By: Jacqueline Greaves
These last few months I have been on a sort of hiatus from writing. I don’t think it has been too easy for many but somehow it felt wrong to be talking about cooking. However, if there is one thing that is a basic of life, and makes us different from our beloved furry friends, is that we can cook. So, I thought to begin with something cheerful especially in these last weeks of wintry blues, like my love of citrus fruits. Well, I am from Jamaica, and I suppose the equivalent of that in Italy would be like coming from Sicily in terms of those fruit. For me lemons, limes and oranges are a must – just about all we get here in New York, with the exception sometimes of the ugli (Jamaican hybrid of orange, tangerine and grapefruit). Although when desperate I’ll purchase mandarins, especially in the month of December.
My kitchen always has a bowl of some sort filled with a combination of lemons, limes and oranges. In mandarin season I decorate my dining table with them, at times filling large vases with an assortment of lemons and limes, or just mandarin. Such a perfume pervades the room. I use zest for my cakes and cookies, my salad, pasta sauces and in fish, chicken and meat dishes. The latter are usually when baked or roasted placed on a bed of herbs and slices of orange or lemon, depending. Nothing goes to waste, even though surprisingly enough I must force myself to eat oranges. But I do, chasing away the stories told as a child of the early sailors who suffered from scurvy as their boats sailed from Europe, crossing the Atlantic into the New World, until it was realized the importance of citrus.
I make a light syrup whenever I have leftover citrus from my passion for zest. I drink water with several slices of lemon or lime, and following the recommendation of my friend Domenica Marchetti in her wonderful book on Italian preserves Preserving Italy, I never ever use salt again without zest. Lime is also added to her blend of lemon and orange flavored salt. Love the color combination! I am sure she thinks I am exaggerating in my use and I have also followed her advice for lemon infused olive oil. I am so crazed that I have even altered the traditional Tiramisu recipe to make it into what I call a Caribbean Tiramisu which sometimes becomes converted into a Trifle with the addition of sliced mango and pineapple, as well as chopped pistachios. As you can imagine a significant quantity of lemon and lime zest is swirled into the mascarpone sauce and layers of savoiardi cookies are gently bathed with a citrus syrup and not coffee. If you require alcohol limoncello might be substituted or even Grand Marnier for the rum. However, I think it is rich enough to just use my simple syrup. You can find a video and recipe on the website where I teach my friend Charmaine Lord of Dish Up to prepare a tiramisu. There I substitute the cookies with a banana bread that too was bathed while hot with hot syrup, and is equally packed with zest.
Do find below my recipe for Banana Bread as well as for the Lemon Curd Crostata.
When I think of Banana Bread so many thoughts come to mind, including tropical breezes, Caribbean sunsets and the sound of children chitchatting and laughing while running along the street to reach home in time for tea. The tantalizing aromas of warm earthy spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and if you wish allspice, mingle with that of sweet banana floating in the air, and later are joined by the heartwarming zesty cacophony of citrus as the palate is surprised by the many layered flavors gifted by my favorites: lemon, lime and orange.
Banana bread may be served simply at breakfast, or at tea. To transform this simple bread into a special lunch or dinner dessert serve it with a variety of ice creams such as vanilla, cinnamon, mango or dulce di leche, and with the addition of one or the other sauces hot caramel, hot chocolate, crème anglaise or hot orange rum sauce so it becomes something divine an sinful at the same time. Flambéed bananas are also a warm happy addition, and really, why hold back at this point?
Makes one loaf: Preparation: Active 15 minutes & Baking: 50 minutes
2 cups flour ½ cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder ½ cup white sugar
1 tsp. baking soda 2 eggs, beaten
½ tsp. salt 3 large and ripe bananas, mashed
½ tsp. cinnamon ½ cup milk
½ tsp. nutmeg 3 drops lemon juice
½ tsp. ginger 1 tsp. Madagascar vanilla extract
½ tsp. allspice zest one lemon, orange & lime
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, soft ½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare a bread pan with butter and breadcrumbs, or butter and then a non-stick cooking spray. An alternative, and what I usually do is to butter or spray the bread pan and then place at the bottom a piece of wax paper cut to size.
Using a mixer cream the butter and sugar together for approximately 10 minutes. Sift together the flour with all of the other dry ingredients. Then add the eggs to the butter mixture. Gradually add the flour mixture to the first mixture, alternating with the milk that has been mixed with the lemon juice. The milk will be slightly curdled. Then by hand, add the mashed bananas and the lemon, lime and orange zest, and save the juice for making the syrup. Finally, add the vanilla, and coarsely chopped walnuts if desired. Pour into the prepared bread pan.
After the allotted cooking time, test the bread for doneness by sticking a wooden skewer in the center. If still too moist, leave in the oven for another 5 minutes. Take the bread out of the oven and immediately pour on top and bottom of the bread some of the prepared citrus syrup. The hot syrup over the hot bread serves to keep the bread moist for days. Don’t forget to remove the wax paper if using.
Makes approximately 1 ½ cups of syrup
Preparation: 15 minutes
Juice of 3 lemons
Juice of ½ orange
Juice of 3 limes
1 cup sugar
Place all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook at low heat, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves. Cook for another 5 minutes until the syrup thickens. Take off the heat. Pour immediately approximately ¼ of the syrup over the hot bread leaving more or less ¾ of the syrup to moisten the bread on all sides once it is cut into slices for the assembling of the dessert.
Note: I have experimented with other flavors depending on what is in season or available where I am:
- Surprisingly I have yet to find a really great banana in Italy so adding another fruit in season gives it a lift.
- Fresh very ripe peaches (3) together with powdered ginger (1 tsp.) with or without the banana. It comes out beautifully and provides a bit of variety.
- I also love mixing banana and pineapple.
Lemon Curd Tart
Makes – 1 – 11” tart
Preparation: 15 minutes to mix
½ hour in the refrigerator
Preparing pan 10 minutes and baking approximately ½ hour
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. Madagascar vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
zest 1 lime & 1 lemon
20-oz of Lemon Curd, I like Wilkin & Sons Ltd.
In a bowl, using an electric mixer beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix well.
Sift together the flour and baking powder, then add salt and zest. Add to the butter mixture a little bit at a time at low speed, and beat well until well mixed.
Shape the dough into a ball. Flatten and wrap in parchment paper, and refrigerate for at least ½ hour. The dough can be prepared up to 3 days ahead, and kept in the refrigerator. Let it soften slightly at room temperature before continuing.
Preheat oven to 350F. The tart will be placed on the highest shelf of the oven so as to not get too brown. Prepare a nonstick tart pan by spraying with a nonstick spray. When ready remove approximately 1/4th of the dough and keep in the refrigerator until ready to be used.
Using your fingers the remaining dough should be pressed down into the pan and around the edges as evenly as possible. Remove any excess. Cover the bottom with the marmalade. Take the remaining dough from the fridge. Using some flour, as little as possible. Create 10 strips that are placed 5 first in one direction and then in the opposite direction another direction. It is not a lattice top as the dough is almost like a cookie and not easily worked with. However, it looks beautiful.
Bake for approximately 50 minutes. Let cool and sprinkle with confectionery sugar.
Note: Obviously you can substitute the marmalade with another jam of choice.
You can also cut out shapes and be creative with the top crust using cookie cutters.