By Alison Boyd-Savage
What do you get when you cross a citron with a mandarin orange? The answer is a Meyer lemon. Native to China, theses gorgeous fruits were transplanted over a century ago to Central and Northern California, where they have thrived. Most of the Meyer lemons consumed in the United States come from this region.
Once difficult to source, they are now readily available in markets around the northeast. On the North Fork, look out for clearly labelled bags of them in the produce aisles at IGA and King Kullen.
Bursting with juice, their unique and mellow taste is what makes them so prized. They are a little sweeter than the regular Lisbon lemons that we use every day in our kitchens, and their lower acidity makes them a great addition to dishes where a less aggressive citrus flavor is needed.
I have wasted no time in putting my cache of these treasures to good use in the February kitchen. There have been sautéed filets of flounder and gray sole with Meyer lemon and parsley butter, a delicious marinade with lots of garlic for shrimp and a generous squeeze of their juice has brightened many a winter salad dressing. For their peak month of February, I am featuring two dishes where they really shine. The first is a simple pasta dish, with a light lemon sauce, topped with crispy breadcrumbs and parsley. For dessert a Lemon Surprise Cake, which is a wonderful combination of soufflé, cake and fluffy pudding.
Hurry to the store to purchase your supply. Like most good things, the season is short and runs from early December to mid-March.
Meyer Lemon Pasta with Crispy Breadcrumbs
Quantities for this dish are very forgiving. You can adjust the amounts of lemon juice and cream or leave out the cream altogether for a lighter dish. The important thing is to add the lemon juice in three stages, so you retain its subtle flavor. Be sure to use good sourdough bread for the crumbs, the best olive oil and the freshest parmesan and parsley.
1 ½ cups breadcrumbs made from two-day-old sourdough bread
1 ½ Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter and olive oil together in a heavy skillet. Add the breadcrumbs in a shallow layer and cook while stirring over low heat until breadcrumbs are crisp and golden. Keep the mixture moving around the pan, adjusting heat as needed, so that the breadcrumbs do not overcook. Spread the crumbs in a single layer on a sheet pan to cool. Once they are completely cold, store in an airtight container for up to three days.
Meyer Lemon Pasta
Zest of 2 Meyer lemons, finely grated on a micro plane grater
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
2 cloves garlic minced
Pinch of red pepper or Aleppo pepper flakes
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, washed, dried and finely chopped
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
12 oz. pasta
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup finely grated fresh parmesan cheese
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Add pasta to a large pot of boiling salted water and cook until al dente (about seven minutes). While the pasta is cooking, warm two Tbsp. olive oil and 1 Tbsp. butter over low heat in a heavy skillet and add garlic. Sauté gently for about two minutes, stirring to prevent the garlic from sticking and burning. Add one third of the parsley, ¼ tsp. salt, the pepper flakes, lemon zest and a third of the juice to the skillet, and cook together for about one minute.
Using a pasta fork or tongs, carefully transfer the spaghetti directly to the skillet, mixing thoroughly with the garlic mixture. (Do not throw out the pasta water, you will use some as part of the sauce.) Add a third more of the lemon juice, all but a couple of tsp. of the parsley and about 1/3 cup of pasta cooking water. Stir together over very low heat for a couple of minutes, using more of the pasta water if the mixture looks dry. Stir in the heavy cream.
As soon as it is thoroughly combined, turn off the heat and add remaining lemon juice, parmesan cheese, 2 Tbsp. olive oil and a little more salt to taste, mixing thoroughly. Place the individual servings of pasta onto warm plates or bowls and top with a generous sprinkling of crispy breadcrumbs, a little parsley and a touch of freshly ground black pepper. Best eaten fresh with a crisp salad of winter greens such as endive, escarole and arugula.
Meyer Lemon Surprise Pudding
My mother made a version of this dessert during my childhood, which she called Queen of Puddings. It had the same lemon pudding base and was topped with meringue. I was delighted to find the BBC Food version of this, minus the meringue and more to my taste. I was even happier when I realized I could make it with Meyer lemons and have used them ever since. By placing the baking dish in a hot water bath when cooking, you will achieve a perfect balance of fluffy cake and thick creamy pudding. There will be no leftovers when you serve this, which is just as well, as it best consumed shortly after it emerges from the oven.
3 Meyer lemons
¾ cup sugar
½ cup butter
4 large organic eggs, yolks and whites separated
2/3 cup flour
17 Fl oz whole milk
Finely grate the zest from two of the lemons on a micro plane grater. Squeeze the juice from two of the lemons. Place the butter, sugar and zest in a bowl and beat with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until thoroughly combined. Gradually add the flour, then a little of the lemon juice, then the milk, alternating until all is added. Do not worry if the mixture looks curdled. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and whisk until they form stiff peaks and gently fold into the lemon mixture.
Butter a 4-pint shallow baking dish and place in a roasting pan. Carefully pour in the batter and then add enough boiling around the pan so that it comes about halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake at 325 degrees for about 35 to 40 minutes. The top of the pudding should be lightly browned and springy to the touch. Remove dish from roasting pan and leave to cool for about 20 minutes. Serve slightly warm with a pouring of heavy cream.
Alison Boyd-Savage worked in advertising before running a catering business in her native London. After moving to Long Island, she first settled in Bridgehampton, where she worked as a private chef. Five years later, the quiet beauty of the North Fork prompted a move to Southold. On weekends she loves to entertain, and can be found scouting the local farm stands for seasonal produce and visiting the markets for local sh, meat and eggs. Each month, she now shares some of these dishes on the back page of the East End Beacon.