Lemons + Varietals

Lemons_Varietals finalLemon + Varietals

 

Lemon; To wake from sunlight tantalizing your cheek

 

It’s hard to write about an ingredient I’ve never tasted before. Being I don’t live in Italy. Or a stone skip away from the nearest place growing this particular range of fruit. But I am determined to go on because I did my best to taste without tasting. One day (I do imagine), but for now, I am happy with my research. And I shall be ready when I stumble upon the great lemon from my dreams! But for what I do tastefully know; the New York corner stand lemon. Sharp, not sweet, juicy, a rind mostly plain, but then a bit of a hairy aftertaste. This plump sponge is what I’ve been squeezing and candying in far too many recipes without thinking about the fruit doing so much of the work. It wasn’t until a great unveiling of tomatoes and their distinctive varieties this summer, that I thought there must be more to many ingredients I thought to know. Like the lemon. And it came to mind first because it’s natural quality of, addictiveness? It’s that cleansing tang. It’s perfect for helping a chewy, salty and oily fish slide through the mouth. It’s perfect when grated into the dough of a morning cookie. For some reason, lemon, feels, renewing. I really love lemon, and what I have learnt from tasting tomatoes of different terroirs this summer, I think, I could love lemons even more, knowing more. So, I’ve conducted a study of lemons. A lot of reading lead me here. And I’ve made a small list of lemons to remember and to always seek when spotting yellow.

Femminello: the most popular variety grown in Italy is read to be much like our New York corner stand lemon. Albeit perhaps a bit sweeter. One day will have to try. This is the A.P. of lemons. It can do it all, but certainly, quite right for  squeezing onto a lunch of pasta, anchovy and fried breadcrumbs.

Verdelli: green skin and starved! Yet not sickly at all. Well, perhaps maybe the poor lemon tree felt so until an infiltration of water did finally come about. One to two months later. This stress and relief, induces an unconventional bloom. That will ready to be plucked from the tree the following summer, when the supply is lowest and the demand is high. With it’s mark from the starve, Verdelli lemons are to be like regular lemons just with green skin. It’s hard to say much more than that until it’s sliced and squeezed!

Ponderosa: pondered to be a cross between a lemon and citron. As its size might tell, it looks like a citron, but a cross section will show it to look like a lemon. Sour, and then a flowery after taste. Lovely. Sounds delicate, and cleansing, as it might make one’s lips pucker. This is a very juicy lemon with a fairly substantial pith as well, right for marmalade-ing.

Citrus Limetta: Limoo Shirin in Iran or Bergamot in France, this lemon looks like the sun as the day sets, and many of us begin to wind down. It has a thin yet, protective coat, bearing inside cells ready to burst with a sweet and tasting juice. Freshly squeezed, a glass be along with breakfast. Perhaps breaking out a bag of papadum crackers, speckled with cumin and salt. Or the Italian variety, pane carasau (sheet music), with a bit of rosemary and salt perhaps a few fennel seeds too. A morning to sing too.

Meyer: Petite and sweet. Grown in California and quite fairly readily available even here in New York. Thought to originally come from China it’s considered to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. I can chase this one down next! Making lemon desserts with likely, less sugar, since there’s no need to balance the acidity. A win-win indeed!  

Citron: Not a lemon but an orb, displaying itself of the famed lemon, in the most grandmotherly way. And it is. Citron is believed to have been introduced to Sicily by the Arabs many years ago in the 10th century. And what’s most interesting about citron, is that it’s the white absorbent pith you eat and relish. The fruit, strongly perfumed for the nose, yet it’s taste is delicate, sweet and a bit spicy. It’s sponge like being is right for carrying that lovely bottle of olive in the cupboard. Sicilians slice the pith, tossing with olive oil and capers or marinated olives, leaving to sit for an hour before serving. Dishes like this is what I think lunch was meant meant to be. When all you have on hand is the curious orb, the rest coming together from the pantry. Anchovies resting at the rim of the sink, filleted from the large tin kept in the cold spot in the refrigerator. A hunk of crusty bread, especially one full of earthy bran a sweet germ, to mop up the remaining olive and the splatter of fruity olive oil. One dish used, a serrated knife and a fork.

And as I daydream; a bell rings in my head. Candied citron! So, it’s this confection lightly tossed in Italian pastry such as cakes, ricotta fillings, and favorite of all, panettone. I love the aroma, so much I wish I could smell like it. Surely there is a French perfumery doing just that. But, for now, a kitchen full of the scent sounds delightful. And the reward of having candied citron to play with along with its perfumed syrup sounds life enriching. There are a few ways to go about it, most simply, slicing with rind on, into pinky finger length batons and candying for about an hour. Or more Provencal, candying whole. Taking about a week’s time, the result is a dazzling vibrant orb, nearly translucent, intensely sweet and a marvel by its own. I can’t help but wonder which came first in Provence; the candied fruits or the fruit chandeliers.

The candied citron, will keep for a year, to be diced and tossed in anything that comes about. The syrup will last equally as long, but I am usually eager to douse. Upon cakes, first coming to mind a baba, plump with raisins! Maybe then thinly glazed with a white royal icing. And a simplified version of the Italian soda, Cedrata. Just a splash of the syrup and a glug of sparking water. Lovely in a chilled tall glass, in the afternoon, before the day has almost wound down to an evening with loved ones. I know the syrup wouldn’t last me long.  

Candied Citron and Syrup

  • 2 Citron, yielding about 500g fruit, sliced into pinky finger length batons of equal size.
  • 600g sugar
  • 500g water
  • Tablespoon of glucose /or, light corn syrup

First cover the citron batons in barely simmering water until they are translucent, this will take about a half hour. This processes removes all water content in the fruits cells, readying those cells to be filled with sugar. When ready, drain. Fill a pot, with the citron batons, sugar, water and inverted sugar and bring to a boil. Use a candy thermometer to watch the temperature. When the temperature reaches soft ball stage, 230ºF, turn off and allow to cool until room temperature. Don’t fear if there is no candy thermometer amongst the spoons and ladles! This can be done with a watchful eye, which I prefer more often than not. One less thing to clean! When the syrup is past it’s vigorous bubbling and thickens so that each bubble that emerges seems to be slow and dramatic, you’ve reaches soft ball stage. Don’t let it go on, caramel comes quick. Which isn’t a bad mistake, how about a take on Torta Arluno? While the syrup cools to room temperature, perhaps run some errands and finish up in the evening.

Now that the citron and syrup of cooled, drain the batons from the luscious syrup, reserving for future projects, like soaked baba or topped with double the amount of sparkling water for a little soda. Not much of a project at all and more of a simple pleasure in life.

What’s left is still quite sticky citron batons, continue to drain by placing colander over a sheet pan, to reserve extra syrup, and allowing to sit perhaps an hour, lightly tossing once or twice. The citron batons can then either be tossed in a bowl of granular sugar, or left as is, as I like, and stored in an airtight container. To be diced in many future pastries to come into your life this year!

 

Saved for the gourmand

 

dear anchovy,

you slender silver thing. green then blue. a tone of gray, polished.
you are cared for.
as colatura di alici
as burre cafe de paris as anchoiade
atop this egg
you are richness to this garden.
i’ll help care for your shallow, temperate, just salty waters.

thank you,

A purse full of silver coins or purse full of little fish.

Anchovy, perhaps always anchovies, is an oily little fish, not beefy enough to satisfy a slightly sneering tummy, But a lick to satisfy the gourmand. Anyone who likes anchovy is a gourmand, in my book. Their tongue welcoming the tantalization this little fish brings.

When fresh, it’s an essence of what it will become packed and tinned under salt. Buy a bundle, fillet them and simply serve with halves of lemon. I can’t help but imagine; an hour of aperitivo, sheets of Carta di Musica (or, Pane Carasau, sheet music) stained with green olive oil and dusty flakes of pestle pressed fennel seed, chili and salt. The sun beaming a setting golden mist, and just like a candle blown out from the soft summer wind you’re whisked off to dinner.

A moment hopefully all of us, least have once. For some, a friendly routine out of convenience and perhaps stimulated by the milder nature of the fresh fish.

When handled with care, placed under salt, still full in body and bone, they become something stronger. A taste that lingers. A sharp and clear moment for your own bliss.

Preserved this way, anchovy may be considered even more a delicacy. It’s flavor dependent on the seasoned hands who cared for it. Known as alici to Italy, and anchois to France, both countries in the southern coastal towns, enjoy the little fish fresh and tinned in throngs. Being part of the land just as the people.

In Campania, during the summertime, fresh anchovies are placed in wooden barrels, salted then pressed. Then in the fall, the barrels are speared from the bottom and a  longly awaited viscous and amber liquid secretes. An Italian fish sauce. It’s then bottled in glass and labeled Colatura di Alici. With a special place in the cabinet it’s to be dotted along with pasta and vegetables as northern Italians might balsamic.

Beurre Cafe de Paris made its name by a French chef in Geneva, but I would think it has been around for time before then. It is a compound butter of tinned anchovy and fresh herbs such as thyme and marjoram. Rolled into a log and served in rounds, maybe atop anything. I still want to toss it in pasta.

Anchoiade is a thick and hearty emulsion coming from Provence. Truly, an anchovy mayonnaise. Best set a little looser, a touch of water will achieve this. (Italians having a similar sauce, without eggs and the splash of liquor replaced with vinegar). Like a skier’s favorite trail wide and curling. High with newly fallen snow, I imagine endive, puntarelle, chicory or frisse gathered highly upon a wide plate. Then capped from a large silver spoon, a robust round of anchoiade. Curious and a bit dangerous, it’s first licked from the tips of the diners heavy fork. Next, gently and next, greedily tossed desiring every leaf to be strewn. The bitter green is the last remaining ingredient making the sauce perfectly harmonized and desirable.  Make a jar full and lunch for a week! Only more needing a boule of bread and a row of eggs to softly poach.

Anchoïade

  • 1 yolk
  • 6 whole anchovies, cleaned, filleted
  • palmful of thyme leaves
  • juice from ½ a lemon
  • 150g extra virgin olive oil
  • dash of Cognac
  • salt + pepper

By hand using a pestle and mortar then a big bowl and a whisk:

Using a pestle and mortar, cream the anchovy fillets along with the thyme and a dash of the lemon juice. Transfer to a large bowl and add the egg yolk. Whisk until combined and smooth. Continue to whisk, quite vigorously now, as you slowly drizzle in the olive oil. When fluffy and spreadable it’s done. Season with more lemon juice, a dash of cognac, (a little trick I picked up at the restaurant, which may have been picked up from Alice Waters, who may have picked it up from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. A fickle string to follow), lots of freshly ground pepper and some salt.

This can also  all be done in a food processor, the same, but with a less achey arm, and gratitude for your machinery. But, never as triumphant as the one who beat willfully.  Still, be be sure to slowly add the the oil as the processors blade quickly turn.

P.S. making an emulsion is marrying  fat (olive oil) to a little protein (yolk). Quite temperamental! Be sure all ingredients are the same temperature, (just out of the fridge, or room) to ensure at least one variable is against forsaken mishap. As it does sometimes happen. And in which case; don’t fret. Pour the split sauce into a cup, add an egg yolk to the bowl, and slowly drizzle in your split sauce while whisking, the extra protein will help bring the sauce together again. 

anchovy and egg

Tozzetti alla mandorle

Tozzetti

 

I cannot quite pinpoint which book it may have been where my eyes first glazed over Italian pastry recipes. I think it actually was a flood of books I brought home all at once, I’d scramble to the ends of each book and try to absorb every ingredient and method. The style in which the author wrote the recipe, I was, and am still elated. My heart nestled into Italy, it was the mentor I had been looking for but didn’t know existed. This cookie that looks like what I first knew as biscotti, seemed to be an Italian classic, (I suppose as most Italian recipes are), lots of cookbooks had their variation of it. Seemingly alike, it took quite a handful of trials and reading to discover the difference. Biscotti means twice cooked and in Italy there are two types of biscotti; tozzetti being softer and more cookie like. And cantuccini being made from a bread-like dough, dry and crisp. This recipe falls under the tozzetti category.

Classically enriched by egg yolks, being that the land had more eggs to offer than butter at a time, this recipe is delightfully and nutritiously rich. In what to me feels to be relatable to human digestion, being easy on our metabolism. Still, lots of sugar is necessary for the sharp tooth this cookie is known for. Making it a sublime treat. Any mix in additions to the dough will be lovely. I can imagine showcasing chocolate, and other ideas being pine nuts, rosemary, anise, or candied orange and melon. I think when you try an ingredient and it strikes you that would be a delight savored over a morning coffee ritual, or a weekend 4pm break, working your way slowly through the cookie studded with the ingredients that first drew the inspiration, all along the while sipping a sweet glass of Vin Santo to celebrate yourself and the moment.  

It’s summer now,  I am enamored with Sicily, and these almonds I brought home from a local Italian market. Flatter and wider in shape they looked interesting. The flavor to me was remarkable. Still fragrant and plump of the mediterranean air scented with oregano, tomatoes and fennel growing abound. I imagined biscotti and as I gathered my ingredients I threw in lemon and vanilla feeling it was the right melody I most felt like savoring along with my special almonds. It’s likely you too have the remaining ingredients already in your cupboard, really just flour, eggs and sugar. The cookie is strong, sweet and soft when warmed by the tongue but resilient to all else. I like that the yolks keep it from being crisp like many biscotti’s I’ve had before. This biscotti in that sense fills you like a meal. It’s a delightful breakfast and a joy to hold in hand with a to go cup of coffee on the train as I make my way to work.  

Tozzetti with candied lemon, vanilla and mandorle

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 yolks
  • 350 g sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 450 g flour sifted with 4 ½ tsp baking powder and 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 200 g mandorle (Italian almonds)
  • 2 tbsp finely minced candied lemon
  • Pinch of flaky salt

Preheat oven to 375ºF, if convection 350ºF. Blanchir the eggs with sugar and vanilla. Sift in flour mixture. Mix in the butter, almonds and lemon peel. Work with hands to make two strong logs. Set atop parchment paper and a strong baking tray, bake for 25 minutes until lightly golden. Turn oven temperature down another 50º. Cool for three minutes, and using a tea towel and a serrated knife, saw the log along a slight angle, making tozzetti shapes. It’s an important time to do this now while still hot from the oven, otherwise it will prove difficult.  Arrange slices back onto the baking tray and return to oven for five minutes. Flip the tozzetti to their other sides, and bake another five minutes. Turn the oven off, set the door slightly ajar and allow the rich glory to cool completely as the oven does.

Tozzetti with candied fennel and mandorle

The same as above, simply take away the candied lemon and vanilla. And mix in the candied fennel along with the almonds.

For candied fennel:

  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed of outer leaves
  • 300 g sugar
  • 300 g water

Dice fennel into small cubes of equal size.

Meanwhile make a simple syrup, by bringing the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Add cubed fennel and turn down the heat to a lively simmer. Continue on until fennel is plump and full of sugar, Drain and set aside fennel to cool. Either discard or reserve syrup for other uses, perhaps a dash in your seltzer. Or drizzled on your morning cantaloupe.

I am part of the summer
my bare feet spread on the warm wooden floorboards
a sense of temperature warmly like the womb
And like me, the frayed screen awry
our curling hairs
Soft wind, humming engines, play and flighted notes, a field of cilia sways
My water glass round, of the overgrown mint and the bouquets of fennel fronds set aside …

The stone building is warm, I am warm

Cantelope_Syrup