Limoncello

Infusions: So Simple, Yet So Complex

A. had a sore throat during my last visit, so I made her my mother’s remedy – a ginger and cinnamon infusion made with grated ginger shavings, a cinnamon stick, and sweetened with a dash of honey. Infusions have long ago come out of medicinal closets and are now staple cooking embellishments. They are turning up with ultra-hip allure as hibiscus-infused teas in gin cocktails or Serrano infused vodka in spicy cocktails. An infusion is simply a “tea” made by pouring boiling water, alcohol, or oil over herbs, spices, or other plant parts. The resulting “tea” when added to a drink or dish add yet another subtle layer – a fragrant flourish to the final dish. Aromatic lemon rinds and cinnamon inspired my two infusions below – one with seafood and the other in a soup.

Infusions are made with unfussy ingredients such as lemon peels, slivers of fresh ginger, cinnamon, or rose petals (pesticide-free petals from your garden are best). I had previously used lemon zests (many!) to make Limoncello, and the fragrance on my fingertips remained with me for a long time. As I am partial to lemon’s lingering aroma and flavor, I use the fruit often in savory dishes. A lemon zest and herb infused oil adds summery hints to a seafood salad, instantly enlivening plain cooked shrimp and steamed mussels. The infused oil adds an understated flavor without overwhelming the delicate taste of seafood.

Cinnamon showcases its aromatics best in an infusion. In Indian cooking, cinnamon is stir-fried to release its warm tones. However, if cinnamon is added to a simmering soup or stock, the fragrance overpowers the dish and masks the finer flavors of the vegetables. Butternut squash, a fall feature in farm stands and supermarkets, has many nutritive qualities and makes for a good soup. The squash, being somewhat bland, benefits from a cinnamon-infused cream which gives the soup a  smoky warmth and flavor. Infusions are easy to make — just as simple as brewing a cup of tea with fresh tea leaves. An infused cream is made by pouring gently-heated cream over some whole cinnamon sticks and allowing the mixtureto steep for couple of hours. Easy, but the new ingredient adds a quiet complexity to the soup.

 

Seafood Salad

Olive Oil – 2 tsp

Butter – 1 tbsp

Lemon – 1

Tarragon – 1-2 sprigs

Shrimp – 6 large, deveined

Mussels – 12

Scallops – 6

Salt and pepper – to taste

  • Zest and juice the lemon. Keep both separately.
  • In a frying pan, heat 1 tsp. each of oil and butter. Once it starts to smoke, turn off the heat.
  • Add the lemon zest and tarragon sprigs to the hot oil. Let it steep for half-hour.
  • Steam the mussels.
  • Cook the shrimp, either grill, broil, or quickly dip in boiling water and remove.
  • In another pan, heat the remaining oil.
  • Add the scallops. Cook each side for about 2 minutes.
  • Mix the shrimp, mussels and scallops together.
  • When ready to eat, toss them with the lemon-herb infused oil and lemon juice.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

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Butternut Squash Soup

Cinnamon sticks – 2

Cream – ½ cup

Butternut squash – 4 cups of cubed squash or half a squash

Olive oil – 2 tbsp

Onion – 1, chopped

Ginger –1-inch, peeled and chopped

Carrots – 2, cubed

Low sodium stock – 2 ½ cups

Salt and pepper –to taste

  • In a pan, heat the cream gently. When it starts to simmer, remove it from the stove.
  • Add the cinnamon stick to it. Keep aside for about two hours.
  • Peel the butternut squash. This is the hardest part of the recipe as the skin is tough. However, it is cheaper to buy the whole squash, and you can toast the seeds — which can be added for a crunch in the soup or eaten on its own.
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan.
  • Sauté the onion and ginger for a minute.
  • Add the cubed squash and carrots. Stir fry until mixed well with the onion and ginger.
  • Pour the stock and 1½ cups of water. Bring it to a boil.
  • Simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the squash can be mashed easily.
  • Strain the vegetables from the stock and grind them in a food processor until you have a creamy mixture. Add it back to the stock.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Just before you serve, drizzle the cinnamon infused cream. Decorate with toasted seeds.

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Note: Infusions can be used right away (cream-based) or they can be stored for later use (herb-infused oils).

When Life Gives You Lemons…

The moment I heard the weather predictions were for another dismal snow season, I immediately began thinking of ways to prolong summer. Lemon is a quintessential summer association. As A. (visiting this weekend) and I read through my mother’s lemon snow pudding recipe, we were both struck by how efficiently the one lemon in the recipe was used. Inspired by this economical use, I decided to craft a whole menu to highlight lemon’s unmistakably tart flavor.

Riffing off the refreshingly sweet-sour nimbu pani (lemonade) of my youth, I made the digestif Limoncello. Inspired by my travel to Sorrento’s lemon groves, where the large, bright-yellow lemons are used in making this distinctive liqueur, I bought 12 fresh lemons. Scraping the zest was tedious, but I knew to be patient – the rind-soaked spirit would be ready in five weeks. The digestif would be a delicious reminder of summer warmth, and would see me through any harsh winter.

Since I was now left with 12 rind-less lemons, I decided to use the fruit to stuff a whole chicken that I planned to roast. The roasted chicken had only a mild hint of lemon, but the acidity from the juice helped to tenderize the chicken and make it moist. However, the same lemon added to the fresh stock, made with the giblets, was one of the tastiest I’ve had. The tartness of the lemon offset the fat, making the stock light and aromatic. The lemon brightened up a winter dish, and we used the moist meat the next day for a light summer salad.

That feeling of lightness carried through to the delicate lemon snow pudding. I was inspired by the clever use of separating both the eggs (yolk and white) and lemons (juice and zest), and how both separate parts came together harmoniously in the final dish. The egg white meringue and the lemon juice formed an airy base, while the yolk and lemon rind in the custard rounded off the silky flavors in this lemon meringue-like pudding.

Roast Chicken with Lemon

Whole chicken – 1, (4 lb)

Lemon – 1

Fresh herbs (oregano, sage) – 1-2 sprigs

Butter – 1 tbsp

Salt and pepper – 1 tbsp. each

Oven temperature 375°F

  • Remove the chicken giblets (in a plastic bag) from the cavity of the chicken and wash the chicken well.
  • Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
  • Slice the lemon into half and squeeze out the juice. Reserve.
  • Mix the butter, herbs, salt, and pepper together. Spread the mixture over the chicken.
  • Put the squeezed lemon half into the cavity of the chicken.
  • Bake for 80 minutes, (20 minutes per pound) in total, with the final 20 minutes at 425°F for a golden skin. Check with a meat thermometer to see it has reached an internal temperature of 170°F.

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Lemon Snow Pudding with Custard

Egg white – 1

Sugar – 1 tbsp

Lime – ½

Gelatin (unflavored) – 1 tsp

Lemon yellow food color – optional

  • Fill a large pan with water.
  • Mix the lime, sugar, and gelatin with one tablespoon of water in a saucepan that will fit in the large pan. Place it in the large pan.
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil, while continuously stirring the mixture in the smaller pan.
  • Once all the sugar and gelatin have dissolved, remove from heat. Cool.
  • Whisk the egg white in a bowl, either with a fork or an electric whisk. Continue until it becomes firm. Tip: when you tilt the bowl, the egg white should not slip out.
  • Add the cooled lemon mixture, whisking it carefully, into the egg white mixture.
  • Add a drop of the yellow coloring.
  • Refrigerate until ready to be served with custard.

For the Custard

Egg yolk – 1

Milk – 1 cup, warmed

Sugar – 1 tbsp.

  • Boil water in a larger pan.
  • Whisk the egg yolk in another pan.
  • Add sugar and warmed milk to the yolk. Mix.
  • Place the egg mixture pan in the larger pan. Stir continuously. This method, where the heat is not in direct contact with the ingredients, is called double boiling and prevents the egg mixture from curdling. In about 5-6 minutes, the mixture thickens. Tip: dip a metal spoon into the mixture. Run a finger on the back of the spoon.  If it leaves a mark, then the custard is ready.
  • Cool the custard.
  • Scrape zests into the custard.

 

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