Sunday, 30 March 2014

Citron Carpaccio and a Change of Heart

Every spring, I go on a bit of a citrus binge at the local markets, buying up bergamots, kumquats, grapefruit and citron whenever I spot them followed by a leisurely afternoon in the kitchen making marmalade and jam.  I've been getting some interesting results with poaching citron peel so I'm always especially on the lookout for them.

Even though they resemble a lemon in shape and colour, citron certainly don't taste like a lemon.  They have a thick, spongy, white pith with a tiny bit of sour flesh in the centre.  The bumpy skin has a soft lemon flavour but none of the intensity nor acidity of a lemon.  They're traditionally used for making preserves or candied peel.

In France, citron are called cédrat and in Italy they're cedro. No one would fault you for walking right by the knobbly, misshapen looking citron while thinking, "something is seriously wrong with those lemons!" 

But this post really isn't about the citron and what to make with it.  It's about simplicity and a culinary change of heart.

Cedro in the Ventimiglia market:  "Brutti ma buoni."  Ugly but good
If you've ever bought anything from a food vendor in Italy or France, more often then not, they'll advise you in the most detailed and definitive way, the perfect thing to make with what you're buying.  Take this morning for example.  I bought a small black truffle and some wine from a vendor in Italy and our conversation went something like this:  "This wine is excellent with poached fish, especially Dorade, and remember to add some rosemary with the poaching water and lots of salt, but remember to use sea salt, not regular salt" he continued, "and the best thing for the truffle is to use a young olive oil and shave it on scrambled eggs and by the way, I hear Vincenzo's artichokes are very good today, very tender, but a bit expensive."  Me nodding politely.

Their advice is usually about how use their ingredients to prepare meat or fish dishes and since I'm a vegetarian, their words generally go in one ear and out the other.  I confess that over the years I've become a bit blasé and adept at tuning out most of what they have to say, while I politely smile, thank them, and then head off to the next stand.  But this morning I had a change of heart. 

This year and last, after buying citron at the markets in Italy and France, three different vendors recommended that I eat it thinly sliced and topped with olive oil and salt.  Sounded crazy to me since I'd been using them to make jam and marmalade.  When I bought some citron in Italy today, the vendor gave me the same recipe and it seems that the fourth time was the charm.  When I got home, I pulled out the citrons, my mandoline, my best olive oil, some fleur du sel and gave it a try.  

My first thought after my first bite was, "why had I waited so long?"

Thinly slicing the citron on a mandoline
The texture of the white pith was soft and yielding like a porcini mushroom.  The flavour was sublimely delicate, like a fresh perfumed lemon with the volume turned down.  It reminded me not of a flavour but of a feeling:  The same feeling I get when I'm eating the first of the spring peas or of the scent of lettuce freshly cut from the garden or the smell that lingers on my hands after I've touched tomato branches.  Ethereal.  Fleeting.

I've never seen citron prepared this way on restaurant menus anywhere in Italy or France.  For me it's an example of pure terroir, right from the grower's trees and imagination.  
Adding citron to my favourite salad of artichokes, arugula and shaved Parmesan was a good idea too
The citron experience has taught me to be more humble, to cast off my "little Miss know-it-all" attitude I sometimes have when it comes to the vendors' advice.  With my right hand in the air, I hereby vow to listen as they offer up their recipes, meaty or otherwise.  They are the ones who know the subtleties of their products and how to consume them.  I owe them that.

With the same open heart, I bought some of Vincenzo's artichokes as instructed and they were fresh, sweet, and fabulous.  I sliced them, added some fresh arugula, shaved Parmesan, olive oil and sprinkled more chopped citron on top.

I think I'll return the favour and share my new recipe with the citron vendors.


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have thought anything would improve your wonderful artichoke salad, but this sounds yummy! - Wendy

donna baker said...

I have a citron tree called Buddha's Fingers. Though it hasn't produced any yet, maybe this year it will. Everything is blooming in the greenhouse. I read that they are usually candied.

Gustia said...

If you prepare it like this, let me know what you think.

Jeanne Henriques said...

I love this post..especially your creation in the first photo. I do not think I have seen anything like this in Vietnam. A lemon here is green. I call it a lime, they tell me it is a lemon. We beg to differ on that one. Either way, I love citrus..lemon, lime..especially if it comes in the form of a tart. We have green oranges...and orange oranges. The list goes on! Love following you on here. Happy Weekend! Jeanne ;)

Gustia said...

Asia seems to have so much more variety when it comes to fruit and citrus. You're lucky to be able to experience that... I love that you followed the breadcrumbs that led you from Instagram to my blog. I think social media is fab for brining people together. Thanks for visiting and the follows.

Tony Bisirri said...

Wonderful and flavourful, cannot do that here in Canada Jen! Hi to Hub, I'm sure he enjoys it too.

Hannah said...

Incredible! I've never had the pleasure of cooking citron in the first place, but the whole idea of a citron carpaccio kind of blows my mind. It's so simple, so obvious, and yet it would have never occurred to me even if I had easy access to the fruit. It sounds absolutely heavenly, and I know what I'll do if I can ever get my hands on citron now.