Lemon Triumverate

Why do people associate lemons with springtime? Last time I checked, they were (barring horrible West-Coastian ice storms) available all winter long, starting early enough in the season for most people to still be excited by the prospect of snow and ice. In November and December we concentrate on apples and pears, though, and after the new year on exotic tropical fruits. Come March, however, and we all unerringly trot out the lemons to try to brighten up the remaining root vegetables and winter stodge.

Tonight I knew I’d be slightly late getting home from work, so I left Teacherman a recipe to start for dinner: braised fennel with Meyer lemons. Fennel is one of our favorite vegetables, though neither of us grew up liking it. (I’m trying to keep this from becoming the How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Scary Foods Blog, with, as you can see, only partial success). In both of our cases, we only became enamored of fennel after learning to cook it long enough to soften its unyielding texture and sweeten its licorice-like bite. Our favorite preparations are either high heat roasting, which brings out the best in anything (as Teacherman says, “Mmm, carcinogens”), or braising, a flavor-rich shortcut to stewing. Since I am still getting over my aforementioned cold, braising fennel into a soft and comforting tangle seemed the way to go.

The recipe calls for searing the fennel in a large skillet until browned on both sides, then adding a little chicken broth, the juice and zest of a single Meyer lemon, and letting it bubble away, covered, until soft. It would be a decent enough recipe if it stopped here, but it continues on to require that one remove the fennel from the skillet, reduce the sauce to a glaze, and then stir in the cooked fennel along with some chopped fennel fronds. Tangy, spicy, sweet and toothsome. Quite quite lovely.

After dinner Teacherman did the dishes and the leftover lemons stared at me from the counter. I shouldn’t have, but I took those lemons and, for the tenth time in the last two months, made myself my latest favorite indulgence. This delicious item, and the reason that I am probably guaranteed never to have scurvy, is Lemon Jam, a recipe I found in the new cookbook The Improvisational Cook. One simply cuts up and seeds lemons (or clementines), puts them in the food processor with a little salt, some sweetening and maybe some compatible spices or herbs, and then whizzes it to a chunky puree. Then–and this is the exciting part–one whirls in some flavorless oil until the mixture emulsifies, as if one were making a mayonnaise or vinaigrette. Instead, one ends up with a cross between a lemon curd (due to the oil) and a lemon marmalade (due to the included pith and peel). I have been known to consume nearly a cup of this grainy goodness, bite by bite off of the spatula, pretending that there isn’t enough room in the jar I’m scraping it into. This time I added a bit of ginger to the chopped lemons, resulting in a marmalade-curd redolent of spice and almost as strong as my similarly-flavored herbal tea. I managed to get most of this batch into the jar, but I don’t know how long the jar itself will last.

I did restrain myself somewhat–I didn’t use up _all_ of the lemons on the counter. Twelve organic lemons are lying in wait for a bottle of vodka, ready to turn into homemade limoncello. And from limoncello, I immediately mentally leap to the idea of ripe strawberries with limoncello and cream; the months cannot pass fast enough.

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Published in: on March 6, 2007 at 9:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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