Cooking with lemons
“If you take a normal lemon, there’s no perfume to it, it’s just sour.”Lukas Pfaff, head chef Sartoria
You see, while to the rest of us a lemon might seem to be just that, for Lukas there are lemons and lemons. Leaping up, he disappears for a moment and returns to hand me one, which I duly photograph [see picture, below]. The lemon in my hand has a stalk still attached, is unwaxed and has nobbly skin – the difference between it and the lemons in a supermarket near you is that it is an Amalfi lemon.
Amalfi lemons are grown on the hills of Campania in southern Italy. Unwaxed and often with their leaves still attached, they are deeply perfumed and juicy with slightly bitter pith and skin full of pungent, lemony oil. “If you take a normal lemon, there’s no perfume to it, it’s just sour,” explains Lukas.
He uses Amalfi lemons to make his gloriously soft and creamy lemon sorbet (although there is no cream involved, just sugar, water, lemon and a little egg white). This is only the start of my re-education, however, as Lukas disappears again to return with thick “fingers” of jewel-bright candied peel, partially dipped in Amedei dark chocolate. For these he has used a different type of lemon, called cedro.
Cedro lemons come from Sicily and are massive with very thick pith, so are perfect for making candied peel. In her Oxford Companion to Italian Food, Gillian Riley explains that the peel of the cedro is “nobbly, ridged and highly perfumed, reminiscent of the cedars of Lebanon, hence the name cedro”.
Lukas won’t share with me (or, I suspect, anyone) his recipe for this soft, candied peel. He will reveal only that it takes about three days to make and he found the recipe in Italy, where it is “a very old craft”.
Turning later to Riley I find that although Italians are familiar with a number of their homegrown varieties of lemon, we here in the UK are generally clueless; ever heard of the cedrone from Calabria, the cedratello of Florence, the cucurbitato, cornuto, coststo or striato?
No, me either, but I’m developing a newfound interest.
For the Diamond Jubilee, Lukas has created a special Rule Br-Italia menu of English dishes with an Italian twist.
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