With spring's sunny days still on the horizon, one fruit's bright hue and floral scent speak to chef Sandy Dowling.
"When I think of springtime, I think of daffodils," says Dowling. "And then daffodils make me think of lemons."
Meyer lemons, in particular, transport Dowling back to Newport Beach, Calif., where a dwarf tree outside her kitchen door permeated the air with its aroma before producing thousands of fruits for juicing, zesting and preserving.
"I was creating everything with lemons," says Dowling. "Love 'em, love 'em, love 'em."
Some 20 years later, Dowling created a cooking class for the citrus fruit and has taught a version of it annually at The Willows in Central Point for almost the past decade. Next week's lesson on lemons is for couples and includes a full meal of sweet and sour specialties. But any pair of participants — relatives or friends — can attend together, says Dowling.
"I don't know who doesn't like lemons," she says. "No matter what you're having, it cleanses your palate."
The menu will reflect lemons' lightness likely with seafood, spring vegetables served with lemon mayonnaise, a lemon curd-based dessert, lemon-drop martinis and some type of lemonade, says Dowling. The chef often accentuates the astringency of lemons with similar-tasting herbs, such as lemon thyme and lemon balm, a type of mint.
"Tarragon is wonderful with lemon," she says, adding that parsley combined with lemon zest as gremolata tempers rich meats like veal.
To tame the tartness of lemons, consider roasting them. Slice lemons about 1/4 inch thick and remove any seeds. Place lemon slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in a 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned in most spots on one side. Turn over and roast for another 5 to 10 minutes on the other side.
Although lemons are a year-round commodity in the United States, their prime time is winter and early spring. The Meyer lemon — a sweeter, less-acidic variety — actually is a cross between a lemon and an orange. Increasingly available in local grocery stores, Meyer lemons are popular ornamental trees and can survive the Rogue Valley's coldest months if planted in pots and moved indoors.
Meyer lemons tend to be thin- and smooth-skinned, but a smooth skin on any type of lemon is a sign of juiciness, says Dowling. To extract the most juice, she says, bring lemons to room temperature before squeezing, or poke a small hole in the rind and microwave the fruit for a few seconds.
"I can get half a cup (of juice) out of one lemon."
Lemons also are invaluable for their cleaning capabilities, says Dowling, adding that she always demonstrates in class how a cut lemon shines up a copper pot.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email email@example.com.