California Dreamin’ on Such a Winter’s Day
Lemonpalooza: n. a celebration of all that is warm, bright and tangy; hope in the home stretch of winter; antidote to a common addiction amongst native Californians and Floridians; yum.
As I was packing a shoe box of Meyer lemons in to my checked baggage, my sister suggested: “You need lemon rehab.” A day earlier I had packed a flat rate priority mail box with lemons and had just returned from the home tree with another batch. Earlier she had bottled a batch of lemon syrup for me, and the lemon possets for dessert were cooling in the fridge. Gnawing on the peel of a juiced half lemon (dentists everywhere are recoiling) I nodded. “You might be right.”
But there is no kicking this addiction. As I boarded my plane back to NH I could not help but have a pang for every Meyer lemon left unpicked in the family tree and in the entire Bay Area megalopolis. I take solace in knowing I did my best.
Here’s a small sampling of how those lemons will be worshiped this week:
The first recipe comes from “The Lemon Cookbook” (of lemon cauliflower couscous fame) which I gave to my sister. The book’s chicken and toasted bread salad has been among their family’s Bring-It staples ever since. It’s sturdy, hearty, delicately and boldly flavored (can that be? Yes, oh yes!) with co-roasted lemons and shallots. And here’s the real kicker—it’s even better the next day.
The ease of rotisserie chicken notwithstanding, reading and re reading all the steps makes the entire recipe a pain in the butt to make the first time. That said, virtually all the labor (and flavor) is in the dressing. So we’re going to take just that element on now, and it will make for many happy salads with or without chicken and toasted bread.
The other recipes are ridiculously easy: Meyer lemon simple syrup is a juice-intensive staple to brighten tea, seltzer, pancakes, vodka, etc; and lemon posset is a sweet, tart, creamy, perfectly textured pudding/custard with no eggs or special techniques involved.
As good as these recipes are, they are merely a gateway to all the transformational possibilities of Meyer lemons in winter. Roast them, juice them, preserve them (Pickled lemon chutney? I’m looking at you next!), and let them bring a little sunshine in to your life.
Roasted Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette
- 1 lemon, halved and seeded with the tip of a sharp knife
- 8 oz shallots peeled and halved if large
- 3 large cloves garlic unpeeled
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
- 2 ½ tsp kosher salt, divided
- juice of one lemon
Preheat oven to 400. Toss lemon, shallots, garlic and 2 sprigs thyme in 1/4 cup oil and 1 tsp salt. Spread in baking dish in one layer, with cut sides of lemon down. Cover with foil and bake 45-55 minutes or so, until shallots are caramelized and lemons are totally soft. Remove from oven and let cool.
When cool, remove lemon pulp from peel and put it (minus peel and any remaining seeds) into the blender. Add shallots, garlic insides (squeezed from skin), lemon juice, and any accumulated liquid to the blender. Process until smooth. Add remaining oil in a stream. Stir in thyme leaves from remaining sprigs and salt to taste.
Say tuned for a pro version of the chicken and toasted bread salad, pictured above, which is leftover roasted chicken tossed with arugula, plumped currants, rustic bread—torn, tossed with oil and oven-toasted— and this dressing.
This next recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated, so even though it is super simple of course it has some crazy essential step. In this case it is measuring the hot liquid until it is the proper volume. They have a workaround which is even more complicated, so let’s just stick to Plan A. It’s no big.
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest
- 6 Tbsp Meyer lemon juice
- Fresh blueberries or raspberries
Combine cream, sugar and zest in a medium saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine. Heat, stirring as mixture boils. Boil, stirring frequently, for 8-12 minutes, until reduced to 2 cups (pour it off into pyrex measuring cup to check when it’s there). Remove from heat, stir in juice and let cool 20 minutes. Strain into bowl or directly into six individual ramekins/posset containers (see at right. who knew?). Discard strained zest, or eat it when nobody is looking. Chill possets uncovered until set, at least 3 hours. Wrap and store in refrigerator for up to two days. To serve, unwrap and let sit at room temperature 10 minutes. Garnish with berries.
Meyer Lemon Simple Syrup
2 cups strained fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 cups granulated sugar
zest of 3 Meyer lemons
Wash and gently scrub lemons. Using a zester or vegetable peeler, remove strips of zest from fruit, being careful to remove only the yellow zest, none of the bitter white pith.
Combine sugar, zest and lemon juice in medium saucepan. Heat until simmering over medium heat, stirring to completely dissolve sugar. Increase heat and bring to a gentle boil. Remove saucepan from heat. Cover and set aside to steep 10 minutes. Strain into glass containers. Discard zest, or, you know what I’d do.
Makes 3 cups. The syrup will keep 1 week in the refrigerator, 6 months in the freezer.
Southern Comfort in the Granite State