by Joan Saunders –
I am going to freely admit something that may elicit either knowing nods or gasps of dismay: if I had to choose between chocolate and lemon, I would always pick lemon.
I know! If you’re passionate about chocolate you might be recoiling in horror, but I do love the tang of citrus and with spring in full bloom, lemon is a vibrant flavour to use in cooking and baking. Spending so much time at home I’ve been cooking meals that I enjoy, that are comforting to me and to my family, without being too heavy. That’s where the zing of lemon bounds into play.
My Friday night tradition is homemade pizza. I love pizza at any time and in winter I make a heartier one with vegetarian pepperoni, bocconcini, sautéed onions and mushrooms, olives and tomatoes. But with warmer weather, I move to a lighter version.
Pizza is good for all ages as you can let kids and adults slap on whatever they enjoy. Just cheese? Sure. Heavy on the meat? Go for it. And you can either buy the dough or make it yourself, but I’ve found that homemade dough is easy and oh so tasty.
I used to make the dough in my bread machine, but it sparked, fizzed, gasped and died recently, so I found a recipe online that has good reviews and is easy. Then I top the dough with tomato sauce, bocconcini, some fresh basil, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. When it comes out of the oven drape on prosciutto, then some arugula that’s been dressed with lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper. Top it with a bit of parmesan and you’ve made an impressive pizza that has a fresh hint of citrus.
I’ve served it at summertime dinner parties in the garden (oh, those days of yore) and everyone loves it. If you have vegetarians in the crowd, just leave off the prosciutto. And the big bonus? It’s pizza and a salad all in one! At least that’s what I tell myself.
Pasta is another family favourite. Easy to cook and augment, it’s generally foolproof. I recently purchased a newish cookbook called Yum & Yummer by Greta Podleski. She’s one half of the Looneyspoons cookbooks sisters and this latest venture of hers has some excellent recipes. I tried the Lemony Salmon Bow-Tie Pasta and it’s flavourful and easy. What I like about it is that there is the option to use canned salmon, which I did. The recipe also takes it up a notch with asparagus which can be picked up at local farm markets.
So, if you’re looking for some inspiration as you wander through your kitchen, order a new cookbook online or from your local bookstore and see where your tastes take you. I try not to go too crazy as I’m running out of room on my shelves, but I’m sure I can squeeze in just one more cookbook. Or two.
Finally, dessert. Lemon Meringue Pie. Don’t panic; it’s really not too complex. When I was growing up my Mom always made the Shirriff Lemon pie from a box. It’s still around and I did love it, but I love homemade even more. How can you go wrong with something that starts with pastry then moves into luscious, zingy lemon? Topped with golden meringue goodness, it has lashings of what’s really essential in a dessert.
So, when life gives you lemons, I say enjoy them! Juice them, zest them, squeeze them and see where the flavour takes you. Like me, you’ll be so glad you did.
Homemade Pizza Dough
1 cup warm water
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
(it says 2 cups online, but I find it needs a bit more)
1 tsp salt
In a bowl, combine the water, yeast and sugar. Let stand until the mixture foams on top, about five minutes. In a food processor, using the dough hook or plastic blade, combine the flour and salt. Increase the speed to medium and add the yeast mixture until a soft ball forms. Remove the dough and knead for a few minutes on a floured surface to prevent sticking. Place the dough in a lightly-oiled bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Let the dough rise for about 30 minutes in warm and draft-free area. Cut the dough in half. The recipe will make two nine-inch thin crust pizzas or two eight-inch thicker crust pizzas.
Lemon Meringue Pie
(from Canadian Living’s Country Cooking by Elizabeth Baird and the Food Writers of Canadian Living)
1 nine-inch baked pie shell
(can make your own or purchase ready-made)
1 ¼ cups sugar
6 tbsp cornstarch (measure carefully)
½ tsp salt
2 cups water
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3 tbsp butter
½ cup lemon juice
1 tbsp grated lemon rind
3 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
6 tbsp sugar
Preheat oven to 350°. Filling: In saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt; gradually stir in water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low, boil gently for three minutes, stirring almost constantly. Remove from heat. Whisk a little hot mixture into egg yolks, then whisk back into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for two minutes (there should be no taste of starch or yolk). Remove from heat; stir in butter, lemon juice and rind. Let cool slightly, about three minutes. Pour into baked pie shell. Let cool slightly while making meringue.
Meringue: in bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar about 1 tbsp at a time until stiff peaks form. Spread over hot filling, sealing lightly to crust to prevent shrinkage. Swirl meringue into peaks. Bake in 350° oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool thoroughly. Do not refrigerate.