Meyer Lemon Semifreddo
by Gina Depalma
Living in a cramped New York apartment, it is hard for me to imagine a room in one’s home entirely devoted to the care of lemons. In Italy, however, just such a place was common to most country houses in central and southern regions. During the winter months, the family lemon trees would be hauled into to the limonaia, a sunny, warm room, usually located just off the garden, where they could continue to thrive indoors until returned to their proper spot outdoors. Add lemons to the list of products easily taken for granted in America that receive special thought and consideration in Italy.
Lemons are agriculturally produced in several regions of Italy, but without question the finest and most distinctive lemons come from the Sorrentine Peninsula, around the Bay of Naples, and on the Amalfi Coast, facing the Tyrrhenian Sea. The superior lemons produced in both regions have been granted IGP status. “Indicazione Geografica Protetta” is a designation approved in 1992 under the adoption of the European Union. It applies to agricultural produce of exceptionally high reputation and distinction, relative to its geographical origin. Currently, there are over 30 foods that are designated as IGP, and their production, processing and distribution are strictly controlled.
Evidence of cultivated lemon groves dates as far back as the 1st century in and around Sorrento, and from the early 11th century along the Amalfi Coast. Around the 15th century, growth and export of lemons expanded throughout Italy when Vitamin C-laden citrus fruits were proven to be effective combatants against scurvy.
“Sfusato Almafitano” is the local term for Limone di Costa d’Amalfi. Grown on strips of steeply terraced land along the “Divine Coast”, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, lemon trees provide important ecological protection against the erosion of the Amalfi coastline. The scent of lemon blossoms wafts through the air of the surrounding towns in springtime. Amalfi lemons are pointed at the ends, with a pale yellow rind laden with fragrant oil. They produce an abundant amount of acidic juice and very few seeds. Amalfi lemons are harvested a few times a year, with the best of the crop picked from March through July.
Limoni di Sorrento have exceptional aroma and flavor. The long branches, often over 10 feet tall, are trained to climb on chestnut-wood trellises. Straw mats are stretched over the trellises to protect them from any atmospheric perils that may threaten even ripening of the fruit. Sorrento lemons are elliptical in shape, with a medium thick, aromatic skin, and an extra-juicy, straw-yellow interior. According to IGP standards, they must weigh no less than 2.8 ounces. The best fruit is harvested between May and October. Lemon groves thrive on almost 2,000 acres of the Sorrentine Peninsula, but are limited to 344 trees per acre to ensure the quality of the fruit. Over 30,000 tons are harvested each year, many of which are made into Ilimoncello, a delicious, sweet liqueur that is becoming more widely known in America.
Whenever you want a taste of this sunny, picturesque part of Italy, make the following recipe from the Babbo Cookbook for Meyer Lemon Semifreddo. Meyer lemons are milder and more fragrant than regular lemons, but often hard to find. (for more on Meyer Lemons, follow this link) The recipe still works fine with standard lemons, but try to find the best lemons you can at the market. They should be firm and plump. Organic lemons are often the best bet if available. At the restaurant, I serve this with huckleberries, but any berry will fill the bill quite nicely.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the cream to stiff peaks. Transfer the whipped cream to a large bowl and refrigerate. Line a large loaf pan with plastic wrap and set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and ¼ cup water. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and cook over medium heat until the mixture reaches the hard ball stage, 247 to 250°F. While the sugar is cooking, place the egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the whip attachment at medium speed. The egg yolks should become very thick and pale in color.
When the sugar reaches the hard ball stage, remove it from the heat. With the mixer running on low speed, carefully drizzle the hot sugar into egg yolks. Keep the stream of sugar against the side of the bowl to prevent the sugar from hitting the whip.
After all of the sugar has been added, increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the bowl is cool to the touch. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla. Gently fold the mixture in the whipped cream. Spoon the semifreddo into the prepared pan and freeze, covered with a plastic, until firm.
Place the berries and sugar in a small saucepan and cook until the juices have thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and place in the refrigerator to chill completely.
Meanwhile, combine the lemon brodo ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Chill thoroughly. Place a scoop of semifreddo in a small bowl and pour several spoonfuls of the lemon brodo over each. Swirl 2 tablespoons of the huckleberry sauce through the brodo of each serving and serve immediately.