Improvise with Citrus: Lemon, Orange, Grapefruit, and Lime

When April rolls around, we’re almost free of winter, but the bounty of the spring garden is not yet upon us. How can you give a bit of lift to your cooking? Citrus! Lemons, oranges, grapefruits, lime—citrus in any form gives fresh sparkle to just about any dish, savory or sweet.

Here’s one of the Improvisational Cooks’ favorite recipes—easy, quick, and with the fresh zing of lemon.

Pasta with Lemon
(Serves 4 generously)

1 lb. linguine or other pasta, regular or whole wheat
Juice of 2-3 lemons
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of sugar
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, regular or basil scented
5 oz. finely grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly grated pepper chopped (leaves only)
Handful of fresh spinach or arugula

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, with a hand mixer or  blender, beat the lemon juice and zest with  the olive oil until creamy. Add the Parmesan and beat further until it becomes thick and creamy. Add salt and pepper, and more lemon juice if desired.

Drain the pasta when done cooking. Add the lemon sauce, coating all (Parmesan will melt). Finally, stir in the basil and spinach or arugula, which will wilt with the heat of the pasta.

For a side dish, try green beans with a hint of lime. The winter blahs will be a thing of the past.

Other Suggestions for Citrus

• Add zest to most any recipe for baked goods.

• Add zest, juice, and chopped segments to grain salads.

• Add a splash of lime to bean dishes and to salsa.

• Steam veggies and make a sauce of almond butter or tahini thinned with fresh citrus juice. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and some toasted nuts.

During Kathy’s recent trip to Sarasota, Florida, the orange trees in her family’s yard were heavily laden with juicy, fragrant spheres. Each morning she devoured the fruit while standing at the sink, juice dripping from mouth and hands. Her father planted one of those trees several years back and it was lovely to think of him while enjoying the heady sensations.

Try orange segments in salads—they’re a wonderful addition.

Braise or roast peeled, sliced beets with a good splash of olive oil, orange peel, a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme, and salt and pepper. When they are tender and still warm, pile them on top of greens (arugula is great) and add any or all of the following: rice (a wild rice mix is a good choice), sauteed zucchini, orange sections, olives, toasted nuts.

Drizzle with either olive oil and light vinegar (we like white balsamic) or our favorite dressing from France:

Whisk 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice. When well combined, continue to whisk while drizzling in enough olive oil to make a nicely emulsified dressing. Finish with a good grind of salt and pepper.

Lemon Pudding Cake
Made with just a few simple ingredients, this dessert is warm, lemony, and wonderful (from Gourmet 2003).

1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt, rounded
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
2 large lemons
3 large eggs, separated
1-1/2 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar.

In second bowl, finely grate 1 Tbsp. zest from lemons, then squeeze in 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. juice. Whisk in yolks and milk and blend well.
Add lemon mixture to dry ingredients, and whisk just until combined.

In another bowl, beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Then beat in remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and continue beating until they hold stiff, glossy peaks. Whisk about 1/4 whites into lemon batter to lighten, and then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly (batter will be thin).

Pour into a buttered 1-1/2 quart shallow baking dish and bake in a hot-water bath until puffed and golden, 45 to 50 minutes.

Serve warm. We like it with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream, which melts on the plate and creates a vanilla sauce.

The Best Zesting Tool

Lastly, invest in a rasp—it’s a wonderful kitchen tool for fine zest grating. And remember to use citrus zest to finish a wide variety of dishes, from sweet to savory.