Lemons are one of those kitchen staples I would be lost without. Along with salt and olive oil there is no other ingredient I use more frequently. Eye-squintingly sharp, and clean in flavour, they are my favourite choice when dressing a salad; along with a good pinch of sea salt and a little extra-virgin olive oil they highlight the beautiful flavours of individual leaves, rather than disguising them as heavier dressings can.
Lemons also make perfect sorbets and ice-creams, where their flavour is tempered and rounded by the use of cream, and they work wonders on cooked vegetables – especially the dark, fibrous greens available at this time of year, such as Swiss chard, spring greens and broccoli.
And don't overlook the zest: added to cakes and desserts, it adds a delicious zing that cuts through any richness (for this, make sure you use unwaxed lemons).
I find it strange to think of lemons, like all citruses, as a winter fruit because to me they sing of summer and sunshine. Perfect right now, use them as I do – abundantly.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, www.petershamnurseries.com
I first had this dessert in my native Australia, where it's a firm favourite among many families. Don't be daunted by it – this recipe is easy and quick to make; and when it's ready, you'll have a golden-sponge topping hiding a beautifully oozing creamy sauce beneath. It's simplicity itself for a dinner party – just prepare it beforehand and slip it into the oven as everyone starts their main course.
60g/21/2oz unsalted butter
275g/9oz caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
3 tbsp self-raising flour
275ml/9fl oz milk
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4 and butter a one-litre ovenproof dish. Zest one of the lemons and juice them both. In a food processor, cream the butter together with the lemon juice and sugar, then add the egg yolks. Add the flour and milk alternately to make a smooth batter. Scrape all the mixture from the sides of the food processor into a bowl. Add the lemon zest and stir well to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold into the batter. Pour the lemon pudding into the prepared dish and place in a roasting tin. Pour boiling water into the roasting tin: it should come halfway up the side of the dish. Place on the middle shelf of the preheated oven and bake for one hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Serve with double cream poured from a jug.
At the restaurant we preserve lemons all year round, and use them endlessly in salads, dishes with a north African feel, or puréed with crème fraîche, which we serve on roasted fish. It is really worth having a jar or two to hand. They last in a well-sealed jar outside of the fridge for up to a year.
250g/8oz coarse sea salt
8 lemons, well washed and cut into quarters
Extra lemon juice, to cover
Scatter a spoonful of salt into a one-litre sterilised jar. Place the lemons in a bowl with the rest of the salt and toss together well. Now simply pack the lemon quarters into the jar. Press down firmly on the fruit to release as much juice as possible. Spoon in the rest of the salt mixture from the bottom of the bowl and add enough extra lemon juice to cover. Place the lid on the jar. Let the lemons stand for a month in a cool place – though not the fridge. To use, rinse well and add to whatever you fancy.
Sticky lemon cake
Perfect for afternoon tea, this moist and slightly sharp cake is completely moreish.
225g/71/2oz caster sugar
260g/81/2oz self-raising flour
A small pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
260g/81/2oz softened, unsalted butter
5 medium eggs
For the syrup
150g/5oz caster sugar
The juice of one lemon
Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas3. Line an eight-inch cake tin with baking parchment. Now zest and juice the lemon. Place the sugar and zest into a food processor and pulse. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the processor, then add the butter. Keeping the machine running, add the eggs one by one. Process until smooth then pour the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin. Smooth the top and place in the oven. Bake for one hour or until a skewer comes out clean when the centre is pierced.
While the cake is cooking, make the syrup by simply mixing the lemon juice and sugar together. When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and pour the syrup over while the cake is still warm. Serve with crème fraîche.