Take a drive around most Hawke’s Bay residential neighbourhoods at this time of year and you will be overwhelmed by the bounty of citrus trees to feast your eyes upon. Leafy bushy trees laden with bright orange and yellow fruit; rounded flavour sensations ripened from their autumn past.
The most ubiquitous of the citrus family is the lemon, Citrus limon, which would have to be near the top of my favourite fruit list. This is in part to their ability to seamlessly cross the borders between sweet and savoury foods; endlessly versatile and possessing the power to transform an otherwise ordinary meal with their presence.
Lemons are relatively easy to grow and for the most part look after themselves. In saying that, there are still a few useful tips to ensure successful growth and healthy produce:
- Young trees are best planted in early autumn or spring to avoid the winter cold and summer heat. Plant in a sunny spot with access to rainfall.
- Prepare the soil with compost and initially grow in your tree in a large container/pot and once grown to a significant size, then transplant into the ground.
- Feed with citrus fertiliser should be given in Spring and Summer to promote flowering and fruiting.
- Place fertiliser at the ‘drip-line’ of roots, which lies under the outer foliage, as opposed to at the base of the tree.
- If there is low rainfall, then a decent water once a week is ample, and increase watering during the summer months.
- Yellowing leaves are a sign of magnesium deficiency – apply Epsom salts to the soil where the leaves extend to.
- ‘Meyer’ lemons are the most common variety available in garden centres and grow well in most New Zealand climates.
- Lemons do not ripen all at once, meaning that you can have ripe lemons ready for picking for 3-4 months of the year (usually over winter).
Lemons are an absolute kitchen essential, their brilliance compounded by the fact that you can use basically every part, including the flesh, juice, zest and skin. Often you will find that recipes call for lemon juice – please please PLEASE, do yourself a favour and grate the zest of the lemon before using it. Spread the grated lemon zest in a single layer on a baking paper-lined tray, place in the freezer and once frozen, transfer to a jar or ziplock bag and return to the freezer – the lemon zest will keep for 6 months and can be defrosted and added to baking/cooking.
An excellent way of storing a bumper crop of lemons for future use is by preserving them.
The recipe below showcases the lemon in all its yellow glory.
Lemon, Green Apple & Edamame Risotto
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 30g butter
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 4 cups (1 litre) vegetable stock
- finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 large green apple, grated (including skin)
- 2 cups (480g) arborio rice
- 1 cup (250ml) white wine
- 100g fresh spinach leaves, shredded
- 150g fresh or frozen shelled edamame beans
- 1 cup (250ml) hot water
- juice of 1 large lemon
- 50g parmesan, grated
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp cracked black pepper
- 1 green apple, cored and julienned into matchsticks
- finely grated parmesan
- finely chopped fresh mint
- squeeze of lemon juice
- In a frying pan over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds for 2 minutes until fragrant and starting to brown. Transfer to a pestle and mortar and grind to a powder. Set aside.
- In a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onion in the butter for 8 minutes until softened and starting to caramelise.
- Meanwhile, pour the vegetable stock into a separate saucepan, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low to keep the stock warm – you will gradually add the warm stock as you make your risotto.
- Add the ground fennel seeds (from earlier), grated lemon zest, chopped garlic, grated green apple and arborio rice to the onions and cook for 2 minutes, stirring regularly to fry the rice a little. Pour the white wine over the rice and cook until the rice has absorbed most of the wine and the alcohol smell is starting to disappear.
- Now gradually add the warm stock, approx. 1 cup at a time, continuing to regularly stir the rice through the liquid until most of the stock is absorbed before adding the next cup. This process will take around 20 minutes.
- Add the shredded spinach, edamame beans and hot water and stir through. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring regularly, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked to just tender – softened but with a subtle bite – if you feel the rice is not yet cooked, just add a little more water and cook for a few extra minutes until you are satisfied.
- Remove from the heat and stir through the lemon juice, grated parmesan, chopped fresh mint, sea salt and black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
Serve your risotto warm, in bowls topped with the green apple matchsticks, finely grated parmesan, chopped fresh mint and a squeeze of lemon juice.
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