Saturday, 8 February 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Marmalata di Cipolla & Cedro con Timo & Peperoncino
Onion & Cedro Lemon Marmalade with Chilli & Thyme

We all know the saying and yes, lemonade is nice... but there are lemons and there are LEMONS. I am talking about those big, beautiful, Sicilian "eating lemons"- the once you can see here was about the size and weight of a honeydew melon!

The fruit part of the cedro is small and bitter, but the amazingly thick, white pith is  mild and refreshing and wonderful to eat. Yes, it is slightly "spongey" in its consistency, but yes, it is different and it is delicious! It has the great lemon aroma and flavor, without the bitterness... and what's not to like about that?!?

I guess you will only be able to appreciate the sheer scale of this lemon, by seeing it next to some other more familiar object- such as the plate, or the large onions in the images below... and you know- sometimes they say that "big is beautiful"... and sometimes they are right!

This picture shows you the ingredients I had- a cedro, 3 onions, a fresh chilli pepper and a bunch of thyme. But I have to tell you that those lemons are BIG- at least the one I had... and that by the time I got down to starting making this I soon realized that just half of my lemon would already fill my frying pan! So that was all I used... but we will get back to that later...

In case you are not familiar with the cedro- this is what it looks like on the inside... I love this fruit!

In order to make the marmalade, I sliced half of the cedro up, then after removing the pips, chopped it into little pieces, peel and all. I then cut the onions into a fine dice, plucked the thyme from its stems and finely sliced half of the chili pepper. I then sprinkled these all lightly with salt and let the mixture sit for 20 minutes or so. 

After 20 minutes, I put everything into the frying pan with 2 tablespoons of sugar and enough water to just cover the bottom of the pan. I added a good pinch of salt and after bringing the water up to the boil, let it simmer away for 5 minutes or so. And in the meantime, I boiled up another kettle of water ready to use.

After 5 minutes, the water had all but evaporated away, and so I added enough water again to cover all of the cedro and lemon.... and let them simmer on...

Once the water had evaporated away, I topped it up again- and this went on and on, kind-of the same procedure as making risotto... only with less stirring! Still- you do need to keep your eye on things as there is sugar in there and it will get sticky and burn if you are not careful.

Be prepared to be patient... I am sure I added water and let it cook away and repeated this over and over at least 10 times! This cooked for almost an hour and a half... the cedro absorbing the water then evaporating it and the bitterness away. And whilst this was going on, of course the thyme and the chilli were doing there part and adding depth to the flavor, whilst the onion practically melted away and became softer and sweeter by the minute.

Of course, with just 2 tablespoons of sugar, there was still quite a bit of sweetness needed to balance the bitterness and the sour taste of the lemon and that sweetness came in the form of honey, which I added for just the last 15 minutes. I used the lovely orange blossom honey I was given by my sister- locally produced in Sicily and totally floral and wonderful- and delicate too, which is why I didn't want to heat it up for too long and ruin. But obviously you can use any honey- either liquid or solid... but the same thing applies- add it towards the end, because as much as anything else, if you heat honey up to high for too long it will end up turning bitter- and that would be a shame.

I added 2 good tablespoons of honey and it tasted fine to me- of course this is going to depend on how bitter the lemon is, how tart the onions are... and how sweet your tooth is! But this IS supposed to be a savory marmalade to be eaten with cold cuts, salami or nice mature cheeses after all- so a tangy, chutney-like affair is what it should be.

And there you have it. It should keep for a while in the fridge, but obviously not as long as a regular marmalade that has much more sugar. But it tastes so good, I doubt it will be in the fridge that long anyway...

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