Lemon trees thrive in a warm, dry Mediterranean climate, so it’s no wonder that the tart fruits are a staple in a host of Mediterranean cuisines. From Morocco to Greece, lemons have made their way into every meal of the day. Italians aren’t immune to their affection for lemons; if you look, you’ll find them in some surprising places on the Italian menu. Veal piccata is famously lemony, but the fruit’s tart juice and flavorful zest also brighten salads, desserts, mixed drinks and even cups of the quintessentially Italian drink, espresso.
The Italian love affair with lemons is a long-lasting one. Lemon trees first appeared in Italy about two millennia ago, but the Romans considered the fragrant yellow fruits a perfume rather than an ingredient. Medieval Italian cooks realized that lemons were more than just a pretty scent; they used them with abandon in sweet and savory dishes.
Lemons did more than make food delicious; their high acidity also helped preserve foods. The earliest Renaissance physicians didn’t know about vitamin C, but they knew that lemons were healthy and recommended that everyone eat them regularly. The fruit’s acidity and fresh fragrance made it the perfect foil for fish. Sorrento lemons became famous worldwide for their exceptional flavor and strongly perfumed zest. They’re the basis for limoncello, the brilliant yellow lemon-zest liqueur from the Amalfi coast.
From a touch of tart lemon in your Italian vinaigrette to a generous squeeze of juice in your plate of chicken scarpariello to the curl of zest with your espresso, lemons enliven every course of an Italian dinner. You’ll also find it gracing simple fish dishes seasoned with little more than olive oil, pepper and lemons. Some chefs use a splash of lemon juice to brighten the flavor of a slow-cooked tomato sauce or act as a counterpart to the rich butter and garlic in traditional shrimp scampi.
Lemons also shine in Italian desserts. In sweet dishes, the perfume-like notes of lemon’s characteristic flavor come through as their tartness mellows. Italian bakers use lemon extensively in biscotti, cookies and cakes, often combining the citrus fruit with anise or almonds. Lemon-infused custards are a popular winter treat in Italy; for summer, lemon ices keep Italians cool under the strong Mediterranean sun.
That twist of lemon peel alongside your espresso got its start in America from an unknown Italian-American restaurateur who wanted to combine his love of lemons with his passion for powerful Italian coffee. Although the pairing didn’t originate in Italy, it’s found quite a following among Italian coffee drinkers who appreciate yet another way to enjoy their favorite fruit.
Celebrate luscious lemons at Carlino’s with a menu built around them. Start with a lemon drop cocktail or a glass of lemonade, then enjoy a bowl of stracciatella alla Romana, the Italian version of egg drop soup. Follow it with a lemon-laced entree such as veal piccata or shrimp Francese. Ask about our dessert menu to discover lemon’s sweeter side, or skip dessert in favor of a cup of espresso with its trademark lemon twist.
Sincerely, Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’s RestaurantTweet