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My latest must-have secret ingredient had a very circuitous route.

A friend from New York had a fabulous meal in Scotland. When he inquired about what made the dish so special, the chef produced a jar of preserved lemons. More than smitten with the flavor, he went home and put up two quarts. I was duly advised to do the same.

I’ve known for a while that a squirt of lemon juice, or a bit of zest, could be just the thing to answer that “something’s missing” in a dish. After I made my first batch of preserved lemons, something missing turned into something wonderful. They add an irresistible complexity to even the simplest dishes.

Preserved lemons get their unique flavor from fermentation. Because the peels are used, the flavor is infused with floral notes along with the acidic taste of citrus.

If you are up for a drive to Lancaster, you could probably find jarred preserved lemons in Whole Foods or Wegmans. Making your own, though, takes minutes. Lemons, salt and time are all that is needed.

Preserve the lemons: Any type of lemon will work, but Meyer lemons are the best choice, as they are less tart and have a thinner skin. Whatever type of lemons you buy, scrub them first with hot water — most are coated with a vegetable wax.

To make preserved lemons, proceed as follows. Trim 1/4 inch off the top and bottom of each lemon. Split lengthwise into quarters, keeping the quarters connected at the base. Open up the lemon quarters and sprinkle about a tablespoon of kosher salt inside each. Add one tablespoon kosher salt to the bottom of a jar. Add the lemons, squeezing in as many as possible. I got five into a pint jar. Press the lemons down firmly until they are completely submerged in liquid. If necessary, add more freshly squeezed lemon juice so they are completely covered.

Let the lemons ferment in a warm place, shaking the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice. They will be ready to use in about a month.

Below is a summer squash recipe that is brightened with the addition of preserved lemons.

Sautéed Summer Squash

1 each yellow and green summer squash, thinly sliced in rounds

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon preserved lemon, finely chopped

Heat the oil in a medium-size skillet. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onion is transparent. Add the squash pieces and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté for about five minutes, turning the squash pieces with a spatula. Add the preserved lemon and cook for a minute more. Serve hot or at room temperature.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.

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