Welcome to the first of many staff favorites from The Post's Food section, in which we share a recipe that we turn to time and again.
Fresh out of the oven: lemons?
I know it sounds odd, and yet for the past two months, even on sultry days, I've been heating up the kitchen to make Roasted Lemon Salsa, a recipe that I found in the cool days of April in John Ash's new book, "Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple, Contemporary Food From a Master Teacher" (Clarkson Potter, 2004).
Lemons are first scrubbed then halved and sent on a baking sheet into the 400-degree heat of the oven. What emerges is a soft, mellow fruit, not unlike the preserved lemons that are halved, salted, covered with lemon juice and left to mellow in a glass jar for six weeks -- except this happens in 25 minutes.
Once out of the oven, the lemons are diced, skin and all, combined with oil, sugar, shallots, pepper, some lemon juice and salt, and then the salsa is ready to go -- to top grilled fish, to fold into risotto, to mix with Israeli couscous and mint for a lively side dish. Or chop some olives and fold them into the lemon salsa and then add the whole thing to chicken and rice. Or steam some artichokes or asparagus, blend a little mayonnaise with the lemons, and use it as a sauce or dip.
Ash, the California chef-teacher-cookbook author, brings innovative recipes and a common sense approach together in a book that has many other recipes to recommend it. But this one will be my favorite for a long, long time.
Roasted Lemon Salsa
Makes about 11/2 cups
"This is an unusual approach that produces a great condiment. Roasting a lemon softens its acidity and adds a toasty note. It's a great topper for broiled or grilled chicken and fish. I also like to stir a little into soups and risottos at the last minute to add brightness. For variation, you can add some finely diced green or black olives or chopped herbs, such as parsley or chives. It's simple to put together, but the lemons need to be roasted and cooled first, and the mixture should sit for several hours before serving, so make this one ahead of time."
-- From "Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple, Contemporary Food From a Master Teacher" (Clarkson Potter, 2004).
2 large lemons (about 1/2 pound), scrubbed*
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or scallion (white part only)
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the lemons in half and pick out the seeds. Lightly coat the lemons with a tablespoon of the oil. Place the lemons cut side down in a baking dish and roast uncovered for 25 minutes. Remove, cool and cut the lemons into 1/4-inch dice.
In a bowl, combine the lemons, the remaining olive oil, shallots, sugar and salt and stir gently. Cover and set aside for at least 3 hours so the flavors can marry and mellow. Initially, the lemons may seem a little harsh or bitter but as they sit the flavor changes markedly. Taste it a couple of times throughout the rest period and you'll see. Adjust the seasonings with additional salt, pepper and lemon juice. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.
*NOTE: Commercially grown citrus is coated with a wax that gives it a nice shine and also helps extend its shelf life -- fruits don't dry out as quickly when waxed. Although it's "food-grade" wax, none of us needs to consume it. The best way to remove it is to use a mild detergent solution and a clean pot-scrubber sponge. Rinse thoroughly, of course.
Per serving: 210 calories, 1 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 777 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber