Close up of lemons on a tree
The Taste of Spring: Lemons

I’m quite envious of my sister. In the front yard of her sunny California home is a prolifically fruiting lemon tree – so abundant that she laments not knowing what to do with them all. This is a “problem” that I wish I had.

Since my lemon addiction requires multiple feedings per day, I’d find her tree to be a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. This is especially true in the springtime, when my household’s lemon consumption quite easily doubles or triples.

There’s no doubt about it, lemons make everything feel more… springy.

My mind goes to a big, beautiful bundt cake, sticky lemon zest glaze slowly dripping down the sides. Or lemon curd slathered on fresh toast for breakfast. Or a pea and artichoke risotto, studded with specks of fresh lemon zest, bringing the dish to life. It’s hard to find a more seasonal dish.

Fresh lemons also pair exquisitely with the springtime produce. Fruits and vegetables just emerging from the winter’s thaw tend to be more mellow in flavor, and a simple squeeze or bit of zest coaxes out their essence.

How best to store lemons

The refrigerator is your best bet for elongating the life of all citrus. Sure, that bowl overflowing with bright, yellow lemons looks beautiful on your counter, but you better have plans to use them up quickly, as they won’t last for more than a few days. For extended storage, cold is the way to go. Try dedicating a drawer in your fridge to citrus fruit, and don’t over fill it; allowing for airflow will deter rotting and mold growth. 

Note: It is said that a room temperature lemon will release more juice than one at fridge temp. I can’t say I’ve ever noticed a substantial difference, however, if you have time to let them rest, you may do so before giving them a squeeze.

Best way to zest lemons

A fine rasp grater is the best tool for zesting citrus. Be sure to only take the yellow exterior of the lemon, not the white pith beneath. Some recipes or cocktails call for a strip of lemon peel, and for this, a good old fashioned vegetable peeler is the way to go. One recommendation: Don’t compromise on buying organic lemons if you plan to use the zest. Even when conventional lemons are washed, it is said that pesticide residue and other contaminants may remain.

Chef’s Tip: Lemon zest adds so much more flavor than juice ever could, and is essential for treats like lemon bars, lemon meringue pie, or even a good lemon quickbread.

How best to juice lemons

From reamers, to presses, or good old fashioned hand squeezing, options abound for juicing citrus. While I find myself using a variety of methods, depending more on the occasion than anything else, most often I reach for my citrus press. It’s excellent at extracting a majority of the juice, and catches the seeds so you don’t have to go fishing in your vinaigrette.

Use the whole lemon when cooking

As a lemon lover, I often tuck slices underneath the skin when roasting chicken or toss wedges or fat slices into my vegetables as they are roasting in the oven. A lemon’s flavor deepens when roasted and imparts a welcome acidity to the dish. My family will typically pick them out of the finished dish, and that’s fine to do if you only want the flavor they impart, but I adore eating the roasted lemon alongside the chicken or veggies.  

Go beyond culinary use of lemons

If you do find yourself with an abundence of lemons, using them to clean your kitchen is a great way to put them to work. Clean your wooden cutting boards by scrubbing them with lemon and salt, and ditto for cast iron pans. Tossing a few lemon rinds down your disposal will have it smelling fresh and clean, and rubbing lemons on your countertops can help get rid of stains.

Recipes featuring lemon

Here are a few of my favorite lemon recipes to help you welcome springtime, or to enjoy anytime!

Lemony Lobster Pasta with Burst Cherry Tomatoes & Mint

Lobster is, admittedly, not everyday dinner fare. Though I have made this dish with great success using frozen lobster tails, which makes it more economical. Despite it's star ingredient, this special occasion recipe is quite simple to put together. Make it for your honey on Valentine's day, a birthday or another celebratory occasion.
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Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette

A good vinaigrette is never more than a few ingredients away, and is always a better option than a jarred salad dressing. My lemon shallot vinaigrette will brighten a simple green salad, but is really lovely when tossed with greens, purple grapes, toasted hazelnuts and shaved parmigiano.
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Lemon Yogurt Cake

When you crave a sunny, bright treat, look no further than this easy lemon yogurt cake. Chances are, you already have all of the ingredients on hand to throw this together. Whipped cream and berries are optional and bring this to the realm of a dinner party dessert. But it's lovely unadorned and served for breakfast or afternoon tea, which, let's face it, we should all enjoy more often.
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Spring Pea, Artichoke & Pesto Risotto

No, you don't need to stand over the pot of risotto constantly stirring for 30 minutes to end up with a beautifully creamy dish. That is a myth. You will, however, need to check on it every 10 minutes or so, giving it a good stir and making sure it has enough liquid. As long as you do, and give it a vigorous stir at the end, the rice will release its starches creating a creamy risotto, with no cream. A quick and simple basil pesto helps flavor the rice, along with peas and artichokes, for a light spring meal.
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Lemony Vanilla Pudding with Summer Berries

An egg yolk and cornstarch thickened stovetop custard, gently flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, is just the match for ripe summer berries. This do-ahead dessert will be the perfect ending to your al fresco dinner party.
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Crab & Lemon Goat Cheese Panini

Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend that is a welcome addition to your pantry beyond these delicious sandwiches. Made from ingredients like coriander, fenugreek, coriander, chili, cumin, allspice and cinnamon, it's a powerhouse of flavor that in this dish accentuates the sweetness of the crabmeat and fresh goat cheese. It can be found in specialty groceries and online, however, if you cannot locate it, use your favorite chili powder.
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Spanish Almond Cake

In the Northwest corner of Spain, this cake is known as Tarta de Santiago, or St. James cake. It is naturally gluten free, using ground almonds instead of flour, and is actually thought to have been brought to this area by Jews fleeing persecution, who would have made it for Passover. It is a light cake with a rich history, and makes for a fine dessert, afternoon snack, or decadent breakfast.
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