Lemons (Recipe: shrimp, lemon, herb and feta macaroni and cheese)
I will never be tall.
I always wanted to be tall, Brooke Shields tall, so I could be in the back row of group photos, and hang on to the strap on the New York subway without standing on tiptoe, and not care if tall people sit in front of me in theaters, which they always seem to do.
I will never be fluent in French or Chinese.
I will never be a trapeze artist, a cartoonist, an electrician, a pig farmer or a dentist.
And I will never be a locavore.
To be a locavore in New England -- a person who eats only what is produced within one hundred miles of home -- I'd have to give up coffee, shrimp and lemons.
I will never.
Lemons aren't local to New England; native to northwest India or China, they're cultivated primarily in the United States (California, Arizona and Florida), Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel and Turkey.
Eureka and Lisbon are the most common varieties; in my local grocery stores, the lemon varieties are never labeled. Eureka has a textured skin, a short neck at one end, and a few seeds; Lisbon has a smoother skin, no neck, and is seedless. In terms of flavor, they're the same.
When you choose lemons, go for ones that are firm but with relatively thin skin. Press gently on the midsection; if there's absolutely no give, the skin is thick relative to the size of the fruit. Thinner skinned, heavy lemons hold the most juice.
Make sure the lemon is not blemished or shriveled, especially if you plan to use the zest (outer layer of the skin that contains the oils and perfume). My favorite zesting tool is a Microplane rasp; it's inexpensive and easy to clean, and makes quick work of zesting citrus fruits, as well as grating cheese or chocolate.
Zest lemons before juicing them. Room temperature lemons will yield more juice, so if your lemon is cold, after you zest it, pop it into the microwave for a few seconds. Then, press down gently but firmly and roll the lemon back and forth on the counter top a few times. You'll be amazed at how much more juice comes out.
Lemons do continue to age after they're harvested, so if you're not planning to use them right away, store them in the refrigerator to slow the aging process. I usually keep some in a bowl on my kitchen counter for up to a week, and more in the refrigerator for up to a month.
While most every cuisine uses lemon (or lime, in countries like Mexico that don't grow lemons), the flavor has become closely associated with Greece, in dishes like braised green beans with lemon, skate with a lemon caper sauce, slow roasted leg of lamb, Greek chickpea soup with lemon and olive oil. I love lemon's bright flavor in lemon-yogurt cake, lemon cupcakes, and snickerdoodle lemon ice cream sandwiches, too.
So, please don't ask me to give up lemons, just because they're not from here.
I will never.
Shrimp, lemon, herb and feta macaroni and cheese
This mac and cheese, developed for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board's new mac and cheese blog, is a mac and cheese that takes you somewhere with each bite. Though the ingredients include Japanese bread crumbs and Italian pasta, the combination of feta, lemon and herbs will transport you to the Greek Isles. Shrimp are sold by the number per pound; this recipe calls for 31-40 size, which often are labeled "large". Omit the shrimp to make a delicious vegetarian version. Note: Wisconsin feta is much less salty than Greek feta. If you use Greek feta, be sure to taste your sauce before adding salt. Serves 6-8.
13.25 oz rotini (I use Dreamfields low-carb)
1 lb frozen large shrimp, 31-40 size
2/3 lb feta, crumbled, divided
3/4 cup panko
Zest of 2 large lemons, divided
4 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
4 cups milk (whole or 2%)
1/2 lb gruyere or fontiago or Danish fontina, grated (or chopped in a food processor)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill weed
1/2 to 1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 to 1 tsp fresh black pepper
Bring a large stockpot of water to the boil, and add the pasta. Cook for 8 minutes; the pasta should be a bit underdone. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Add the pasta to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Remove shrimp from the freezer, and set in a bowl of cold water.
In a small bowl, combine 1/3 cup of the feta, half of the lemon zest, all of the panko and 2 Tbsp parsley. Mix well and set aside.
Peel and devein the shrimp as soon as they are defrosted enough to handle (but not fully defrosted) and add to the pasta.
Make the sauce: In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add in the flour and stir until the flour is absorbed by the butter to form a paste. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the milk, and, with a wire whisk, stir vigorously to remove any lumps. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently with the whisk, for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Remove pot from heat, and whisk into the sauce the gruyere and the remaining feta. Whisk until the sauce is smooth; the gruyere will melt completely, and the feta will be well incorporated. Add the remaining lemon zest, the remaining parsley, dill weed, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce on top of the pasta, and stir to combine.
Pour the mixture into a casserole dish (approximately 9x13 inches). Sprinkle the panko mixture on top. Place in the middle of the oven and bake at 400°F for 25 minutes, until the top is browned and the cheese is bubbling a bit along the edges. Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 minutes, and serve hot.