The best of the zest: Amalfi and Sorrento lemons provide inspiration for citrusy late-summer dishes

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

From salads and sauces to soups and even fudge, they're delizioso, says Anthea Gerrie

Basking in a cool green arbour on the Italian island of Procida, fanned by breezes bearing the heady scent of lemons and gazing on groves of huge golden orbs as far as the eye could see, I sampled a feast in which the zesty fruit played a part in every single dish.

Lemon rind was grated over a bruschetta of anchovies, while the juice flirted seductively with parmesan in a basil-flecked sauce for linguine. Wedges of the whole fruit were served to squeeze on the veal cutlets that followed, peeled lemons were thinly sliced into a refreshing salad, simply dressed with olive oil, and, in a stunning finale, rind and juice were combined gloriously with eggs, butter and sugar in perhaps the world's best caramelised lemon tart. Naturally, the digestif was a shot of ice-cold, zingy limoncello.

Cut to a smart Italian deli in Edinburgh where, in an attempt to prolong my Bay of Naples reverie, I am shelling out a small fortune for a real Amalfi lemon. The shiny green leaves remind me of the lemon groves, and the fragrance is simply irresistible. Posh lemons are more than just cosmetically preferable to the bog-standard ones in our supermarkets – they grab your senses by the nose and make you want to use them immediately. And nothing is fresher or more cooling in the lazy, hazy dog days of summer than a lemon rush to lift the spirits as well as the barbecue platter.

As not all of us have the Edinburgh deli Valvona & Crolla on our doorsteps, all credit to Asda for bringing the superior Italian lemon, leaves and all, to the supermarket over the summer – though it will be next year before shoppers will see them again. "Unusually hot weather has cut the season short by a month, and we can't wait for the growers to start harvesting again in January," says Paul Chuter.

For Chuter, Asda's commercial manager for citrus, bringing Sorrento lemons – larger and juicier than the chefs' favourite, Amalfi – to the high street is the fulfilment of a 20-year dream. "I've known about them for a very long time, but this variety, the most popular for limoncello, was virtually unavailable outside Italy. When I found our growers, who work small plantations that hug the coast, I was struck by their incredible passion for the fruit. They use a net and trellis system to grow their lemons slowly without chemicals for many months, maturing on the tree before being hand-picked straight into crates without any of the washing and waxing most lemons undergo.

"We don't remove any leaf that clings to the fruit because it's a passport of freshness. And although they cost a lot more than other lemons, strong sales show our culinary-minded customers really get them, so we'll roll them out into more stores when they come back next year."

At 50p, the Sorrento lemon, oversized, extra juicy and virtually seedless, is pretty good value for the punch it packs compared with standard lemons at half the price, which may yield only half the juice. A great way to take advantage of the final crop of the summer is to marinate a butterflied leg of lamb in lemon juice, adding olive oil, garlic and oregano. Mediterranean cooks love the lift lemon lends to meat – the Italians serve wedges with everything from a veal chop to a Florentine T-bone, and the Greeks squeeze lemon juice beaten with eggs into chicken stock to make the marvellous, creamy avgolemono, a tart but succulent soup also found in Turkey and the Middle East.

In Morocco, they prefer to salt their lemons, creating essentially a pickle that lends an irreplaceable flavour to a tagine of chicken and green olives. But the twice-Michelin-starred David Everitt-Matthias believes you can go one better by salting an Amalfi lemon and creating a delicious and unusual dessert ingredient. "I like the way its salty acid notes cut white chocolate – I combine them in a fudge," he says. Preserving lemons is best done at home; Everitt-Matthias recommends topping up the preserving jar with olive oil after salting and adding lemon juice to fruit sliced lengthways almost to the base into quarters.

While the Med seems to have the monopoly on lemony ideas, there is a rich culinary history in Britain that pre-dates our rather unimaginative consignment of lemons to the fishmonger's counter and bartender's kit. Syllabub sprang up in the 16th century and was wildly popular for more than 300 years. Why it fell out of fashion will be incomprehensible to anyone willing to whisk up lemon juice, double cream and sweet white wine into a simply fabulous summer dessert, particularly good with raspberries.

Lemon curd, favoured by Brits as an alternative teatime spread to jam, gets poured into a rich, buttery tart case in Italy to make the nation's quintessential dessert, and is likely the original filling for the lemon meringue pie the Americans hijacked as their own. Indeed, the American love of lemons equals the Mediterranean passion for the fruit. "Americans grow up knowing instinctively how to make fresh lemonade," says the US food writer Marlena Spieler. "It's been part of the American landscape for as long as I can remember – something kids do in summer to make a little extra cash." I wonder, sipping a citron pressé served by a fashionable Parisienne I interview in her Chelsea home, if the Americans pinched the idea of squeezing lemon juice into a jug with sugar, ice and water to taste from the French, or vice versa. And whether it's the French or Dutch we have to thank for the hollandaise sauce which transforms a tranche of salmon or turbot into a feast.

The Americans may never have succeeded in exporting the fresh-lemonade craze, but they are exporting the very different variety of lemon that US pastry chefs rave about. The Meyer, a lemon-mandarin cross originating in China, is sweeter and less acidic than your ordinary lemon, its use pioneered by Chez Panisse and other seminal West Coast restaurants. Happily, we have only five months to wait before Meyers return to Tesco, where they are being marketed as Sweet Lemons – and before the Sorrento crop also returns to the high street.

Or save up now for a fabulous Amalfi to brook the gap when that crop kicks in during November – you'll understand why Jamie Oliver told Desert Island Discs that the first thing he would look for upon being stranded was a lemon tree.

Sharp moves: how chefs use them

Angela Hartnett serves caramelised Amalfi lemon tart at Murano.

Theo Randall also serves lemon tart at his eponymous restaurant at the London InterContinental, but his favourite use of the Amalfi is in lemonade. He juices 10 lemons and squeezes the reserved zest to bring out the oil before combining with 300g caster sugar and 3 litres of water. After two hours, he strains, checking the sweetness level – “every lemon varies in acidity” – serving in chilled glasses after cooling down thoroughly in the fridge.

Karam Sethi of Trishna uses the thick, fragrant rind of Shatkora lemons – like kaffir limes, an oriental variety with little juice whose pulp is discarded.

Marlena Spieler makes a Puglia-inspired crostini by rubbing the bread with garlic and drizzling with olive oil before topping with feta, zested lemon rind and rocket.

London bar Reverend JW Simpson makes its own lemon sherbet with sugar and both the peel and juice of lemons to add to its fizzes and sours.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

    £26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

    Day In a Page

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests