These pickled lemons are the doqq variety which is small and very thin skinned.
Anissa: It has been quite some time since Charles Perry did a guest post but here he is now with another fascinating post on pickling lemons.
Charles: The Arabs have been pickling lemons since the Middle Ages. The 13th-century book Kitab al-Wusla ila al-Habib says, “Salty lemons (laimun malih). They are so well known they need no description.” Nevertheless, Wusla eventually gives a recipe: “Take lemons, slice them crosswise and fill them with crushed salt. Then press them into a bowl and leave for two nights for them to soften. Then press them very strongly into a glass jar, squeeze lemon juice to cover and pour it over them, and seal with oil. Their flavor keeps well.” The flavor of pickled lemons is distinctive – somewhat piney, but not bracing like pine; in fact, plush, languid, decadent. Food science writer Harold McGee tells me the chemistry of this change has not been studied, but he speculates that the pine note comes from chemicals in lemon peel called terpenes – there are also terpenes in conifers, where they also serve to protect the plant from microbes.
It’s lucky I don’t invite the same friends all the time otherwise they might get bored of eating the same thing. I tend to fall in love with one dish and I cook it again and again until I get bored with it. These days, my favourite dishes for when I have guests over are kibbeh if I have time and fatteh if I don’t. Fatteh is a composite dish made of layers: toasted bread, meat (chicken, lamb or offal in particular lambs’ feet), chickpeas, yoghurt and pine nuts. The combination of textures is delightful. In one bite you have crunchy (the toasted bread and nuts), soft (the meat and chickpeas) and velvety (the yoghurt). You also get contrasting temperatures with the hot meat and chickpeas tempered by the bread and yoghurt which are at room temperature.
Well, it was a great holiday, spent with wonderful friends in beautiful houses, looking at stunning scenery and eating delicious food. What more can an old lady wish for? A perfect last supper, which is what I got when Bea prepared spaghetti alle vongole, one of my all time favourite pasta dishes. And she gave me the recipe which I transcribe below as she wrote it in Italian though you may not need it as making the sauce couldn’t be simpler. All you need is fresh clams, a little chopped parsley, extra virgin olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic, one dried chilli, half a lemon, a little white wine and some sea salt.
Very soon I will be back in London and it will be the end of my lovely Italian meals unless I decide to recreate cacciucco alla Livornese in my own kitchen which I doubt somehow. Not so much because I cannot get the different fish and seafood that I need for this amazing fish stew (or soup depending on who describes it) but really because the pleasure of eating it in my kitchen, however lovely it is, will never equal that of enjoying it while looking out at the fabulous sunset that evening.