I’ll Be With You in the Squeezing of a Lemon

Pride of place in my kitchen is a big bowl of lemons. I get twitchy if there’s less than three or four left because I get through a phenomenal amount, probably two or three a day. One of them is sliced with ginger for my early morning cuppa but looking back over what I’ve eaten this week, lemon makes an appearance in everything I’ve cooked.

A squeeze of lemon has a magical effect on mushrooms. Try it next time you make mushrooms on toast or a creamy mushroom sauce for pasta. In Monday’s mushroom soup, I added scraps of zest too, paper-thin so you can almost see through it. It lends an intense lemon flavour pointed up at the end of cooking with lemon juice. The zest looks pretty when it’s liquidized with the mushrooms and a handful of parsley, the boucle brown soup flecked with lemon and green. Breadcrumbs give the soup a noticeably light texture whilst making it surprisingly satisfying, particularly when served with a soft-poached egg. I like this soup supper with a swirl of olive oil and plenty of garlicky bruschetta to dunk.

Lemon brings the mellow earthy flavour of lentils to life. It’s added at the end of Tuesday’s Egyptian rice, actually a mixture of lentils and rice, with slippery, caramelized onion, cooked until dark and almost burnt. This modest combo is unbelievably moreish and becomes a feast with masses of soft green herbs and a generous crumble of feta cheese. It’s what I call fridge food, ready for when I can’t be bothered to cook or I need plenty of carbs quickly. It is great hot, warm or cold, and is delicious with sausages or chops, but I love it best with roast vegetables or a simply cooked fillet of fish, the whole splashed with lemon juice and olive oil.

I often settle for a mid-week fish supper and Wednesday’s meal-in-a-bowl with haricot or cannelloni beans is quick and easy to shop for, a useful mix of fresh and store cupboard ingredients. Once again lemon lifts the flavours, this time compounded by chunks of tomato and slippery soft onion, garlic and crisp scraps of bacon. Zest and juice go into Thursday’s minced beef pasta dish, the juice mixing with butter to anoint linguine, while the zest gives extra interest to the mince.

Friday’s lemon pudding is childsplay to make with an electric blender. A fluffy batter of flour, egg yolk and sugar is flavoured with lemon zest and juice while beaten egg white makes it puff and billow like a soufflé. It ends up with a crusty surface and a texture somewhere between blancmange and a very fine sponge. Serve it with lemony crème fraiche and wait for the compliments.



Serves 4

Prep: 20 min

Cook: 20 min

125g spring onions

2 garlic cloves

1 unwaxed lemon

50g butter

250g chestnut mushrooms

¼ (quarter) tsp chilli flakes

1 tbsp sherry

2 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs

1 chicken or veg stock cube

10g flat leaf parsley

1 tbsp vinegar

4 eggs

extra virgin olive oil

Trim and finely slice the onions, including the tender green. Peel and chop the garlic. Use a potato peeler to remove the zest from the lemon in small scraps. Melt the butter in a medium-sized pan and stir in the onions, garlic and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over a medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until the onions are slippery soft. While that’s happening, wipe the mushrooms and pile into the food processor. Pulse briefly until finely chopped. Stir chilli and mushrooms through the onions. Increase the heat and stir-fry for 5 minutes until moist and dark. Add the sherry and bubble up. Stir in the crumbs. Dissolve the stock cube in 750ml boiling water and add to the mushrooms. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer briskly for 5 minutes. Add the parsley then blitz to puree. Return to the pan, reheat, taste and season with salt and lemon juice. Bring a small sauté pan water to the boil. Add the vinegar. Crack an egg, one at a time, into a teacup and slip into the bubbling water. Simmer for 1-2 minutes until firm. Lift, one at a time, onto a fold of kitchen paper to drain. Serve very hot soup with an egg and swirl of olive oil.



Serves 4

Prep: 20 min

Cook: 35 min

200g Puy lentils

200g basmati rice

1 chicken stock cube

2 large onions

2 tbsp olive oil

25g flat leaf parsley

10g mint

10g coriander

1 lemon

200g feta cheese

Rinse the lentils and place in a pan with 400ml water and crumbled stock cube. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the cube, reduce the heat, cover and cook for 25 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat and boil until the lentils are very soft and the liquid absorbed. Rinse the rice and place in a pan with 300ml water. Bring to the boil, turn heat very low, cover and cook 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave for 10 minutes before removing the lid. Fluff the rice and mix rice and lentils thoroughly in a bowl. While lentils and rice cook, trim, halve, peel and finely slice the onions. Heat the oil, stir in the onions and cook, tossing regularly, until shrivelled and golden. This should take about 20 minutes. Chop the herbs. Add onions, herbs and crumbled feta to the dish, toss thoroughly and serve with lemon wedges.



Serves 4

Prep: 20 min

Cook: 25 min

6 rashers rindless streaky bacon

1 tbsp cooking oil

1 onion

1 large garlic clove

1 unwaxed lemon

2 x 400g can haricot or cannellini beans

1 chicken stock cube

generous splash Tabasco

4 tomatoes, preferably plum

10g flat leaf parsley

4 fillets cod, haddock, pollack or other firm white fish

Slice across the bacon rashers to make little strips. Heat the oil in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pan and cook the bacon for a few minutes until the fat begins to crisp. Peel and finely chop the onion and stir into the bacon. Stir occasionally for about 10 minutes until the onion is limp and golden. Peel the garlic and chop finely. Zest the lemon and chop into yellow dust. Stir both into onion and cook for a minute or so until aromatic. Tip the beans into a sieve, rinse with cold water, shake dry and stir into the pan. Dissolve the stock cube in 450ml boiling water. Add stock and Tabasco to the pan. Simmer briskly for 5 minutes. Cover the tomatoes with boiling water, count to 30, drain and peel. Coarsely chop. Chop the parsley. Cut the fish into big bite-size chunks and season with salt and pepper. Stir tomatoes and most of the parsley into the beans. Cook for 2 minutes then stir in the fish. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the fish is opaque. Serve in shallow soup bowls garnished with the last of the parsley and a lemon wedge.



Serves 4

Prep: 20 min

Cook: 35 min

250g spinach

1 large onion

25g butter plus an extra knob

1 tbsp olive oil

1 unwaxed lemon

1 tbsp chopped rosemary

¼ (quarter) tsp chilli flakes

300g prime minced beef

1 chicken stock cube

200g canned chopped tomatoes

400g linguine

25g flat leaf parsley

Immerse the washed spinach in a large pan of boiling water. Boil for 30 seconds, tip into a colander and leave to drain. Trim, halve, peel and finely dice the onion. Melt 25g butter with the oil in a spacious lidded pan and stir in the onion. Remove the zest from the lemon and chop finely. Stir lemon and rosemary into the onions, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Crumble the beef over the onions, stirring to brown. Crumble the stock cube over the beef, stirring until disappeared into the juices. Add 150ml water and let it bubble up and reduce slightly then add the tomatoes. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Cook the linguine to co-ordinate with the beef. Drain and return to the pan with juice from the lemon, the knob of butter and just before serving, the finely chopped parsley leaves. Squeeze the spinach dry, slice the green ball a few times then stir into the cooked mince. Stir the mince through the pasta, or serve, spag bol-style, on top.



Serves 6

Prep: 20 min

Cook: 45 min

50g soft butter plus an extra knob

2 unwaxed lemons

150g caster sugar

3 eggs

50g self-raising flour

200ml milk

icing sugar

crème fraiche to serve

Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Boil the kettle. Use the knob of butter to lavishly smear a 1.2 litre capacity soufflé or similarly deep dish. Remove the zest from the lemons and chop small. Squeeze the juice through a strainer to catch the pips; you want 5 tbsp. Separate the eggs. Beat the butter, sugar and egg yolks until light and fluffy. Fold in the zest followed by a couple of tablespoons of flour, then milk, continuing thus to make a thick smooth batter.  Stir in the lemon juice. The mixture is likely to curdle. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until firm but not hard. Gently fold the whites through the batter. Pour into the prepared dish. Place the dish in a roasting tin and pour sufficient boiling water to come a third of the way up the sides of the dish. Bake for 45-55 minutes until puffed, golden and firm to the touch. Dust with icing sugar. Serve with crème fraiche.