I think it would be very hard for me to cook without lemons – just a squeeze or two livens up almost any dish and gives it a cleanness of flavour which I value so much. I find it strange to think of lemons, like all citruses, as a winter fruit, because to me they sing of sunshine. And, given the changeable weather we've been having lately, any such semblance of summer is a real boon.
Seek out unwaxed lemons if you can – their pith tends to be creamier and more mellow in taste and their zest can be used in all sorts of desserts, cutting through richness with a delicious zing.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
So many people I know love lemon tart, the biscuity texture of pastry irresistible against the sharp bite of its thickened curd centre. I like to serve it with a dollop of crème fraîche – its sharpness works well against the tart – but you can use cream if you prefer. You will need a 20cm tart tin for this recipe.
Makes 8 slices
For the pastry
250g/8oz plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp icing sugar
140g/5oz chilled, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
A little iced water
For the filling
Finely grated zest of one lemon
The juice of 6 lemons
300g/10oz caster sugar
5 whole eggs plus 9 egg yolks
300g/10oz unsalted butter, cut into cubes
To make the pastry, pulse the flour, vanilla, sugar and butter in a food processor until you have the consistency of breadcrumbs, then add the egg and the iced water and pulse again until the mixture comes together into a ball. Remove, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill.
The dough is now ready to roll. Dust a work surface with flour, unwrap the pastry and lay in the centre. Take a rolling pin and place in the centre of the dough. Place both hands on either end of the pin and press down lightly so the dough flattens slightly. Now roll the pastry backwards and forwards and from side to side, alternating the movement until it flattens into a round disc no more than an eighth-of-an-inch thick. Take a 20cm tart tin, preferably with a removable bottom, and place the pastry over the top – I find this easiest if I lift the dough using a rolling pin. Press the pastry firmly into the sides of the tin using your thumbs, then prick the base with a fork and return to the fridge for a further 30 minutes.
While the pastry is chilling, make the filling. Place all the ingredients except the butter into a heavy-based pan large enough to comfortably hold all the ingredients. Whisk over the lowest heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add half the butter and continue to thicken, stirring all the time. Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, add the rest of the butter. Whisk for a further 10 minutes, by which time the mixture should be very thick. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Now set your oven to 180C/350F/ Gas4. Remove your pastry base from the fridge and line with parchment paper. Fill with baking beans then place in the centre of the oven and blind-bake for 20 minutes – it is important that the pastry is really brown. Remove from the oven and pour in the lemon mixture. Turn the oven up to 220C/425F/Gas7, return the tart to the middle shelf and bake for a further 8-10 minutes, by which time the tart should be seductively golden. Allow to cool to room temperature and serve.
These lemons are so easy to prepare and will last unrefridgerated for up to a year. Once they are well rinsed, they can be used in slow-cooked dishes, salads and all sorts of dressings.
1 large jar
10 unwaxed lemons
Enough coarse salt to pack the lemons tightly into the jar
Rinse the lemons well under running water then pat dry. Slice into quarters, though leave them attached at the top – they should look a little like opened magnolia flowers.
Pack an inch or so of salt at the base of the jar then add three or so lemons. Add more salt and repeat the process until all the lemons are packed in tightly. Finish with salt and press down the lid. Place in a cool dark place – they will last a long time, but it is important that you allow 30 days before they are ready to eat.
We make this dressing from time to time at work – everyone in the kitchen loves it and when we have menu meetings, it is bound to be brought up as a suggestion by one of the cooks. It is good over a simple green salad and ripe tomatoes, or served alongside chicken or fish.
1 preserved lemon
1 bunch of mint, leaves only and finely chopped
1 red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
300ml/ pint plain, thick Greek-style yoghurt
The juice of half a lemon
Soak the preserved lemon in a cool bowl of water for half an hour, changing the water from time to time. Remove all the flesh and pips, then place the rind and pith in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Spoon the puréed result into a bowl and add all the other ingredients; stir well to combine, adjust the seasoning and place in the fridge until ready to use.