By: Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy
While exploring the villages of the Amalfi Coast, voyagers are certain to notice that the lemons there are larger than they are used to. They are sure to come across the Sfusato lemon (about two to three times the size of a supermarket lemon) and will be further shocked when they are confronted with the giant-sized, Cedro Citron variety of lemons. They are beastly looking things with pebbly surfaces, strange shapes, a large nipple at one end and are often as big as your head!
Cedri are primarily found in Italy, from the Italian Riviera down to the Amalfi Coast, though they are occasionally spotted in France, Isreal and even exported to Britain. There are three different citron types: acidic, non-acidic and pulpless. Of the different cultivars, the acidic Diamante is more common in Italy.
Cedro citrons are usually up to three to four times the length of common lemons and can measure between 10 and 15 inches in diameter. They can weigh up to four pounds each.
The pebbly surface ripens from green to a bright yellow–both colors can be harvested, the peak season being fall and winter. Most–about 70%–of the lemon is white pith from two to five inches thick with a soft texture and an almost sweet lemony fragrance.
In its center is a small amount of segmented pulp with a few pale seeds. This lemon is fairly dry and not used for its juice and the taste is milder than a common lemon.
The pith can be eaten raw or cooked: in salads, atop bruschetta, in jams and preserves, in risotto or pickled. The rind is very aromatic and a bit sweet, and is used to produce “citron“, or candied lemon (used in Italian celebration breads and cakes, like panettone). Some claim it can be a remedy for hangovers, coughs and indigestion.
Since the Renaissance, the oils from the skin have also been used in perfumery and cosmetics due to their delicate and fragrant scent.
If cooking while in Italy (or if you can get some cedri at home), try this recipe:
- 1 Cedro lemon
- 1-1/2 cups rice for risotto (Carnaroli, Vialone Nano or Arborio)
- 1-1/4 cups freshly grated parmesan
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus another tablespoon to finish
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 head of finoccio (bulbing fennel), finely diced
- 3 stalks celery, finely diced
- 1 cup white white Vermouth
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 4 large julienned sage leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried-crushed)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat the chicken stock in a small pot on a medium heat. You will be adding nearly simmering stock to your risotto during the cooking process.
- Cut the cedro in half along its waist and then, using a sharp paring knife, cut the skin (the zest is thick on cedri) from top to bottom, cutting down around the sides until all is removed in flat sheets. Then julienne them into thin, long strips. Set aside.
- Next, cut thin slices of the pith and cut into thin strips. Set aside.
- Squeeze the remaining pulp to release the juice into a small bowl. Remove any seeds and set aside.
- Place a heavy saute pan on a medium heat, adding the butter, sage and olive oil. When the butter is melted, add the diced fennel and celery, a pinch of salt and gently saute until the celery is softened.
- Add the risotto rice, stirring until the the rice becomes translucent–about 4-5 minutes.
- Next, add the Vermouth and cook until the rice absorbs it, 2-3 minutes.
- When the Vermouth has been absorbed, immediately pour a ladle of stock over the rice and continue stirring. As the stock is absorbed, keep adding one ladle of stock at a time. Stir as needed to prevent sticking, but not continuously.
- About 10 minutes into cooking the rice, add the zest and pith of the cedro lemon to infuse their flavors.
- Your risotto will be near completion when two things happen: When the rice is al dente (but not at all crispy); and when a “wave” is created behind your spoon when you stir in a circular motion. In my experience, risotto takes as long as an hour, although some claim to make it within 30 minutes. In essence, you want a bit of tooth still in your rice, but you you also want to develop a creamy consistency from the starch melding into the broth.
- When ready (al dente and creamy), remove the risotto from the heat and add the lemon juice, remaining butter and a little more stock (or water) so that the consistency is juicy and wet
- Stir in the rest of the butter and the Parmigiano Reggiano with a whipping motion. Serve immediately.