Archive for the ‘lemon’Category

Getting ready for summer with ‘Le Picnic’ recipes

Le Picnic cover
Talk about timing! Le Picnic: Chic Food for On-The-Go crossed our desk just as the azaleas burst into bloom and the purple finches laid their first clutch of eggs in the blue spruce outside our desk window. This Australian book by food writer Suzy Ashford is published by Smith Street Books in Melbourne, but it’s distributed in North America by Rizzoli. Suzy had us with the cover shot of a roast chicken and Camembert baguette (see above). By the way, the two photos in this post are courtesy of Smith Street Books.

The book breaks down roughly into gorgeous sandwiches, baked tarts or flatbreads, salads you want to eat with your eyes, and drop-dead gorgeous desserts that seem a little delicate to transport to a distant picnic site. We usually fall back on a few sure-fire pasta or rice salads for picnics because they’re easy to tote. But Francophile Ashford’s recipes are more aspirational. They aim for gorgeous summer meals to wow your guests. They seem best suited for serving on the back patio or deck. Because they are so well-conceived, it’s worth the time to shop for all the ingredients and prepare the food. The beautiful sandwich on the cover, for example, serves four and calls for a whole French cheese, half a roasted chicken, and a beautiful crusty baguette.

The strikingly simple recipe for tarragon lemonade cordial is one of our favorites. It’s very spring-centric, since the first tender leaves of tarragon are always the best of the season. The publisher was kind enough to let us pass it on to you, provided that we kept the multiple measurements. The concentrated cordial can be diluted to make lemonade, but Ashford also suggests using it to spike iced tea. We’re waiting for the thermometer to hit 90°F for her best suggestion of all: Mix two parts gin to one part lemonade cordial. Pour over ice and add a cucumber stick as a stirrer.

Le Picnic: Chic Food for On-The-Go by Suzy Ashford, Smith Street Books, Melbourne, $19.95. Here’s the link to buy it on

Le Picnic Tarragon Lemonade


Makes 450 ml (15 fl oz) cordial

230 g (8 oz/1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
8 tarragon sprigs, leaves picked, plus extra to garnish
250 ml (8 fl oz/1 cup) lemon juice; you’ll need about 5 lemons
chilled soda water (club soda), to serve
lemon slices, to garnish

Combine the sugar and 125 ml (4 fl oz/ 1/2 cup) water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, stir in the tarragon leaves and lemon juice, then leave to cool to room temperature.

Remove the tarragon leaves and pour the cordial into a sterilized bottle with a tightly fitting lid. Seal tightly and store in the fridge, where it will keep for up to 1 month.

To serve as a lemonade, simply combine 1 part cordial with 4 parts soda water. Garnish with extra tarragon sprigs and lemon slices.


04 2017

When life gives you lemons, make limoncello cakes

Kathryn Kelly leads Oceania cooking class
“Acid is as important to a chef as a knife,” executive chef Kathryn Kelly (above) tells her culinary class aboard the Marina. “Use acid instead of salt to bring out the flavors in food.”

Kelly is such a believer in gastronomic acids that she builds an entire cooking class around the signature tart fruit of the Mediterranean: the lemon. She calls the class “Amore—Love of Lemons,” and it’s a zinger. In two hours, up to twenty-two students learn to make egg-lemon soup, limoncello, preserved lemons, fennel salad with preserved lemon, lemon risotto, chicken scallopine al limone, drunken limoncello cakes, and lemon-basil gelato.

When Oceania Cruises ( decided to make food the centerpiece of their voyages, the founders knew they needed more than good fine-dining restaurants. In this age where every experience needs a DIY component to make it seem authentic, they committed to a full-fledged on-board cooking program. And they found just the right person to run it. Kelly was teaching at the Culinary Institute of America in 2010 when Oceania Cruises wooed her to serve as culinary enrichment director.

She designs and often leads culinary shore excursions as well as the cooking classes. When the ship is at sea, the center usually offers two classes per day. When it is docked, there’s usually only a single class. Since passengers can sign up for classes when they book their cruises, many classes are fully booked before the ship ever leaves port.

Cooking class aboard Oceania cruise

Intensive classroom experience

The state-of-the-art culinary education center has eleven combination prep and cooking stations, each of which will accommodate two students. The instructor—Kelly or another chef—demonstrates dishes at the front of the room where overhead mirrors and video screens allow every student to see what’s going on. Typically the teacher runs through a recipe, then sends the students back to their stations to execute.

Kelly notes that the popularity of the lemon class is exceeded only by the “Fish Master Class.” It teaches students how to handle six different fish and shellfish and prepare a striking dish with each. “A lot of people hesitate to cook fish at home,” Kelly says. “This class gives them the techniques and the confidence.”

The lemon class is full of bonuses—like a quick lesson in proper pan-frying technique when making the chicken scallopine with lemon and capers. “You want the oil just half the thickness of the meat. When you flip it over, no part gets double cooked and you don’t get a brown line down the middle.”

Or, when cooking risotto, she has every student bite down on a grain of rice at the eight and one-half minute mark. It provides a sensory memory of the point where the risotto is exactly half done. (Done properly, her risotto recipe cooks exactly seventeen minutes.)

The rustic little cakes for dessert are a special treat. She cautions that the thick dough should be placed roughly into the ramekins. “That way it cooks up with lots of holes and crannies to soak up the limoncello!”

Cook tests cakes in Oceania culinary class


Kelly says that she adapted this cake from her great aunt’s recipe. Any liqueur or liquor will suffice to make the soaking syrup, but limoncello is lighter and fresher than most.

Serves 4


Limoncello Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup limoncello


1 tablespoon plus 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup almond meal
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine semolina
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon


For Limoncello Syrup

In a small saucepan over medium, melt the sugar in the water. When cool, add the limoncello. Divide the simple syrup into four small soaking bowls, large enough to hold small cakes but not much larger.

For Cakes

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter four 6-ounce ramekins using 1 tablespoon of the butter. Cut parchment paper lifts (1-by-8-inch strips) and place two in each ramekin in a crisscross pattern.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond meal, flour, semolina and baking powder. In another medium bowl, mix the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, egg, vanilla, sugar and lemon zest. With a spatula, fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture and blend into a thick batter. Spoon one-quarter of the batter into each of the ramekins and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until thoroughly cooked (instant read thermometer registers 210°F in the center).

Soak the Cakes
Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool slightly for 3 minutes. While they are still warm, but not hot, lift the cakes from the ramekins and place in the small bowls with the limoncello syrup mixture. Allow the cakes to soak up the syrup for 15 to 30 minutes.

To Serve
Lift the cakes from the bowls and place on small plates. Top with gelato. (Kelly makes lemon-basil gelato for hers.) Here’s how it looks:
cakes and gelato in Oceania cooking class


03 2017

Franciacorta: effervescent joy from Italy

Franciacorta rose with lemon risotto and insalata caprese Contrary to common usage, there’s nothing like real Champagne, the sparkling wine made in a delimited area in France. We’d suggest that there is also nothing like Franciacorta, the elegant and more affordable sparkling wine made in the Lombardy countryside an hour east of Milan. In fact, that city’s fashionistas have been drinking a lot of Franciacorta for the last several days during Milan Fashion Week.

The district has been growing grapes at least since the 16th century under the aegis of the region’s monasteries. (The name of the region indicates a region of monasteries not subject to ducal taxes.) Serious spumante production is much more recent, dating from the years after World War II, and the big players are industrialists, not monks.

That said, Franciacorta did almost everything right from the start, and won DOCG status (Italy’s top quality designation) before any other sparkling wine in Italy, including Prosecco DOCG. The grapes are a familiar bunch to Champagne lovers: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot blanc. Secondary fermentation is carried out in the bottle in what the Italians call metodo classico and the rest of the world calls méthode champenoise. The chief advantage is that the wine develops on the lees, gaining a yeasty complexity that bulk carbonation cannot impart.

The DOCG regulations recognize two styles and three aging designations, each of which can be made with varying residual sugar ranging from brut to demi-sec. The Non-Vintage must be made of chardonnay and/or pinot noir (with up to half pinot blanc) and be aged at least 18 months. Sàten is a blanc-de-blancs style made with only white grapes, of which chandonnay must constitute more than half; it’s aged a minimum of 24 months. Rosé is made with chardonnay and pinot blanc with a minimum of 25 percent pinot noir to give it the desired color. Millesimato is a vintage Franciacorta in either style and indicates that at least 85 percent of the wine came from a specified quality vintage and has been aged a minimum of 30 months. A riserva is a vintage-dated Sàten or Rosé aged at least 60 months.

The Sàten style is something of a misnomer, since silkiness is characteristic of all good Franciacortas, which typically sell at retail for $20-$40, except for a few rare riservas. Personally, we like the Rosé style, since the pinot noir gives it a little fruitiness and extra structure. We popped a 2010 Millesimato Fratelli Berlucchi Rosé ( for the meal shown above: lemon risotto (Franciacorta is splendid paired with the acidity of the risotto) and a plate of our final garden tomatoes in an insalata caprese.

We expect to be drinking even more Franciacorta as the holiday season approaches.



09 2015

Lemon risotto and Caprese salad with truffles

lemon risotto and caprese salad with truffle
What a luxury to shave truffles over some of our favorite summer dishes! I was surprised when several chefs suggested black truffles on a Caprese salad, but if the tomatoes have enough acidic zing, it’s a match made in heaven. Our own tomatoes aren’t quite ripe yet, so I have to resort to hoop house or hot house varieties. One trick to restore the “fresh tomato” flavor to these typically bland fruits is to give them a tiny sprinkle of salt, sugar, and citric acid. Citric acid is sometimes sold as “sour salt,” and is readily available in Indian grocery stores. (I mix up the seasoning in a ratio of 20 parts salt to 5 parts sugar and 1 part citric acid and store it it an airtight jar.)

But what to eat with Caprese? The natural choice for us is a lemon risotto, lightly adapted to the herbs we have on hand this time of year. It’s best with a very grassy flavored olive oil. Instead of mint and basil, you could substitute fresh lemon thyme and rosemary.


Serves 2 as an entree, 4 as an appetizer

sprig of fresh mint
sprig of fresh basil
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/4 cups strong chicken broth
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
20 grams black truffle

Remove stems from herbs and combine the leaves with grated lemon zest. Chop very finely and set aside.

In 2-3 quart pressure cooker, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until translucent. Add rice and stir until well coated with oil. Raise heat to high and add white wine. Stir to keep from burning until wine is absorbed. Add chicken broth, stirring well. When pot begins to simmer, tighten lid and cook on medium pressure for exactly 8 minutes, turning down heat to keep pressure steady.

Remove from heat and run pot under cold water to decompress. Remove lid and place pot back on low heat. Stir in lemon juice and test rice for doneness. (It should be al dente in the middle but rather creamy.) When rice is desired texture, add grated cheese and reserved herbs and lemon peel.

Place in bowls and shave half the truffle over the top. Serve with a Caprese salad over which you have shaved the other half truffle.


07 2015