Tag Archives: lemons

Taste of Sicilia

sicilia insalata_0001As we’re getting ready for a trip to Sicily, I was reading through a little travel journal I kept from a visit there eight years ago, when I went to research lemons. I came across this page with a tuna-lemon-olive oil salad with artichoke hearts and green beans that I made in a lemon orchard agriturismo above Sicily’s Lemon Riviera, on the eastern side of the island (we are going there again!). We usually had a kitchen in Sicily, so we could shop in the markets, and we ate some variation of this salad nearly every day we were there — and with tuna so good and produce so fresh and delicious, we never tired of it.

This salad (with variations) became a standard once we were home, too. You may have to substitute Meyer lemons or preserved lemons for the Sicilian lemon if you want to eat the lemon peel, but otherwise –except for the gorgeous views of Mount Etna and the Mediterranean — it translates well, especially in the spring.

tuna insalata

I’m sure we always had bread or breadsticks with “My Sicilian lemon insalata (good for il prazo–lunch–or antipasta). The bottom line reads: “good with Etna red or white, iced tea or lemonade.”


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Filed under salad, spring, Uncategorized, vegetables

Oh, marvelous citrus!


I have the great good fortune to be spending the month of January in Southern California, in the beach town of Carpinteria near Santa Barbara, where there are five farmers markets a week in a 20-mile radius. One of them, every Thursday, is just down the block! Having so many fresh fruits and vegetables is something of a miracle, but the seasonal highlight for me is always citrus.

Wherever you are this winter, unless you are a strict locavore, you can enjoy the wonder of citrus.


Oranges are at their best this time of year and it’s hard to go wrong with a nice juicy navel orange.


Fruit aficionado David Karp, who writes Market Watch for the L.A. Times, recently had this to say about mandarins. “Mandarins at their best are the noblest of citrus, with intense, complex aromatics and fascinating varietal identities,” he writes. We drove up to the farmers market in Ojai to find some tasty clementines and Lee mandarins from Friend’s Ranch and they are both delicious.


You probably won’t find Lee mandarins, but grocery stores are full of clementines, often marketed as “Cuties” or “Bee Sweet” or “Sweeties” or some other name. Another easy to find (and easy to peel “zipper skin”) mandarin is the Satsuma.

Blood orange, satsuma

Blood orange, Satsuma mandarin

Now, I know I’m usually talking about lemons, and for once I have enough to keep me going for awhile. I toured the Saticoy Lemon Association packing plant the other day and came away with a wonderful gift: a big box of lemons!


It’s a cliche, but I will be making lemonade — and more!

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Lemon pizza!!

As soon as I read about this “pizza with a twist,” I knew I had to try it. Lemons on pizza– what a natural for me, two of my favorite foods combined.  But would it really be as good as it looked?

This recipe for “Pizza Sorrentina” (created by a fourth-generation pizzaiola in Naples for her mother Rosaria, who loved lemons) in the Wall Street Journal, gives directions for a homestyle version of the Naples-style crust, using 00 (doppio zero) flour,  a very finely ground flour producing a tender and puffy crust. You bake it in an oven set to 550 degrees (pizza in Naples is baked in wood-fired ovens that reach 950 degrees).

I don’t usually use the 00 flour for pizza, but I happened to have some so I did something that I very rarely do and followed the recipe. I also never buy smoked mozzarella, but this time I did that too. And I soaked thin lemon slices in water for 15 minutes, just like the recipe said.

I have to say, this pizza was just terrific! Soaking the lemon slices meant that the peel was chewable, not hardened, and the sharp clean flavor of the lemons contrasted beautifully with the smoked cheese.

One of the three 8-inch pizzas, along with the salad, was a fine dinner for the two of us. But one very hungry person could probably eat the whole pizza.

Will I make it again? Sure, but I probably won’t follow the recipe to the letter next time. My regular pizza dough is a little different than this recipe, but I like it just as well.  And I might use a different cheese, or another herb besides basil (though the basil is very good). However, I’ll definitely keep the lemons and I’ll definitely soak the lemon slices!

Want to read more about pizza? My press, Reaktion, has Pizza: A Global History as part of its Edible Series. Did you know that pizza wasn’t really an “Italian” food outside of Naples until well after World War II?


Filed under baked goods, bread and pizza, fall, supper time

Soup season

Red pepper and onion soup, Luna Cafe, Summerland, Calif.

We’re in the thick of what I like to think of as soup season.

Of course, you can eat soup any time of the year–perhaps eating cold soups in the summer, or, as my father liked to do, eating hot soup as a first course for lunch or supper no matter what the weather. In my mother’s senior residence, they serve soup at every meal except breakfast — there are a lot of German-born folks who want soup all year round.

But I think the real heart of soup season, the time when soup stars as main and most appreciated course, is that extended wintry period between November and March, when the weather is cold, gloomy, stormy, snowy, rainy, foggy, cloudy, chilly. Then a hearty soup warms and soothes you like nothing else.

In late December, just before the record rainstorm hit Southern California, Steve and I had the pleasure of visiting Anna Thomas (of Vegetarian Epicure fame) in her home in Ojai. Anna’s most recent cookbook, Love Soup, won the prestigious James Beard award for “healthy focus.”

We ate some persimmons for dessert

Anna had a welcoming pot of green soup for us on the stove (which was decorated with a row of ripe persimmons).  We ate bowls of the lovely green soup (it had kale and white yams, onions and I’m not sure what else), topped with a drizzle of olive oil, some toasted pumpkin seeds and crumbles of feta cheese. Along with some multigrain bread, it was just the kind of meal we love. And we had slices of those persimmons for dessert.

In Love Soup, Anna writes about how she first devised green soup–a puree of kale, cilantro, potato and sauteed onions and garlic–in order to lose some holiday pounds one January. She soon was experimenting with all kinds of varieties–adding sauteed mushrooms, substituting yams for potatoes, using spinach or watercress or beet greens for the greens–and inviting friends over to share her discovery.

“I lost my holiday pounds, but the green soup became my steady,” she writes. “I’ve probably made forty or fifty different green soups over the past ten years. It’s a way of life now.”

I think of Anna Thomas as The Queen of Green.

For me, soup season includes my favorite version of green soup (parsley and potato, a recipe that my friend Peggy gave me years ago), as well as an earthy mushroom-barley soup, a velvety butternut squash soup, a sweet-and-sour cabbage-beet borscht, and many, many pots of that infinitely adaptable standby, minestrone….otherwise known as vegetable soup.

Sometimes I even open a cookbook and try something new. When I was testing out lemon recipes, I looked in Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, and tried the recipe for a Lebanese soup called Shorbet Adds bil Hamud, or “Lemony Spinach and Brown Lentil Soup.”  It was so good that it’s become a regular part of my repertoire. The greens brighten up the brown lentils and plenty of lemon juice gives a fresh lively flavor–a great combination.

Plus it’s simple to make. And fast — the lentils and diced potatoes cook in under half an hour, and you toss in the greens and have a nice nutritious and tasty bowl of soup ready before you know it.

Quick, uncomplicated, healthy, good-tasting. What else could you ask for in a soup? Oh, yes, it’s vegan as well.

Lebanese lentil soup with spinach and lemon

Lemony Lentil Soup

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup large brown or green lentils, washed
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced
  • 2 quarts water or stock
  • 1 pound fresh spinach or frozen leaf spinach, defrosted
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • Salt and pepper
  • Juice of 1 ½ medium lemons, or more, to taste

In a large pan, sauté the onions until soft and golden. Add the garlic and stir until it begins to color. Add the lentils and potatoes, and the water or stock and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

If using fresh spinach, wash the leaves and put them in a pan with the lid on—and only the water that clings to them—over low heat until the leaves collapse into a soft mass. Cut the cooked fresh or defrosted frozen spinach into thin ribbons. (Toby’s note: I just cut fresh spinach into shreds and toss it into the hot soup. Don’t cook too long or you’ll lose the bright green color.)

Add the spinach and cilantro to the soup and season with salt and pepper (another note: I sometimes also stir in some cumin). Stir well and add water, if necessary, if you wish a lighter consistency.

Cook a few minutes more and add lemons to taste (it should be nice and tangy) before serving.

Variation: For an alternative flavoring, fry 4 or 5 crushed garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil with 2 teaspoons ground coriander until the aroma rises. Stir this sauce, called takelya, into the soup just before serving.

Don't forget the lemon--it's essential!


Filed under fall, soup, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

Celebrate citrus

A box of citrus from California Citrus Specialties

Readers who know me know that I’m crazy about lemons, but I’d like to take this opportunity  to sing the praises of all kinds of citrus. Oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, limes, lemons, citron, kumquats…..

There’s a dazzling variety of citrus types, mainly because citrus hybridizes so easily. This happens naturally — human attempts to create citrus varieties have been less successful.

Buddha's Hand citron, Meyer lemon, common lemon, orange

Botanists say that only three types of citrus–citron, mandarin and pummelo —are the parents of all citrus trees in the world. So, for example, sweet oranges such as navels or Valencias, are hybrids of mandarin and pummelo. Lemon is an ancient hybrid with much genetic material from citron, Meyer lemon a natural hybrid of lemon and orange. Other citrus varieties are born of spontaneous natural mutations– for example, the Cara Cara Pink Navel, which was discovered on a branch of a tree in Venezuela.

Exotic varieties are exciting, to be sure, but there’s no need to go far afield to enjoy citrus.  A common orange, lemon or lime is itself extraordinary and wonderful. It wasn’t so long ago that people were delighted to discover oranges in their Christmas stockings.

Winter is prime citrus season, and how lucky we are to have all that terrific fresh citrus from California, available at reasonable prices in the grocery store.

This December, as I’m heading off for a few days in S. California citrus country, I’ve been reminding myself that a great dessert or snack is simply a peeled orange or mandarin.

But what about that lovely scented peel?

This is also the season to make really special treats, and earlier this week Aviva and I were getting together to make some traditional German lebkuchen — a kind of soft cookie with nuts, spices and candied citrus peel– that our family always had at Chanukah.

But before we could make the lebkuchen, I needed that candied citrus peel– and I knew that none was better than homemade. 

Years ago, my friend Cathy and I spent a delightful and memorable day making candied lemon peel. The results still needed some tweaking– and ever since that day, we have been exchanging recipes and samples.

This time, I used the recipe from Russ Parson’s book “How to Pick a Peach,” with about half the amount of fruit he uses (the smaller batch is a little less daunting, though probably also a little less practical). I’m in favor of using organic citrus for the recipe–for even though the peel is blanched and boiled, who wants even traces of fungicide in their candy?

Candied lemon and orange peel

My first experiment included both lemons and oranges, but it was a pain to peel the lemons, and the end product had a tougher texture than I wanted, so for the second batch, I just used oranges. However, later, I made another batch with fresher lemons–both common types and Meyer lemons–and both were not difficult to peel and came out great.

The candied peels were wonderful. For little gifts, I packed some up in parchment paper and foil.

Here’s the variation I used on Russ Parson’s recipe. Warning: this process takes awhile. A couple hours at least, start to finish.  But worth it. So worth it.

Candied citrus peel, adapted from Russ Parsons

2 ½ pounds of organic citrus (oranges, grapefruit are best)—about 3 very large oranges
2 ½ cups sugar
2 cups water

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until you have about two cups of thin syrup. This will take about an hour.

Meanwhile, score the skin of each citrus fruit in sections about two inches wide.  Cut through the skin but not into the fruit. Peel the fruit with your fingers. There will still be pith attached to the skin. Use the fruit for another purpose (such as eating while you’re making the candied peel).

Put all the sections of peel into a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, drain the peels and rinse briefly under cold water. Then blanch the peels in the same way two more times. After the third blanching, drain and rinse the peels under cold water.

Press excess water from the peels, and using a thin sharp knife, carefully remove as much pith as possible, until you can see the color of the skin.

Cut the peels into shreds, 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch wide.

Cover the shredded citrus peel with cold water and bring to a simmer. Cook until the peel loses its raw look, about 5 to 10 minutes. Drain but do not rinse the peel and transfer immediately to a large bowl. Cover the hot peel with the hot syrup and set aside for 1 hour to candy.

Heat the oven to warm. Place the remaining ½ cup of sugar in the bottom of another large bowl. Drain the candied peel, add it to the sugar and toss to coat well with sugar. Shake the sugar and transfer the peel to a wire cake rack, set over a cookie sheet to catch the sugar. Arrange the peel in a single layer. Place the rack and the pan in a warm oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the peel sit at room temperature to finish drying. Candied citrus peel will become firmer and chewier over time, so you can let it sit out overnight or for one, two or three days until it is just the way you like it. Store candied peel in an airtight container, such as a tin, for up to several months – if you can resist eating it for so long.


Filed under baked goods, dessert, fruit, Praise for other cooks, Uncategorized, winter