon Linguine (From Nigella Lawson—where is she these days?? This recipe is so easy, but SO delicious! It’s one of my favorite side dishes.)

2 pounds of linguine
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan
Zest of 1 lemon and juice of 1/2, plus more juice if needed
Pinch of salt
Freshly milled black pepper
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons of chopped parsley

Fill just about the biggest pot you have with water and bring to a boil. When friends are coming for lunch, get the water heated to boiling point before they arrive, otherwise you end up nervously hanging around waiting for a watched pot to boil, while your supposedly quick lunch gets later and later. Bring the water to a boil, cover and turn off the burner. I tend to leave the addition of salt until the water's come to a boil a second time. But whichever way you do it, add quite a bit of salt. When the bubbling's encouragingly fierce, put in the pasta. I often put the lid on for a moment or so just to let the pasta get back to a boil. But don't turn your back on it--give it a good stir with a pasta fork to avoid even the suspicion of stickiness once you've removed the lid. Then get on with the sauce, making sure you've set your timer for about a minute or so less than the time specified on the package of pasta.

In a bowl, put the yolks, cream, parmesan, zest of the whole lemon and juice of a hair of it, the salt and a good grind of pepper and beat with a fork. You don't want it fluffy, just combined. Taste. If you want it more lemony, then, of course, add more juice.

When the timer goes off, taste to judge how near the pasta is to being ready. I recommend that you hover by the stove, so you don't miss that point. Don't be too hasty, though. Everyone is so keen to cook their pasta properly al dente that sometimes the pasta is actually not cooked enough. You want absolutely no chalkiness here. And linguine tends not to become soggy and overcooked quite as quickly as other long pastas (or at least I find it so). This makes sense, of course, as the strands of "little tongues" are denser than the flat ribbon shapes. Anyway, as soon as the pasta looks ready, remove a cup of the cooking liquid and drain the pasta. And then, off the heat, toss it back in the pot or put it in an efficiently preheated bowl. Throw in the butter and stir and swirl about to make sure the butter's melted and the pasta is covered all over. Each strand will be only mutely gleaming, as there's not much butter and quite a bit of pasta. If you want to add more, then do.

When you're satisfied that the pasta's covered with its soft slip of butter, stir in the egg mixture and turn the pasta well in it, adding some of the cooking liquid if it looks a bit dry. (Only 2 tablespoons or so--you don't want a wet mess--and only after you think the sauce is incorporated.) Sprinkle over the parsley and serve.

Rao’s Lemon Chicken (If you like tangy, this is the chicken dish for you!)

Lemon Sauce:
2 cups fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 cup fine quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

two 2 ½ to 3 pound broiling chickens, halved (or cut in pieces)

1/4 cup Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped

For sauce, whisk together all ingredients, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Whisk or shake vigorously before use.

For chicken, preheat broiler at least 15 minutes before using. Broil chicken halves, turning once, for about 30 minutes, or until skin is golden-brown and juices run clear when bird is pierced with a fork. Remove chicken from broiler (leaving broiler on). Cut each half of bird into 6 pieces (leg, thigh, wing and 3 breast sections). Place chicken into deeper broiling pan (with sides), pour half of the lemon sauce over each bird and toss to coat well. Return to broiler, cook for 3 minutes, turn each piece and broil for 1 additional minute. Remove from broiler, divide into 6 portions on serving plates. Pour lemon sauce into heavy saucepan, add parsley and place over high heat for 1 minute. Pour sauce evenly onto each portion and serve with lots of crusty bread to absorb the sauce.

Lemon Tart with Nicole (From Martha Stewart Living, this is a scrumptious dessert, but try halving the recipe to make a wonderful lemon curd by itself.)

one recipe short crust dough

3/4 c creme fraiche (sour cream will work, too)
6 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cup lemon juice, freshly-squeezed (about 12 lemons)
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or one teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
¼ oz unflavored gelatin powder; or 4 sheets, softened
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove short crust dough from refrigerator. Remove parchment paper covering top, and invert onto a baking sheet. Press an 11-inch flan ring in center of short crust dough to cut out a circle. Keeping flan ring on baking sheet, trim excess dough from outside of ring, and reserve for another use. Prick circle of dough several times with a fork. Chill until firm, about 20 minutes.Remove dough-lined flan ring from refrigerator. Bake until a light golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

Combine creme fraiche, eggs, egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla bean, and sugar in a medium-size heat-proof bowl. Place over a pot of simmering water. Cook, stirring occasionally until mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in softened gelatin sheets. Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium-size bowl. Cover surface of mixture with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming. Set mixture in an ice bath to cool to 100 degrees. Add butter, and using a handheld immersion blender, mix for 5 minutes. Pour into pre-baked tart shell. Chill until mixture is firm, 2 to 3 hours. Just before serving, sprinkle individual slices with a light, even layer of sugar. Caramelize the sugar to a golden brown, using a blow torch or by placing under a broiler.

Aunt Ida’s Sour Cream Lemon Pie (Unlike most people, I am not a fan of lemon meringue pie. But I ADORE this homey little pie from my dear friend, Kurt--well, from his Aunt Ida. As you may have sensed, I like lemon best when it is cut a bit with some sort of cream. YUM!)
4 eggs
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 cup sour cream

Beat the eggs with the sugar until thickened. Add the lemon juice and zest and mix well. Cook this mixture in a double boiler over low heat until the custard is thick (until you can see the marks of the whisk in the bottom of the pan or bowl). Stir in the sour cream. Pour into a baked pie shell. Chill the pie. Optional: Garnish with one tablepoon of sour cream on top and slivered toasted almonds. (This pie can also be frozen.)

Lemon Freeze (This is a really great summer dessert! So yummy!)

3 eggs, separated
1 ½ cups sugar, divided
3 fresh lemons
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 package graham crackers
few tablespoons butter, softened

Crush the graham crackers and mix with butter until they hold together. Press into the bottom of a 9x13-inch pan. Set aside.

Separate egg whites and yolks and place in two bowls. Gradually add ¼ cup sugar to egg whites and whip to stiff peaks. Squeeze the lemons and add the juice to the egg yolks, beating lightly, then mix in ½ cup sugar. In another large bowl, combine heavy cream with the remaining ¾ cup sugar and the vanilla. Add the lemon mixture and stir. Fold in egg whites. Pour on top of the graham crust, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze overnight.

Lemon Bars (What lemon list would be complete without a good lemon bar recipe? And this is a great one from my friend, June, by way of Southern Cooking.)

2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, well beaten
1 heaping tablespoon grated lemon rind
1/4 cup lemon juice

Sift flour and powdered sugar together. Cut in butter until well blended. Press mixture over bottom of a 9 by 13 by 2-inch pan. Bake about 25 minutes at 300° until lightly browned.

Combine remaining ingredients and spread on top of the baked crust. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes about 12 servings. (Note: June says she felt free to increase the amount of lemon zest and juice to make these super-lemony!)


kitchenmage said...

Lemons! Good call.

That store looks like a wonderful place in which to spend too much time and money both. LOL

Mangos in the northeast in March, how 2006. I see they have organic steelhead...wonder if organic=unfarmed too?

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