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Use Meyer lemons to brighten food, wine this winter

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Outside the door to my office where I do all my writing is a dwarf Genoa lemon tree, planted last spring. When I got the tree earlier this year at Sebastopol’s Harmony Farms, it was about 3 feet tall. It’s now nearly 4½ feet high. It has three lemons, each about the size of a hen’s egg. They are hard and dark green with a slight blush of yellow. By spring, they should ripen fully.

Our strange weather this fall has resulted in several blossoms, even though they typically appear when other fruit trees blossom in the spring. These burst forth in early November, when temperatures were much higher than normal. Will they become lemons? I have no idea, but I’m hoping.

Lemons may be the most versatile fruit we have. They can brighten almost everything we eat, from raw oysters, chilled Dungeness crab and grilled steak to both sweet and tart beverages and all manner of desserts. Lemons also can form a compelling connection when pairing food and wine; a spritz will shift how the wine and food interact. If you want to enjoy, say, beef with white wine, a squeeze of lemon will get you there most of the time.

Lemons and other citrus tend to peak around this time of year, though certain varieties, especially our local Meyer lemons, are often available year-round. In recent years, Meyer lemons have been the darling of citrus lovers. They often are described as sweet though they contain little sugar. They simply have less acid that other varieties, such as the ubiquitous Eureka and similar varieties.

For many years, Fresno-based DeSantis Farm attended local farmers markets with a diverse citrus crop that included a pink-flesh lemon that is as beautiful as it is delicious. The farm no longer participates in any Sonoma County farmers markets, but you can find them at Marin County farmers markets.

Davero Farms and Winery (766 Westside Road, Healdsburg) has just released its Meyer lemon olive oil and is selling 5-pound baskets of Meyer lemons ($25), too.

The farm also has Meyer lemon curd and marmalade for sale this winter. To make a reservation for the tasting room, call 707-431-8000, ext. 1. Everything is available at davero.com.

Several farmers market vendors currently have beautiful Meyer lemons for sale and a few have Eurekas, too.

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Using all water will result in a bright, pristine risotto. On the other hand, using chicken stock will add a deeper layer. Or try a combination of the two by diluting about two cups of stock with water.

If using a commercial stock, do not use more than 2 cups and use water for the rest of the liquid.

Meyer Lemon Risotto

Serves 3 to 4

2 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, diced

— Kosher salt

1½ cups Vialone Nano rice

¾ cup dry white wine

8 cups chicken stock or water, hot (see note below)

— Zest of 1 Meyer lemon

— Juice of 1 Meyer lemon

4 ounces soft cheese of choice (Brie, Camembert, goat Camembert or other similar cheese)

2 ounces (½ cup) grated dry Jack, Parmigiano-Reggiano or similar cheese

1 Meyer lemon, peeled and seeded, sections removed from their membranes

— Black pepper in a mill

3 tablespoons snipped chives or minced fresh Italian parsley

— Meyer lemon olive oil, such as DaVero or O

Pour the chicken stock or water into a saucepan set over medium-low heat.

Heat the butter in a medium-sized pan set over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it is soft and fragrant, about 12 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until each grain begins to turn milky white, about 2 minutes.

Increase the heat to high, add the wine and stir continuously until it is completely absorbed by the rice. Add the stock ½ cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid is nearly completely absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir until the rice is tender, about 18 to 20 minutes total cooking time.

When the rice is almost tender, stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice and cheeses. Taste, correct for salt and stir in a final ¼ cup of stock. Remove from the heat and quickly fold in the lemon sections, several turns of black pepper and half the chives or parsley.

Ladle into soup plates, drizzle about 2 teaspoons (no need to measure) of the Meyer lemon olive oil over each portion, sprinkle the remaining chives on top and enjoy right away.

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This simple lemon cake is easy to make and quite delicious. It also freezes well, so if you’re cooking for just yourself and maybe one other person, you might freeze half of it. It’s great to have on hand if a friend stops by unexpectedly and you’d like to offer tea and a nibble. Sometimes, I like to toast a slice, slather it with butter and enjoy it for breakfast.

Brown Butter Lemon Pound Cake

Serves 6 to 8

½ cup creme fraiche

3 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon butter

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup sugar

8 tablespoons brown butter (see Note below), at room temperature

2 large eggs

½ cup milk

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the creme fraiche into a small bowl, stir to loosen it, add 1 tablespoon of the lemon zest, stir again, cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Use the butter to coat a 4-inch-by-8-inch loaf pan and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Set aside.

Put the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and stir well with a fork. Set aside.

Put ¾ cup of the sugar into a medium mixing bowl, add the butter and beat well with an electric mixer or sturdy whisk until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix thoroughly between additions. The mixture should be pale yellow and quite creamy. Add the milk and remaining lemon zest and mix until smooth.

Add the flour mixture and mix until it is just incorporated; do not overmix. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and tip the mixture into the loaf pan.

Set on the middle rack of the oven and cook for 50 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick or bamboo skewer into the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean, it is done; if it does not, cook 5 minutes more.

Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pan and set on a rack to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, put the remaining sugar and the lemon juice in a small saucepan set over medium-low heat. Swirl the pan a few times until the sugar is melted and remove from the heat.

After the cake has been removed from the pan, use a toothpick or bamboo skewer to poke holes all over the top, every inch or so. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of the cake with the lemon-sugar glaze, using all of it.

To serve, cut into slices, set on individual plates and add a dollop of creme fraiche alongside.

Note: To make brown butter, put about 10 tablespoons (1 cube + 2 tablespoons) into a small saucepan set over low heat. When the butter is fully melted, use a spoon to skim off the foam and other impurities that rise to the surface.

Carefully pour the liquid butter into a warmed jar or other heatproof container, leaving behind the milk solids.

Wipe the pan clean, return the butter to it and set it over medium heat until it turns golden brown and gives off a nutlike aroma.

Variations:

Use regular butter instead of brown butter.

Add 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger to the sugar and butter mixture and add 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger to the glaze.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Oil & Vinegar.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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