Several years back, my husband, Matt, and I were fortunate enough to be living in southern Italy doing research for our second cookbook featuring recipes from agriturismi, working family farms that provide room and board to travelers. We were working at a lemon farm in the small town of Masa Lubrese perched high above Sorrento along the Almafi coast. The area, home to the sweet liqueur known as limoncello, is studded with terraced lemon groves covered by massive wooden pergolas to protect the prized fruit from the harsh coastal winds and cold winter temperatures.
The lemons that grow there are very large, about the size of a mango, with thick skin, lots of white pith, and fragrant, delicate flesh that is more sweet then bitter. I admired how the people of the town worked lemons into many local delicacies. Risotto laced with ribbons of lemon zest was creamy and unctuous. Traditional Neapolitan pizzas—soft, chewy, and charred from the wood fired ovens—were loaded with buffalo mozzarella, thinly sliced lemons, and torn basil leaves.
Lemons were at the forefront of these dishes, and not just from an added drizzle of juice for the hit of acid. In some cases, the entire lemon (well, all but the seeds) was used. When I returned home, my view of lemons changed, and I started to integrate them into my cooking more fully. We now make a slightly altered version of that lemon pizza at our wood-fired pizzeria in Guilford, Connecticut, topping the pie with lemon slices, rich and milky burrata cheese, and microgreens. Fluke, one of my favorite varieties of fish, lends itself perfectly to a lemon-infused poaching liquid. We want to share these creative and delicious recipes with you. They, along with a lemony gnocchi and a shrimp and bean dish featuring roasted lemons, show just how brightly the taste of lemons can shine.