Category Archives: Recipes
World over, there are many versions of the Salade Niçoise and much debate over what constitutes the correct serving of this classic dish. Purists insist that no cooked component should be added, apart from the tuna itself, and even then the tuna is either optional or tinned (not in MY kitchen). As you can see from the title of this post, I am not a purist. Here’s my version, with an Oriental twist:
N.B. Ingredients are given per person.
Use any sort of salad leaves (Delia apparently likes rocket, I like spinach, but any sort of mixed leaf will also do. Avoid iceberg – it’s too bland and a bit seventies for my version) – enough to amply cover a dinner plate.
Haricots verts/ green beans - cooked on a rolling boil for just 5 minutes so they retain their crunch and are still bright green. Dunk them in a bowl of cold water to keep their colour bright, then pop them in the oven with a couple of nobs of butter, a shake of salt and pepper and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Leave 10 minutes on 150C or until the butter and cheese have melted. Then cool and add the beans to the salad leaves.
1 boiled egg, just warm and halved or quartered. Don’t add hot eggs to the plate as they will wilt the leaves.
A small handful of cherry tomatoes – either whole or halved, toss over the salad.
2-3 salad onions, chopped and dropped liberally across the salad.
Once all the salad ingredients are on the plate, start with the tuna. It needs watching so as not to overcook and become dry.
1 tuna steak, marinated in teriyaki sauce. Cook just a few minutes on each side, so that the centre of the steak is still pink. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and place on top of the salad. Pour any remaining teriyaki sauce over the top as this will provide an automatic dressing.
Some argue that a proper Niçoise salad should have either tuna or anchovies but not both. I’m easy on this score. The only thing I would suggest is that if you decide to add anchovies, make it the fresh, marinated anchovies as these are less salty than the preserved kind and bring a truly zesty tang to the salad.
So, as you can see, this is far from a traditional Niçoise. I blame my Pacific-rim upbringing and a love of teriyaki sauce.
When I was growing up I thought that twenty-four hours was the perfect length for a day. With age, this has changed: I’d now like thirty-six at least so that, among other things, I’d have more time to cook delicious things which take ages to prepare. As it is, I am your typical time-poor, full-time, professional woman with limited stamina and a pile of ironing that I’m never quite on top of. In spite of this, I’m ready meal-averse so at the end of most workdays, I cook. Sometimes I get so tired that by the end of it, I have no energy left to eat. Ironic, I know, but apparently quite common among my ilk.
Roll on the weekend – that blissful ideal of rest over two whole days, which seldom happens by the time housework, paperwork, special occasions and familial duties are taken into account. For just those times when hunger pangs hit but there’s little time to spare, I’ve got just the thing: a quick and easy lunch that can be thrown together in a jiffy.
Fill a bowl with cherry tomatoes cut in half, cubes of feta cheese, plenty of chopped parsley, a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Toss and spoon onto your plate. Leftovers can be added to another meal later. Put slices of mozzarella onto slices of beef tomato, season and heat in the oven until just melted (just a few minutes at 150C). Add a few of these to the plate and garnish each with a basil leaf. That’s the hard part. Now just add anything vaguely Mediterranean you might have to your lunch: slices of prosciutto or salami, a handful of olives, some lettuce leaves topped with emergency artichokes (from the jar that dwells in the pantry) – their preserving juice creates an immediate dressing so no vinaigrette-concocting required.
For the above example I grabbed some herby ciabatta from our local deli and warmed it through while I was heating the tomatoes. Other additions might include marinated anchovies, leftover grilled vegetables, a spoonful of couscous drizzled with lime juice and coriander, a few slices of grilled halloumi tossed in lemon juice and parsley, marinated peppers, some burrata (if you’re lucky enough to have it in the fridge) sprinkled with a handful of sliced green grapes.
One last point: if you have visitors and don’t want to spend too much time wearing your trusty oven gloves, just set out all of the Mediterranean foods that you have to hand, give them each a plate and tell them to help themselves, buffet-style. Couldn’t be easier! This is a seriously low-maintenance lunch that’s tasty, healthy and just as easy to make for a crowd as it is for one person.
If you have guests and want to show that some sort of effort was made in the feeding of them, you can even tailor this lunch to a specific Mediterranean country with a minimum of hassle. For instance, if you want to put the emphasis on things Italian, drinks might include San Pellegrino with a slice of lemon, prosecco, a glass of Pinot Grigio or a chilled Nastro Azzuro. Don’t fuss over dessert: just put out some fresh fruit or have a scoop of gelato. A really snazzy ice cream trick is to serve lemon gelato with a shot of limoncello poured over the top, but don’t plan on finishing the laundry afterwards! It works just as well with strawberry gelato and fragolino… divinISSimo! Finish with espresso. If you have a machine, all well and good, but if not, there are some really good instant espresso grounds on the market nowadays - trust me, I’m über- fussy about my coffee. Serve it with a bacio or two and get everyone to read out the love messages wrapped inside. Now, that’s what I call la dolce vita.
Buon appetito a tutti!
Recently, I was chatting with @champagnediet on Twitter and mentioned my recent experimentation with a bottle of bubbly in the kitchen. I’d made a truly scrummy dish of scallops and king prawns in a champagne and cream sauce – plenty for two people as a light evening meal, or a decadent starter if you’re hungry. Anyway, I promised @champagnediet I’d send her the recipe for her site, which focusses on how to eat (and live) well without over-indulging. Then I thought it would also be a good idea to share it here.
This dish is ready in a flash. There’s next to no preparation time – just as long as it takes to get everything out of the fridge and chop the onions. Cooking time is max 10 minutes.
200g king prawns, uncooked and 200g fresh scallops, coral removed. In the UK queen scallops are good for this recipe as they’re smaller, but king scallops would work just as well, only you might need a minute or two more to cook through.
**(Please do ensure that the seafood is as fresh as it possibly can be. The champagne component in this recipe is too expensive to waste on close-to-expiry-date produce!)
3 Tablespoons of butter
A dash of light olive oil
1/4 cup of sliced salad onions (aka scallions for our American friends)
2/3 cup of champagne – don’t skimp. This has to be the real deal! I’ve tested with bubbly alternatives and the taste is still nice but not as good.
3/4 cup of reduced fat crème fraîche
Salt and pepper to taste
Take a frying pan and melt 1 Tbsp of butter, adding a dash (literally) of light olive oil to prevent scorching.
Add the chopped salad onions and stir over medium heat for 1 minute, no longer. We want them to retain their colour if possible.
Slowly pour in the champagne and allow to reduce to approximately one third, stirring occasionally.
Add the seafood and stir until the prawns have turned pink (2-3 minutes).
Add the crème fraîche and stir until the cream has combined with the butter and seafood juices and now coats the seafood easily. Allow the mixture to simmer for a few minutes. Stir regularly during this time, then add the remaining butter and stir through until the sauce thickens slightly.
Season to taste.
Garnish with a sprig of dill or sprinkling of chopped chives. Serve immediately, preferably with a flute of the leftover champers! Et voilà!
I am a full-time working woman with a full and demanding life. I know perfectly well how to cook pancakes from scratch, be they crêpe, American-style, potato or blini, but I’d rather get the fillings right than muck about with batter after a long day at work. As Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day/ Mardi Gras falls invariably on a weekday, that dictates the need to cheat if Monsieur and I are to do the traditional thing and dine on pancakes. This is how I blitzed it for us this week:
Pop a knob of butter in a frying pan and, once melted, place a galette darker side down in the pan. Immediately start to place your filling ingredients on one half of the galette, wait for the edges to brown a little and flip the other half across the fillings so that you have a perfect half-moon oozing with deliciousness. Make sure both sides have been adequately heated (this involves a bit of flipping for the culinary gymnasts among us) then place on a plate and set aside.
In the meantime, heat the oven to about 150 Celsius. If, like me, you have an audience who will eat the galettes as fast as you can make them, and if you prefer to eat at the same time as those you’re cooking for, this is a useful trick – wait until about a short while before you want to serve the already-filled galettes, slip them into the oven for 10 minutes and they will be piping hot, as if they came straight from the pan, when they arrive at the table.
I have an entire book filled with recipes for galette fillings and the options are endless. Here are three surefire favourites that Monsieur and I enjoy, not just on Shrove Tuesday:
- The Classic Complète. Place thin slices of ham (honey roast is delicious if available) to cover half of the galette. Crack an egg on top and allow it to start to heat through, but don’t leave it so long that the galette burns. It can always continue to cook a little once in the oven. Sprinkle with grated cheese, and/or a little parmesan. Grind black pepper over the whole and close. When in half-moon shape, i.e. the fillings are covered by pancake, flip to ensure the egg gets heat from both sides. If you’d like to be a little more ambitious with the presentation, place all the ingredients at the centre of the galette, leaving about 5 centimetres uncovered around the circumference. make sure the egg is situated as close to the centre of the galette as possible. Fold in 4 edges, leaving the egg exposed but creating a roughly square shape. Serve.
- The Neptune. Arrange slices of quality smoked salmon to cover half of the galette. Dollop three tablespoons of creme fraiche on top of the salmon and spread. Sprinkle chopped chives (dill also works beautifully here) and a little parmesan cheese over all. Close as the salmon’s colour starts to turn pale but before the galette edges start to curl.
- The Vegetarian Italian. Put thin slices of mozzarella around half of the galette, dot with 5 or 6 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half. Sprinkle with parmesan and chopped or torn fresh basil leaves. You have to keep an eye on this one because if you leave it in the pan for too long the tomato juice will make it soggy and difficult to flip. One solution, if you have time, is to use regular slicing tomatoes and remove the juicy flesh and seeds beforehand.
Sweet pancakes are usually called crêpes in France, to distinguish them from the savoury galettes. To cheat for this type I used the following pre-made version, also from Ocado, although most supermarkets in the UK offer something similar:
Once again, they come in packs of 6. I am a complete traditionalist when it comes to sweet pancakes. If at all possible, Monsieur will do the French thing and fill his with Nutella, but I prefer to keep it simple:
As for the galettes, heat a knob of butter in the pan and place the crêpe darker side down in the pan. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of sugar across one half of the crêpe, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the sugar, add a dash or two of cinnamon, fold in half and serve. An optional extra might be a squirt of chantilly or a scoop of proper vanilla ice cream. If I weren’t so convinced I’d set my head alight, I might attempt Crêpes Suzettes, but for the moment I leave that to the experts in restaurants like Les Halles, where they’re so practised that I couldn’t hope to compete.
One of our favourite weekend brunches consists of eggs Benedict. Monsieur positively demolishes them and insists on eating eggs Benedict when we’re out of town, just to compare and contrast with what he gets at home. Most of the time my eggs win the draw, however I cheat 100% when I make them; it’s more of a combination of heat and assembly than true cooking. I don’t make my own muffins, nor do I make my own hollandaise sauce from scratch. I just source the best components possible, most of which can dangerously be found within our postcode.
First up – choosing the muffins. To avoid confusion, these must be English muffins, as fat as you can find. The supermarket variety tend not to have a particularly good consistency for the support of a poached egg. Use them with your eggs Benny and I promise you, you will regret it. Here speaks the voice of experience. Seek out a good artisan baker instead and buy their English muffins. The best ones are about 2 inches thick. Slice in half and toast until just golden brown.
Eggs may well be eggs but happy chooks make tastier ones. Go for large free range organic everything. You will definitely taste the difference.
I admit to being a messy poached egg maker on the best of days. No matter that I use white wine vinegar in the water or make a whirlpool before dropping the egg into the water, I get stringy whites everywhere, so I use Kitchen Cheat devices to make my eggs presentable. There are various kinds. Don’t go for the non-stick black metal ones; I’ve found that over time their non-stick coating comes off with the heat of the water and colours the eggs an unappetising grey. No one wants to eat grey eggs, even if they are hidden by fish and sauce. Try something like these silicon Poach Pods, which I found at Lakeland:
At £4.99 each, they’re worth it for the perfect egg shape to fit atop the toasted muffin. Zero skill required apart from knowing how to boil the water and crack an egg.
Smoked salmon is central to the success of eggs Benedict. Spending a little more than your average supermarket price on this key ingredient will pay dividends. Go for the best Scottish smoked salmon that you can afford (or Norwegian, if available). Stick to the traditional type – no fancy beetroot marinades or similar varieties because they’ll interfere with the flavours.
Have you ever tried to make home-made Hollandaise sauce? It’s an exercise in patience, trial and error. Personally, I don’t have time to make my own. Cheating once more I’ve tried various Hollandaise sauces and find that although the Maille brand is good, Mary Berry’s version is much better in both flavour and consistency, and if you happen to be in a good deli where they make their own, try theirs. No need to worry about curdling.
Have the oven on so that you can pop the eggs and muffins inside to keep them warm on their plates while you heat the sauce, which should only be done at the very last minute because it cools quickly, ruining the consistency. When it’s loose and ready to pour, whip out the plates, top the eggs with a neat criss cross of smoked salmon and pour the sauce across the smoked salmon. A sprig of dill popped on top completes the picture. Eat immediately.
I quite like a dollop of creme fraiche on the side to help cut through some of the vinegary tang of the Hollandaise, and to make it look less anaemic sitting there on its lonesome, I might add a spoonful of salmon ‘caviar’. Monsieur, being a traditionalist, thinks this is unnecessary and declines the additions. It’s a question of taste, I suppose.
Some trivia for you: you probably already know that Eggs Benedict is traditionally served with ham. When smoked salmon is substituted for the ham this dish becomes Eggs Royale, and across the pond it may be called Eggs Atlantic or Eggs Hemingway. I quite like that. Eggs Hemingway.
All the talk about beans on the London Bloggers network recently made me do some odd things. Well, odd for most people but probably quite normal for me. This includes taking photographs of BEANS in a French supermarket, planning extra beans into our weekly diet (they’re very good for you – slow energy release), checking the glycemic index of beans (mostly somewhere in the 30s but BROAD beans are naughty with 79) and opening a certain kitchen cupboard door to gaze longingly at our emergency stash of ready-to-go French flageolets…
The bean talk also brought to mind a little Epicurienne anecdote, which hopefully will amuse.
It’s no secret that the French love to believe that English food is little better than pig swill. In fact, I recently fought hard to defend the cuisine of Old Blighty in a family ‘discussion’ in France. Contrary to French belief, England’s positive attitude to food has skyrocketed since I moved here 16 years ago. We have fantastic ingredients at our disposal, the media has helped increase public interest in what they’re cooking and eating, we can enjoy a different ethnic cuisine every night of the month if we feel like it and regional flavours are enjoying the support of increasing numbers of farmers’ markets and eateries that favour local produce. Certainly, it’s still easy to find pork pies filled with more gelatine than pork, and if you’re not careful, you’ll come home from the supermarket with a bag full of tomatoes that taste of cardboard (that’s why you’ll find me sniffing tomatoes in the aisles – more perfume equals more flavour), but it really isn’t fair to say that the English don’t know how to eat and in my experience it remains hard work trying to convince the French otherwise.
So when I was stopped at the X-ray machine at Eurostar in the Gare du Nord I was interested to see which product from a French supermarket shopping binge had piqued the interest of the two uniformed guards now glaring at me with suspicion. You see, there really wasn’t much in my suitcase apart from food and on unzipping the case it was obvious that Monsieur and I had enjoyed our recent trip to the supermarket. Out spilled our favourite soaps and packs of spaetzle, half a dozen bottles of persillade, delicious wine vinegars and various other items that are either hard to find (albeit not impossible) or over-the-top expensive to buy on the other side of the channel. Then they spotted the food criminal that had caused them concern.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” asked one, rattling a box of mogettes – a white bean which is popular in the Vendée region of France.
“They’re mogettes.” I replied
“What?” asked the uniform,
“Mogettes,” I answered.
Uniform 1 turned to Uniform 2.
“Do you know zese sings?” he asked his colleague.
“Yes, zey’re delicious. Some of ze best beans in France.” he said, nodding sagely. Then the uniforms turned back to me.
“What we want to know is ‘ow YOU English know about zese beans.” Ah. So I’d confused them. I wasn’t French yet I knew more about a regional French bean than a certain uniformed Frenchman. What an enigma. Perhaps now they’d realise that Anglo Saxon(e)s CAN cook and DO care about their food. Then again, perhaps they were going to arrest me for attempting to remove a French food treasure from their country. Two pairs of eyes narrowed as they focussed on me. It was obvious that they were confused to find that someone living in England actually liked to cook.
“My father-in-law is French and he introduced me to them. I saw them in the supermarket and thought I’d take some home.”
“Ah, yes. Of course. Because in England ze food is so bad.” Uniform 2 was laughing now. “So you have to come to France to buy REAL food. Hahaha.” That wasn’t quite accurate, although I wasn’t about to argue with two men carrying guns.
During the course of the examination of my mogettes quite a queue had built up behind us, but the uniforms didn’t care. They were now interested in how I was going to cook my mogettes.
“My father-in-law said I should soak them overnight and then cook them with a bouquet garni, a little onion and some carrots. I’ll probably serve them with chicken or duck.”
“Ah, yes.” Uniform 2 was practically dribbling. “I love ze mogettes.”
“So why ‘ave I not ‘eard of zem?” asked Uniform 1. “You say you can buy zem in ze supermarket?” he asked me. Suddenly, the ‘ENGLISH’ was the expert on French beans instead of a suspected terrorist with explosive in her shopping.
“Yes,” I said, trying to zip up my bag and make way for the grumbling travellers behind me, “You can buy them in the supermarket.”
As I walked away from the Uniforms, they were still discussing mogettes, which just goes to show that even though the prevalent French attitude to English eating habits needs some correcting, it’s true when they say that if you want to enjoy a really passionate discussion in France, just start talking about food. And hopefully now there exist at least two more Frenchmen who know that sometimes, just sometimes, those folk across La Manche might know a bit more than just their onions when it comes to food.
Tonight is Burns Night, the celebration of the birthday of Scotland’s favourite poet, Robert Burns. (To learn more about Burns Night, see my previous post, here.) To prepare us for this important event, Qype arranged a wonderful evening for Qypers, at Salt Bar in London’s Marble Arch. There, we were to taste three single malt whiskies, courtesy of Talisker, one of the proud single malt whisky labels owned by drinks giant, Diageo.
Needless to say, what with escaping the demands of work and dealing with slow public transport, I was late. I missed the piper who piped beautiful Scottish sounds into this Edgware Road bar. I missed the Address to a Haggis, with sharpened dirk ready to slice into the swollen ball that is a haggis. I missed the smoked salmon blinis that accompanied the Talisker 10 Year Old. But that was all. In true Epicurienne style, and knowing already a thing or two about Burns Night, I caught up quickly once I arrived.
As I entered the ground floor space at Salt Bar I noticed that it was filled with a great many pairs of eyes fixed on a man called Colin. Ah, my fellow Qypers. What a gluttonous bunch we are. Mention food, whisky, cocktails or something else worthy of placing in one’s mouth and you have our full attention. I knew I was in the right place.
Jo from Grayling sped the second whisky of three across to me as I tentatively encroached on the otherwise full bar. You see, Colin was in full swing. Our whisky coach for the evening, he was expounding on the virtues of Talisker. Right now we were sipping on drams of Talisker Distiller’s Edition – a delightful mouthful of deep sm0kiness. Colin told us that it had tones of Muscatel, dates and stewed fruits. All I could taste was a whisky-imbued smokehouse. As I like smoked fish, smoked cheese, smoked ham – this was a very good way to start the evening for this particular latecomer, but I obviously need to work on my whisky palate.
As my fellow Qypers tucked into beautifully-presented rounds of haggis layered with neeps and tatties, I headed once more for Grayling P.R.’s Jo Seymour-Taylor.
“I was late, I know. I’m sorry about that. But do you think I could try the first Talisker? Just so that I can compare.” I asked.
Jo was charm personified, whizzing off to the bar to find me a dram of the whisky I’d missed. When she returned, I sipped on the Talisker Ten Year Old, and sighed.
“It’s very good, a bit salty, still smoky…” I told her, “but the Distiller’s Edition has spoilt me. I enjoyed it so much that this now doesn’t seem half as wonderful as it would without comparison.” Impractical though it may be, I’ve always had expensive tastes.
Jo smiled at my honesty, turning to introduce me to a surprise – the calligrapher named Paul. There he sat, patient with pen and ink as he inscribed hardback notebook after notebook for every guest.
“What’s your name?” he asked, and so I told him, and a few minutes later, my notebook lay amongst the others left to dry. What a superb touch, I thought. To invite people who like to write to an event and then to give them something in which to write! That’s what I call consideration of your audience.
Next, I was introduced to Colin, our expert for the evening. I explained I’d arrived late as I’d had to cross town and he simply replied “shall I teach you how to taste whisky, then?”
I held my glass of the third and final Talisker for the evening - Talisker 57 degrees North, named for the location of the distillery and also its alcohol content (ouch), and followed Colin’s instructions. I placed my hand over the glass and swilled it in circles. Lifting my hand I sniffed and oh my sainted trousers, what an aroma there was now, thanks to all that swilling releasing fumes enough to entice a pack of single-malt – loving hounds from across the nearest three neighbourhoods.
“Now sip, but do not swallow.” Colin was a firm tasting master.
“Move the whisky around your mouth for fourteen seconds.” We counted. Obviously my counting was done in my head, lest I spurt good single malt across my new friends.
“When you get close to fourteen, the flavours will explode in your mouth,” Colin told me. And so they did. It was veritably difficult to hold it in without becoming a human fountain of whisky, but the increase in flavours was worth the heat now pervading my mouth.
“I taste everything like this,” Colin admitted, “Whisky, wine, spirits. This is how you find the true taste of a drink.” Well, I’m a convert. That Talisker 57 Degrees North was something else. It wasn’t exactly sweet, nor was it as robust as the first Talisker of the evening, nor as smoky as the second. Yet there remained hints of smokiness with a touch of peat and citrus. Ah, the citrus was what paired it so well with the final solids of the evening: chocolate mousse, elegantly served in flutes.
Colin was not done with me yet, though.
“Pour a little of the whisky onto the mousse,” he suggested, and I did so obediently. The next mouthful of smooth chocolate had a heady enhancement of whisky. And why not? My mother makes fabulous chocolate mousse laced with Cointreau. Single malt fabulosity drizzled on chocolate mousse was not something I’d tried before, yet it tasted oh so very right. Thank you, Colin. I’m now hooked on chocolate mousse with whisky. How’s that for a new vice?
The next person with whom I chatted was the manager of Salt Bar, an amiable chap called Vansi Putta. We marvelled together at the display of whisky bottles around the bar. Some names were familiar: Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, Laphroaig, Cragganmore and Dalwhinnie. Others, made me smile with their funny Scottish names, especially Knockando!!
Vansi explained that Salt Bar has a whisky specialism, and they even provide Whisky Tours. For instance, for £25.00 you can go from the Highlands (Clynelish 14 yrs) to the Lowlands (Auchentoshan 10 yrs) to Campbelltown (Springbank 10 yrs) and Islay (Caol Ila 12 yrs) via none other than Speyside (Macallan 10 yrs fine oak).
If you want to go international, you can try Glenfiddich Solaro Reserve from Scotland, Bushmills 3 Wood 16 years from Ireland, Suntory Yamazaki 18 years from Japan, Monkey Shoulder vatted malt and a good ol’ Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel from the States. That will set you back a cool £35.00 a head, but oh, what a journey.
By now I just had time for one of the Talisker cocktails on offer, so chose the Cool Walker. The recipe goes like this:
40 ml Talisker 10 yrs old
15 ml Drambuie
10 ml Lime Juice
10 ml Gomme
Add ingredients to Boston Glass, shake and strain into highball glass filled with ice. Top with ginger ale.
My, if I’d enjoyed the Talisker drams of earlier, this was a very pleasant surprise. I’d just been telling Colin how my parents have always recommended taking single malt neat, to get the true flavour. But here was a cocktail made with a single malt and it was refreshing enough to drink in summer. So perhaps from now on I won’t view whisky as a drink for the snow days.
On the way out, the guests all received a goodie bag, filled with Talisker treats. There was a small bottle of Talisker 10 Year Old, a Talisker tumbler in which to drink our Talisker, the beautifully inscribed notebook and…
a book to help us celebrate Burns Night in true Scottish style by Burns Night expert, Clark McGinn, who’d earlier read the Address to A Haggis and proffered his dirk:
So, with at least fifty per cent of me coming from The Land of Wee Kilties, tonight I’ll have me a wee haggis, a wee tumbler filled wi’ a wee dram o’ Talisker, and a few mouthfuls of neeps and tatties. But in the interests of keeping my waistline, I might pass on the choccy mousse and save it for special occasions.
Happy Burns Night to you ALL!!!
It’s a bad day in the Epicurienne household if we run out of lemons. Monsieur and I use them for just about everything – squeezed over salads, in sauces for fish and seafood, in lemony vinaigrettes, on spaetzle, on roast potatoes… So imagine my delight on finding gigantic lemons in Italy!
The first time I saw such mammoth citrus was on walking to the car after a steamy day spent exploring the ruins of Pompeii. “eeee” I squeaked, in a fit of excitement, causing Monsieur to stop abruptly. He thought I’d been stung by one of the many wasps hanging around that day. Nothing so painful, I’d simply spied a fruit stand selling the biggest lemons I’d ever seen in my entire life.
To give you some idea of what we’re talking about, the two crates on the bottom right of the photo contain lemons of about five to six inches in length.
“Let’s take some home!” I suggested to Monsieur,
“No,” came his firm reply, “they’re too heavy.” and I’d regretted it ever since.
Then in January, I visited a Taormina grocer to stock up on packs of South Italian herb mixes. On the fruit and veg stand outside the shop were huge artichokes, fire engine red tomatoes, chilli plants and the massive lemons I’d seen at Pompeii, only even larger.
Monsieur wasn’t with me and therefore couldn’t say no. I bought two to take home. As long as it was in my luggage, he’d have nothing to complain about.
In fact, these gargantuan citrus fruit are known as ‘CITRON’ with the most ancient evidence of its existence being seeds found at Mesopotamian sites. Alexander the Great and his army reputedly aided the distribution of this citrus, as did the Romans who sent bushels of the fruit to China as a gift in the 4th Century AD. It’s around the same era that cultivation of the fruit on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily was first recorded.
At home, I carefully unpacked my giant yellow fruit with pride. They were surprisingly light, given their size, something to do with the fact that once open, they’re mostly white pith, with very little flesh.
(Citron on the right with regular lemon on the left to give idea of size)
Unfortunately, my darling citrons had not survived the flight in great shape; they now had a light dusting of white mould, but that wasn’t going to stop me from having fun. After all, I love cheese and cheese is mould.
And so, I chopped them open. The fleshy part was only the size of a regular lemon. The rest of the interior was white pith, but according to my research, this was edible white pith. The flesh was sweeter than a regular lemon, gladly lacking in eye-stinging sharpness. No wonder some folk eat the citron like a grapefruit.
In Sicily, citron are often candied, used to decorate cannoli and other sweets. They can also be added to ricotta cakes or made into marmalades. But the recipe I love best is for Citron Salad.
Remove the outer yellow peel from the citron, then chop the fruit into chunks. Place in a bowl and toss with a sprinkling of salt. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.
(You can prepare oranges in the same fashion for an equally refreshing salad. )
For a variation, once the lemon chunks have been tossed with the salt and olive oil, dollop them onto a bed of watercress, sprinkle with pine nuts and serve. The sweet lemon taste goes so well with the bite of watercress, and the pine nuts add a subtle quality of taste and texture.
Now all I have to do is work out how to get citrons in London. If you know, please leave me a comment.