Thursday 12 September 2013

All the goodness in those lemons

Citrus limon. I adore it. And lemons are so useful in the kitchen, in Italy we say you should always have at least one at hand.

You can drink their juice, full of vitamin C (also containing vitamin A, calcium and phosphorus) and hot, sweet lemonade is an Italian traditional cure for indigestion; the same juice helps your jam set, and you can flavour dishes with both juice and zest. Drinks and dishes can be garnished with their pretty slices and you can use any leftover halves to de-grease pots and pans and take away the smell of fish; leaving them in the fridge is also said to prevent smells there. Adding their juice and leftover halves to water when washing vegetables that oxidise (i.e. artichokes) is the perfect way to prevent discolouring. And you can eat the peel, which, instead, I seem to waste most of the time.

I thought of all the effort of growing and picking the lemons, packaging and transporting them all the way to my home. Making the most of them seemed the only reasonable thing to do.
So, when Riverford sent me a particularly fresh, healthy (and untreated: unwaxed, no fungicides), juicy and thick-skinned lemons I decided I would use them whole: such a pity to waste a valuable and delicious edible.

First thing, I juiced them, and made ice cubes with the juice. It has been very convenient and handy over the weeks I must say. It's always there when needed and no mouldy or dessicated old lemons in the fridge!

Then I decided to candy the peel. Which is very easy to do. You only have to slice every juiced half in half and peel away the translucent membrane (leaving the spongy white pith). It comes off easily.

Then you slice as thick as you wish, and, to take away the bitterness of the white pith, you blanch in boiling water. I do it twice, throwing away the water once it has become yellow.

After blanching them, and without further ado, you cover the peel with sugar and water (2:1) and bring it to a quiet boil - stir from time to time and do not let it stick: add more hot water if needed. 

When the peel has turned translucent, it is ready. Drain, reserving the aromatic sugar syrup (keep it in the fridge, it might go solid) and let the peel dry for a couple of days (or as necessary) on a cooling grid.

Candied lemon peel is gorgeous to eat as is (irresistible, but be careful to stop in time: after a while your tongue will start to fizz rather unpleasantly with the essential oil), or I find that I can use both the syrup and the peel in my muffins, replacing part of the sugar with the syrup (remove anything coconut and use the peel instead of the raspberries, all the rest is the same).

P.S. The gorgeous cooks at @SchumacherColl also use cubed lemon peel, fresh, in salads. The one I tried was with blanched greens (i.e. leaf beet) in a salad with olives, lemon peel cubes and some lovely seeds. I tried at home making a sliced carrot salad with lemon peel cubes and seasoned with a pinch of salt, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, which won husband's approval. Definitely a winner!

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