Lemons have been used in many ways throughout history. During the Renaissance, the fashionable ladies used lemons as a way to make their lips red and pronounced. In the early 1900s, an elixir of warm water, fresh lemon juice, and sugar was thought to help digestion. Today, a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice is said to relieve extremely rough, dry hands.
But for me fresh, fragrant lemons signal summer. The bright yellow peel resembling a bright summer sun and the fresh, hypnotizing perfume of the juice all make this one of the summer's symbolic fruits.
Oh yes, you can get lemons all year round but not like the fresh summer lemons. The simplest way to brighten up any dish and really wake up the taste is by adding some lemon zest and/or lemon juice. For a quick, light, refreshing summer dessert to eat alone or with some vanilla gelato or ice cream, mix a pound of fresh strawberries (hulled and cut in half) with the juice of one lemon and a tablespoon or so of sugar. Let marinate for one hour and serve.
The perfume of this lemon torta wafting through my kitchen always reminds me of summer stays at a small bed and breakfast (called agriturismi in Italian) in Sorrento ( the town that is famous for their trademark lemons) where fresh lemons infuse the air in the summer. The view of the bay of Naples, the perfume of fresh lemons, and the vibrant colors all combine to make a resplendent experience.
Torta al Limone (from The Basic Art of Italian Cooking: Holidays & Special Occasions, 2nd edition)
Ingredients for 6-8 people:
2 cups flour (sifted)
1 ½ cups sugar
4 fresh lemons
½ cup butter (unsalted)
1 cup (warm) milk
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
6 fresh lemon slices
1 cup candied fruit
6 maraschino cherries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in saucepan and set aside to let cool. Juice 4 lemons into a small bowl, set aside. Grate peels of 4 lemons, set aside. Cut candied fruit into small cubes, set aside.
Separate eggs into two bowls. With a hand mixer, whip egg yolks together with sugar until well blended and creamy. Add lemon peel and lemon juice a little at a time to the egg yolk mixture while blending in. Add in sifted flour ¼ cup at a time, blending in after each addition. Add in warm milk and melted butter, a little at a time.
Beat egg whites till peaks have formed. Fold egg whites into egg yolk mixture.Add in baking powder, candied fruits,vanilla. Butter and flour (or cover with parchment paper). Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Remove cake from oven and let cool. Place on serving dish and decorate with lemon slices and maraschino cherries and serve.