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Love Those Lemons

October 02, 2002|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Is there a cook alive who doesn't love lemon?

One squeeze and it elevates a thyme vinaigrette, transforming a fall salad.

Lemon curd captures the essence of the fruit, the intense combination of zest and juice brightening a rich base made with eggs and butter. It's a simple formula--but nothing else packs the same silky punch, whether the lemon curd is spread on pound cake, scones or muffins, or folded into whipped-cream toppings and vanilla puddings.

And for those who really worship lemon there's the Baked Alaska Lemon, a light dessert that uses the lemon shell as a container for lemon sorbet and is topped with swirl of meringue. It's a refreshing conclusion to a meal, quick and easy and make-ahead.

Looks great too.

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Arugula and Spinach Salad With Pears

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 25 minutes

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 firm ripe Anjou pear, split lengthwise, cored, cut into long thin slices

2 cups packed baby arugula, chilled

2 cups packed spinach leaves, chilled

2/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola

Place the honey, lemon juice, shallot, oil, thyme, salt and pepper to taste in a small dish. Stir well. (This can be made several hours ahead and kept at room temperature.)

To serve, toss the pear slices in 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette; set aside. Place the arugula and spinach in a large bowl. Add the remaining vinaigrette to the bowl. Gently toss until the leaves are coated. Add all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Toss to mix. Taste; adjust the seasoning. Divide the salad among 4 chilled plates; mound attractively. Arrange the pear slices on the greens and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Serve immediately.

4 servings. Each serving: 302 calories; 654 mg sodium; 21 mg cholesterol; 22 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 19 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 3.14 grams fiber.

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Fresh Lemon Curd

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 20 minutes, plus 8 hours chilling

Zest of 2 lemons, removed in thin strips with sharp swivel-bladed vegetable peeler

3/4 cup sugar

2/3 cup lemon juice

3 eggs, room temperature

2 egg yolks, room temperature

6 tablespoons butter, melted

Place the zest and sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the zest is minced, about 20 seconds.

Place the sugar mixture, lemon juice, eggs, egg yolks and butter in a heavy-bottomed, non-aluminum saucepan. Use a whisk to mix until smooth. Cook over medium-low heat, using a wooden spoon to stir constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat a spoon but does not come to a boil, about 8 to 9 minutes.

Immediately transfer the curd to a fine-mesh strainer. Strain, place plastic wrap on the surface of the curd, cool completely and refrigerate, covered airtight. (This can be kept up to 3 weeks, refrigerated. If curd becomes too thick, stir until flowing.)

About 16 servings (2 cups). Each serving: 101 calories; 59 mg sodium; 84 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.20 grams fiber.

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Baked Alaska Lemons

Active Work Time: 25 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour, plus 8 hours freezing

8 small lemons

1 pint lemon sorbet or gelato, slightly softened

3 egg whites, room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Cut a thin piece off the end of each lemon to make a flat base. Cut a 1/3-inch piece off the other end. Use a small, sharp paring knife and grapefruit spoon to scoop out the lemon flesh and make a clean shell. Freeze until solid, about 30 minutes.

Fill each with sorbet. Blot the cut edges of the rinds with a paper towel. Freeze until solid. (These can be kept a week ahead, covered airtight.)

Place a rack about 7 inches under the broiler element; heat the broiler.

Use a mixer to beat the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Spoon the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with star tip. Top each lemon with the meringue, dividing evenly. Make sure the meringue seals cut the edges of the lemon. Set the lemons on a baking sheet.

Broil until the meringue is singed, turning as necessary, about 30 to 60 seconds. Alternatively, use a propane torch. Freeze the lemons. (These can be kept frozen, loosely covered with plastic wrap, up to 5 days.)

To serve, let lemons rest at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.

8 servings. Each serving: 124 calories; 66 mg sodium; 24 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 29 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.25 grams fiber.

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