Lemons are finally back in season, hooray.
During the summer, when I found myself forking out $5 for a large organic lemon, I resolved to be better organised about preserving them in different ways so I wouldn't get caught out as I use lemons more than any other flavour in my food. The juice freezes well, as do wedges of lemon (perfect for a G&T, no ice cube required). You can even throw whole lemons into the freezer (finely grate off the rind when they are still frozen as it will collapse when it thaws).
Salted preserved lemons are useful additions to the pantry, lending a depth of flavour to marinades, tagines, salads and sauces. I find the fastest, easiest way to preserve lemons is to slice them into wedges and freeze until solid before bottling them. Freezing breaks down their cell structure, which speeds up the preserving process.
The process of making preserved lemons is as simple as washing the fruit well (choose unsprayed or organic lemons) and cut each lengthways into 6 wedges. Freeze on a tray until rigid. Pack the frozen wedges into a sterilised jar, add 1 bay leaf, ¼ cup lemon juice and 2 heaped tsp salt, and cover with neutral oil. Seal with a sterilised lid. They will be ready in about a week but will improve over months. Once you open the jar, keep it in the fridge. To use, scoop out and discard the lemon flesh, then thinly slice or finely chop the rinds.
It's only in late summer and early autumn when you won't find fresh lemons around. I grow Yen Ben for an early-season lemon and the soft-skinned sweeter and juicier Meyer for harvest through to early summer. Lemons are actually remarkably easy to grow most anywhere in New Zealand, I've even got one producing a good crop of fruit in a big pot in my shady Wānaka courtyard. Lemon trees are prolific feeders and respond well to a generous application of citrus food in spring and autumn, failure to feed them prevents flowering and subsequent fruit set. Make sure the plant is regularly watered with an additional soak every few weeks.
The fruit's ability to enhance sweet and savoury dishes is probably what makes it so versatile. Lemon juice provides a gentle acid balance, neither too biting nor too fragrant, that brightens a dish, while the zest delivers depth and a piquant flavour. This outer, coloured skin of the fruit contains the fruit's aromatic oils, which to my mind encapsulate the essence of the fruit. I use lemon zest throughout my savoury cooking to give a neutral freshness. Lemon juice caramelises beautifully and a squeeze over a raw chicken before roasting delivers a golden burnished sheen to the skin. Adding slices of lemon to a roasting dish before cooking is a simple way to create brownings in the bottom of the pan that will deliver a rich, dark colour to a gravy.
But it is in the category of desserts that lemons really shine. That bright zingy freshness is a great offset to balance sweetness and richness.
These recipes are some of my favourite ways to use lemons in desserts at this time of year, I hope you enjoy them.
Classic Lemon Curd
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes about 3½ cups
Lemon curd or lemon honey as it is sometimes called, is one of those useful things to have in the fridge, ready to slather over toast or scones, crepes or pancakes, fill into cooked pastry cases, layer into a parfait, or use as a filling for a layered cake or sandwich cookies.
1½ cups caster sugar
220g butter, chopped
Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
1 cup lemon juice, strained
6 egg yolks
Combine all ingredients except egg yolks in a pot and heat over a medium heat until the butter has melted. Whisk the yolks in a separate bowl and stir them into the butter mixture. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture simmers and thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon (about 3 minutes).
It's ready when the curd holds a line if you run your finger across the back of the coated spoon. Don't worry if it seems a little runny, it will thicken as it cools. Divide the hot mixture between three hot sterilised medium jars and seal. Once opened, the curd will keep for several weeks in the fridge.
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
This is one of those fabulous desserts that's made in a snap but looks like you've spent hours in the kitchen.
Icing sugar, to dust
400g thawed frozen flaky puff pastry
Lemon zest, to sprinkle
1 cup lemon curd
Preheat oven to 200C fanbake. Line an oven tray with baking paper for easy clean-up. Dust a clean workbench with icing sugar and roll out the pastry to a 24cm x 34cm rectangle. Cut in half lengthways and trim the edges. Transfer the pieces to the prepared tray, cover with another piece of baking paper and put an oven tray on top to weigh it down. Bake until the pastry is golden and crisp (20 minutes — but check after 15 minutes). Leave to cool in between the trays. If not using at once store in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.
Meanwhile, to make the filling, whisk the mascarpone until smooth then mix in the curd. Whisk cream to firm peaks and fold through. Use a serrated knife to cut both pieces of pastry in half horizontally through the centre to make two bases and two tops. Place one base on a large flat serving plate, cut side up. Spread over one-third of the filling. Layer on a top half, top side up. Repeat with one-third more filling and then the next pastry base. Spread over the last of the filling and top with the final pastry top, top side up. Dust with icing sugar and sprinkle with lemon zest. Slice carefully using a large serrated knife, cutting through the first two layers with a sawing action then slicing through the rest in one long action.
Lemon and Ginger Icecream
Prep time: 30 mins + freezing
Cook time: 10 mins
Makes 2¼ quarts
You don't need a cumbersome icecream maker to produce this velvety icecream. The two secrets are using lots of sugar, which makes it difficult for ice crystals to form, and whipping in lots of air so it's light and fluffy. You can use any type of citrus but lemon and ginger are a match made in heaven. Combining cream and yoghurt makes it lighter and tangier than using all cream.
1½ cups icing sugar
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
¾ cup lemon juice, strained
½ cup very finely chopped crystallised ginger
4 egg whites
1 cup cream
½ cup Greek-style yoghurt
Combine sugar, lemon zest and juice and ginger in a medium pot. Stir over heat until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. While the syrup is boiling, beat egg whites in an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. On low speed, gradually add the hot syrup, then turn mixer speed to high and beat until cool and very thick (about 10 minutes). Transfer to a large mixing bowl so you can use the same mixer bowl and beater (you don't need to wash them in between) to whip the cream to soft peaks. Gently fold in the yoghurt, then mix in the beaten egg whites a little at a time, folding gently until evenly incorporated. Spoon into a container, cover and freeze for at least 6 hours. The icecream will keep for 3-4 weeks in the freezer.