This one time, I ate a meal at the house of my wonderful friend Lucia. It was simple and clean, a salad with just well dressed greens, a warm frittata and some red wine. Nothing fancy, nothing extravagent or complicated, and yet it was probably one of the most memorable meals I’ve eaten in a long time. The reason for this is still very much so on the tip of my tongue: the dressing. And you know what’s funny? That was simple too. Three ingredients to be exact. Nothing more than a healthy dose of olive oil, some lemon and salt. So, what I learned from this meal is that it’s not the ingredients themselves that can make the meal, but rather how you use them.
With every bite there was something new that I tasted in that dressing, on a warm spring night at Lucia’s, sitting on her balcony overlooking Mount Sopris. The dressing itself had so much flavor, an “umami” quality describing a depth of flavor that is rarely present in food. I asked her how she had prepared the dressing, and rather than tell me she simply got up, walked to her kitchen and showed me what she knew I was so curious about. She retrieved a jar from her cabinet that contained a yellowish gel-like substance, similar looking to a marmalade but more opaque and thicker than the traditional. She explained that what I was tasting was lemon confit, or lemons preserved in salt and their own juices and that it wasn’t a flavor that could be achieved easily. Much like preserving or pickling, it is a process that occurs over several weeks or months even in order to achieve the ideal taste and consistency. Still tasting the flavors of that confit in my mouth long after the culmination of the meal, I practically got down on my knees and begged her for the recipe. She hesitated, as a magician would hesitate to tell his secrets to a young apprentice if at all, insisting that this was a recipe I couldn’t take lightly as it must be prepared with proper tools, ingredients and with great care. We spent the next hour documenting and discussing the recipe, her recounting the story of how she came about the recipe long ago with intense physical expression and exclamation in her voice that exuded a passion rarely seen, me listening intently and asking many questions along the way. At the end of the dinner I left her house carrying the recipe on a piece of lined paper as if it were sacred, handling it with care and placing it folded neatly into my Joy of Cooking hardcover that I protected diligently throughout my entire journey from Aspen to Portland.
And just like that, I find myself in Portland, Oregon, living in a newly rented house scattered with luggage, boxes and recently purchased thrift store essentials. A few days ago, as we eagerly unloaded what possessions we were able to carry with us along the journey from Tim’s exhausted sherpa of a vehicle into our new place, there were a few items that I just couldn’t wait to bring back into the light of day. One of these was my Joy of Cooking, and not because of the necessity of those thousands of recipes in it. Rather, it was the lemon confit recipe that I had been dreaming about since the night I left Lucia’s house a week or so before leaving Colorado. I had explained to her that night that I, very unfortunately, wouldn’t be able to start it until after arriving in Portland because of the time constraints. And now that I had arrived, it was time. Within a few days I had collected all of the necessities of the recipe, including an air-tight clear glass container that I found in the back of a dusty shelf of a vintage furniture store just a few blocks down the way, and after purchasing I practically sprinted home to get the party started.
Yesterday, I gathered the ingredients in my new somewhat cute, somewhat disheveled kitchen and went for it with much enthusiasm. Although it will be time before I can sit down and enjoy my own homemade salty sour deliciousness, I wanted to share the recipe with whoever my still be reading this sorely neglected blog, in the language of the beloved Lucia, so that you too may enjoy such a delicacy in only a few week’s time.
Lucia’s Lemon Confit
10-20 good quality lemons
Salt (must be course, good quality, I used Kosher but Lucia prefers sea salt)
A wide-mouthed, clear, glass, air tight container
Take 5 or 6 (depending on the size of the lemon, however many you think will fit into the jar) remove ends and cut in quarters lengthwise, but leave one end still connected. Take each lemon and place in the jar one by one, pouring a generous tablespoon of salt into each quartered lemon, and pack them in tightly. Juice the rest of the lemons and pour the juice into the jar to fill about 3/4 to the top. Top it with a generous tablespoon of olive oil and seal it tightly. I first sealed it with saran wrap and then closed the lid as tightly as possible. Place it in a dark place, such as the back of a cabinet, for a month at least, tipping it ninety degrees each week.
Honestly, this recipe reminded me of the joys of doing a fourth grade science experiment! Not only was it pretty easy and basic, but it was also messy and fun and contains in it the excitement of knowing that you are responsible for its creation and nurturing until it is ready for using! And just as I find myself in a time of growth and transformation in this new place filled with all kinds of exciting and awesome things to do and see, so too is my beloved lemon confit. So bear with us (the confit and myself) as we do a little bit of adjusting and at the very least by the end of the month I will have a delicious new creation to add to my cooking adventures.
I’ll keep you posted.