On our usual Saturday trip to the farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago, I was over the moon as something really large, round’ish and pale yellow blinked at me from one of the large displays of beautyful produce. Since our summer this year, with the exception of 3 horrendously intense heatwaves of 2-3 days each, was cold and wet enough for most of our regional yumtastic mushrooms to start shooting up 2 months early, I half expected those pretty-in-yellow balls roughly the size of my head to be early quinces. Quinces are one of those seasonal things, like asparagus, I look forward to all year in a ticking-days-off-the-calendar-kind of way, I simply love them.
So, tunnel-vision zeroing in on what I thought were quinces, almost loosing a slightly confused hubby in the early morning market hubbub, I made a beeline for said yellow pile. As we got closer to that particular stand however, the light breeze wasn’t carrying the sweet aroma of ripe quinces. Instead, we stepped into a lemony cloud of heaven! Torn between disappontment – how dare they not be quinces! – and intrigue – how on earth did these lemons manage to grow so ridiculously big? – I simply stared at them for a couple of seconds. One of the vendors sauntered over with a knowing smile on her face. „Yes, these are lemons. No, they weren’t growing near a nuclear reactor. These are Cedri lemons, we grow them ourselves on our farm in Calabria. Want a slice?“ Not as opposed to having a slice of lemon before my morning coffee really kicked in as one might expect, I took her offer. Instead of handing me a lemon segment however, I found myself holding on to a slice of… pith? My thoughts on that matter must have shown, since she burst out laughing. „I’m not trying to curdle your stomach, try. These lemons are all about the zest and pith, trust me.“ After a seriously unexpected chewy-lemon-fudge-like experience and a couple of serving tips, I picked up two giant lemons and went my merry way, looking forward to welcome a new guest in my kitchen.
As you can see, the woman wasn’t kidding when she told me there wasn’t much of a lemon to speak of inside – the miniature bulb of lemon segments basically consistet of… seeds. A whole lot of them, and they brought their friends and family with them~
Aaand there went my idea for a dish along the lines of a lemon and lamb tajine. Luckily, I remembered the vendor talking about turning the thing into a lemon carpaccio and serving it with something cheese-related or with a meaty topping as a starter. This little starter or amuse bouche, if you will, is one of the two little dishes I came up with on a whim after watching my carefully laid out dinner plans poofing out of existence – hence the „part 1“ of the cedri… „experience“. The second part, also a starter, will be coming your way in a little while!
Anyways, after rummaging through the depths of my fridge, looking for ways to salvage the halfway-through lemon-massacre, I unearthed a couple of creamy goat’s cheese rounds and a bunch of lettuce leaves and went to battle the remains of the „lemon“ in front of me. This is what came out of it~
The Goat’s Cheese & Cedri Lemon Spoons
For 4 servings you’ll need…
4 Rounds of mild, soft Goat’s Cheese
1 Tbsp Chilli Oil
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
4 very thin Slices of Cedri Lemon, segments and seeds removed
1 Tsp Honey
1 Tsp Lemon Juice
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Sprig of Thyme, leaves picked and stem discarded
5-6 Lavender Blossoms
1 small Clove of Garlic, finely chopped
1 Pinch each of Salt and freshly cracked Black Pepper
2 Tsp Pine Nuts, lightly toasted, to garnish
1) Set a small pan onto medium-low heat and add the oil and lemon juice.
2) As the oil is warming up, add the honey and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
3) Set a couple of thyme leaves aside to doll up the bites later and send the rest swimming in the oil along with the lavender blossoms, garlic and pepper.
4) Leave the oil to infuse for 10 min.
5) Once that’s done, set the pan aside and let the oil cool down to room temperature.
6) Arrange the lemon slices in a deep dish – if possible, try to fit them in in one layer to make sure they all soak up the same amount of the marinade.
7) Have a whiff of the oil or a few drops on a cube of bread to taste-test it – this will help you decide which of the swimmers you want to fish out and which ones should stay in the oil a while longer. I’d advise you to remove the garlic and keep around ½ of the lavender blossoms, pepper bits and thyme leaves in the marinade.
8) Carefully pick out a spot in your dish holding the slices, preferably somewhere around the middle of the dish – a spot not covered with a lemon, that is. Aim for that spot, oil in hand, and pour the oil into the dish using your designated target as the epicenter of the ensuing oil tsunami. Make sure not to splash the lemon slices with random splotches of oil… Here’s the why of it – and the reason for the fussy dish method:
When I marinated…well, tried to marinate my first batch, I went all business as usual – finely sliced them, haphazardly spread them out in a wide bowl and unceremoniously dumped the marinade on top, pastry brush at the ready in order to distribute the marinade evenly. Well. About the exact time the oil hit the lemons… there was no oil, no marinade to give the brush something to do… just a bunch of leaves, blossoms and specks of pepper lying scattered on a couple of unsightly yellow oil blots and dots marking the spots where the pith had instantly soaked up the marinade. Interestingly enough, the oil didn’t spread as much as a hair’s breadth either, excess liquid only started seeping out after around 10 mins of giving the stuff my most potent annoyed stare… after I binned that round, I went with the obvious second option – I poured the marinade into a square container and dipped the next batch of slices lengthwise into it as fast as I could. This one worked better, but it left me rather flustered and still annoyed. So I tried the indirect oil bath method I described above. Third time’s a charm, as they say!
9) Once the marinade is in the dish, give it a gentle shake from side to side to distribute the marinade around the slices, cover the dish with clingfilm and set it aside for around an hour.
10) If you want to give the fancy looking lemon curls a try, twist and curl them up with your fingers until you’re satisfied with their shape and give the spots you want them to stick together a hearty pinch. If the slices are resisting your efforts, put your fingernails to work to emphasize your point~
The 8-shaped curl in my pics needed to be pinned down with the crunchy stem of one of my lettuce leaves to give up it’s antics, but once I had it pierced with a toothpick to thread the stem though, it held together perfectly. The stem also served as the means to secure the curl onto the cheese disk – the point of the lemon cone took care of that issue on the other spoon.
11) If you don’t feel like fussing around, simply cut the slices into pieces fitting onto the surface of the cheese disks. Whichever road you intend to go down with the toppings, get them ready and keep them in easy reach.
12) As serving time approaches, brush the cheese rounds with the chilli oil.
13) Place the cheese disks on serving spoons or small plates and sprinkle them with the brown sugar on every exposed surface.
14) Fire up a crème brûlée torch or something of the sort and put it to work caramelizing the sugar coat around the cheese.
15) Be quick at this point, the longer the sugar stays on the cheese without being torched, the more time it has to soak up the moisture off of the cheese’s surface, which will make it hard, bordering impossible, to turn it into a crunchy coat.
16) Arrange the lemon slices on top.
17) Dip the lettuce into the remaining marinade and place a few leaves on each serving.
18) Garnish the portions with a couple of toasted pine nuts and thyme leaves just before serving.
I hope you guys enjoy this one, seeing as you’re basically keeping me company during one of my impromptu experiments! Part #2 of this get-to-know-cedri-lemons experience will be a little less showy but just as yumlicious! See you soon~!