Well, quite literally, I love to cook with lemons. I can't help but squeeze a bit of lemon into most dishes. They bring back sunny memories of lovely family holidays in Italy. We ate gorgeous, bright, seasonal food and drank lots of limoncello. Really lemons are the taste of the Mediterranean for me!
Lemons not only provide the freshest of smells, have a beautiful colour and sight as they ripen but contain a high amount of vitamin C, soluble fiber, and plant compounds that give them a number of health benefits. Lemons may aid weight loss and reduce your risk of heart disease, anemia, kidney stones, digestive issues, and cancer.
Lemon water in the morning kickstarts your metabolism, digestive system, and helps your kidneys flush out toxins. Lemon juice is antibacterial, antiviral, and immune boosting.
Lemons are rarely eaten raw but are used to flavour many sweet and savoury dishes. We love using them in salad dressings and they are used in sauces or as an accompaniment to fish and poultry. Lemons are also used in baking and desserts to provide a light, fresh flavour. Nothing beats a lemon drizzle cake! We have preserved our own lemons over the years and these transform a regular dish of oven roasted chicken for example, into a whole Mediterranean taste experience!
Chatting to Bruce McMichael, The Lemon Grove he told me why he loves lemons…
“Open just about any recipe or cookbook and you’ll find a long list of ideas how to use lemons. Beautiful Braised lemon chicken; lemon drizzle cake or a Lemon Drop cocktail are just for starters.
Scratch the skin and you’ll get a spray of fresh, Mediterranean floral tang that lifts so many dishes, cuts through fatty textures to brighten up meat dishes and brings that same freshness to vegetarian dishes such asparagus or a lemon and fennel pasta. Lemons are acidic and is used in Mexico and Peru to ‘cook’ raw fish and seafood ceviche, while in Italy the classic lemon and ricotta pie known as Miglaccio which is popular in cities such as Naples ahead of Lent. Almost every part of the fruit can be used in cooking from its zest, skin for marmalade or candied fruit, and it juices for livening up salads and so many dishes. It’s deliciously versatile.
Lemons are at their best during the first few months of the year with the fruit growing across the groves in Italy particularly Italy’s Sicily and the beautiful Amalfi coast. I like slicing them up to add some flavour to my water, or steeping them in hot water for a cleansing tea.
My go to recipes are risottos and I love spritzing fresh fruit over the rice. There are endless possibilities with risotto, dressing for a main course or a side dish.
Here’ a really simple recipe for a quick salad dressing. The amount of ingredients you use is up to your personal tastes but perhaps start with the zest and juice of a whole lemon, a tablespoon of good quality olive oil, for example extra virgin, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard (with seeds or without depending on your personal preference and half a teaspoon of a runny honey. Give it a good stir and season. Add more of any of the three main ingredients to taste. Drizzle over bitter salad leaves such as chicory or radicchio, or to brighten up a tomato and feta salad.”
When freezing whole lemons, keep them in a food-safe plastic bag, with as little air as possible. Always wash lemons thoroughly before stashing them away in your freezer. You can also freeze lemon slices to add a spritz of lemon juice to drinks or dishes.
Lemons are best kept in the fridge. Kept in the fridge in the vegetable drawer or on a shelf, fresh lemons will keep for a week or more. If you really want your lemons to last, pop them in a sealed container or a zip-top bag.
I was bought a beautiful lemon tree a few years ago and have loved growing my own fruit even if there are only enough to slice for a gin and tonic! Since then I have given them to friends and family as a little reminder of sunshine in the darker months.
Sometimes these lemons are a little ‘bullet like’… a simple trick: is to put your citrus in the microwave. The fruit will be easier to squeeze and the process will reap more juice for whatever you're cooking up. This works on all citrus that you would juice: Think lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits.To get the most of your squeeze, microwave your fruit for 10 - 30 seconds (larger fruit needs more time). Remove the fruit and allow it to cool for about a minute or so. Then, slice the fruit in half and use a juicer or just your hands to press out every last drop.