Few sights lift my spirits like a crate of lemons with their glossy leaves intact. They keep well, so I buy them by the dozen. I snap off their stems and sniff the cut ends as I pile them onto the platter set ceremoniously on the granite island. Lemons are just as much a part of my cooking as pepper and salt, but right now at the height of this winter season their bitingly fresh fragrance is more welcome than ever.
When I’m feeling a little under the weather a slice or two in a glass of hot water soothes my throat and warms me through and through. A squeeze of lemon is the foundation for a simple dressing made with nothing but olive oil and salt, whisked together until light and creamy and then tossed gently with assorted greens almost every night. Lemons are juiced into green-oil mayonnaise, instantly lightening its color and flavor and is a welcome addition on sandwiches, vegetables, both raw and cooked or as a binder for chicken and egg salad. Lemons find themselves accompanying a grilled pork chop, delicately poached fish, or roast chicken over crisped potatoes. A bit of juice with some white wine and a knob of butter can also make a quick, lovely pan sauce.
In my kitchen the lemon is used in all its forms. Used whole, especially at this time of year I enjoy using the slightly sweet tart Meyer variety in the making of preserved lemons. The bright yellow zest will find itself in almost everything from sweet to savory dishes, adding a fresh brightness and sweet fragrance that elevate a dish simply.
The pleasure of a pot of lemon curd cannot be overstated, the smell both piercingly clean and rich fills the kitchen. These are days that linger in my memory as much for the scent as for anything else. Lemon curd has the extraordinary quality of not only smelling bitingly fresh and soothingly buttery at the same time, but of tasting it too. It strikes the delicate balance of sweet and sour. The ratio of eggs, lemon, butter and sugar is crucial in achieving both astringency and sweetness, set and texture. This recipe fulfills on all levels and is incredibly simple to make as well.
Despite the delights to be had from spooning warm curd into buttery tartlet shells or layered into sweet pastry, I often eat it unceremoniously out of the container, spoon in hand. This is done almost exclusively when no one is watching. For a simple dessert it has found itself folded into softly whipped cream and layered as a trifle with fresh berries and store-bought pound cake. Its also heavenly slathered extravagantly on a delicate cream scone or a blueberry pancake.
If there was ever a moment to spend money on fine ingredients, then this is it. The most fragrant lemons, sweet farmhouse butter, and the freshest organic eggs will make a luscious canary-yellow curd that is head and shoulders above ones made with lesser ingredients. Expensive, yes. But then there are only four ingredients, and this is probably the day in the kitchen I enjoy above all others. ~s
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 5 lemons)
1 cup sugar
6 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel (from about 3 lemons)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Whisk the lemon juice, sugar, eggs, and lemon peel in a large stainless steel bowl to blend. Add the butter and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir constantly until the curd thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon lightly, about 5 minutes. Remove bowl from atop the saucepan and set it in a large bowl of ice water, whisking the curd until cooled and thickened. Strain curd into a container. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Makes 4 cups