Although winter isn’t really that grey and gloomy in Germany this year, avoiding the winter blues is still one of my main concerns in life from November until – June. Being one of those people who are especially prone to weather-induced moodiness, I consider it a service to the community to find effective ways of preventing it. One of the most potent solutions is soaking up as much light as I can get: in addition to spending my lunch break out in the open and planning little roam-abouts in blindingly lit shopping malls on my way back home, I add some sunlight to the menu plan. Citrus are just the way to bring some brightness to a grey day and almost every dull dish. Luckily, winter is when most of them are in season, and even if not here, courtesy of globalization they are at my fingertips on my local market.
I spotted these ginormous “Cedro” lemons at the market stall of “la Signora”, a feisty Italian woman of a certain age who sells the most gorgeous Italian produce and commands an entourage of several hunky helpers. They are rather plumpish and humpy – the Cedros that is – with an intensely tart pulp and a surprisingly fragrant and delicious outer white layer and brightly yellow skin. They are eaten “reversely”, so to speak: the common citrus used for making candied lemon peel (which I am happy to buy ready-made, thank you), their thick skin is equally delicious served raw as a shaved salad which is classically and simply dressed in some olive oil and its own juice.
The peel shavings are fiercely zesty and brightly astringent. To round them off, I add some mellow yellow in the form of a rather classic Caesar dressing for my version. This is liquid gold, really: rich egg yolk, olive oil, sharp garlic and dijon mustard and salty Parmesan cheese yield a wonderfully complex and luxuriant “sun lotion”. To really pack a punch against winter dullness, there’s some baby rock-it-rocket which adds mild sharpness and crunchy celery. This Caesar can perfectly go on top of crostini as a finger food starter, in which case I suggest you just toss everything together with the Caesar dressing. For the plated-starter-version in the picture, I blobbed some of the dressing on the plate and arranged the salad on top, then Jackson Pollocked with dressing again and strewed with some fried capers. Hello sunshine.
Cedro Lemon Caesar Salad
Serves 4-6 as a plated starter, 12-16 as finger food on crostini. Active time: 30-40 minutes, cooking: 5 minutes.
2 cedro lemons
1 bunch of baby rocket
1 handful of beetroot leaves
3 celery sticks (from the heart of the )
1 tbsp capers
1 egg yolk
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 regular lemon
1 clove of garlic
1-2 anchovy fillets in olive oil (omit these if you want a vegetarian version)
olive oil (best quality)
about 2 tbsp grated Parmesan (or Grana Padano) cheese
coarse sea salt
1 Thoroughly rinse the cedro lemons and cut them in quarters. Take out the pulp with a spoon and slice the white part of the lemon in thin shavings, using a vegetable peeler or mandolin. You can peel away the yellow outer skin first, if you prefer a less intense (and often, depending on what kind of cedro lemons you get, less bitter) taste. Salt them only slightly and set aside. This helps break down the structure of the peel a bit and makes it more pleasant to eat.
2 For the dressing, try to have all the ingredients (mainly the egg yolk and oil) at room temperature. Turn the garlic clove and anchovy fillets to mush and combine them with the mustard, a spritz of lemon juice (I used a regular lemon, use the cedro if you like), a (careful) pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl until it’s creamy and changes to a slightly lighter color. Then add olive oil gradually, about 1 tbsp at a time and whisk away until the yolk mixture has “absorbed” the oil and everything is well combined, then adding more oil and continually stirring until you have a mayonnaise-like consistency. This is the point where you have to taste the result. It will probably need more lemon juice and maybe salt – tweak it to your liking. Finally, incorporate finely grated Parmesan cheese.
3 Chop the celery sticks and clean, wash and pluck the beet root leaves and rocket (I have an obsessional neurosis when it comes to the little stalks on rocket leaves – they have to be plucked or I go crazy). Put on a small saucepan and add about 1 inch in height of frying oil (peanut is perfect, canola or sunflower seed is fine). Heat the oil over medium heat. The temperature ist right when dipping in the handle of a wooden spoon produces little bubbles. Drain the capers and dab them dry, then quickly fry them in the oil until they puff up (this will take about 20 seconds). Transfer to paper towels to get rid of excess frying fat.
4 For the assembly, quickly dress the cedro shavings in a dash of lemon juice and olive oil each, then combine with the leaves and celery. Toss again with the Caesar dressing or just drizzle it generously. Then top off with the capers and some Parmesan shavings. As every single component in this salad is rather intense in flavor, there’s no need for letting it marinade – serve it right away.