Capri lemons, Vesuvius lemons, Sorrento lemons

October 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Zingy, sunshine-yellow, mismatched, lumpy, bumpy, fragrant lemons will be the abiding memory of our recent half-term trip to Naples and the Sorrento peninsula in Italy. We found them everywhere adorning roadside granita stands:

ready to be turned into the most refreshing pick-me up ever – and I can’t abide the Americanised translation of a granita as “slush” which is just not right for something as elegant as this:

sipped overlooking a view like this one in Positano:

or maybe this one overlooking the Faraglioni rocks on Capri’s southern coast:

There were boxes of lemons stacked outside the humblest little cafés and restaurants like these spotted in Pompeii:

destined for a spremuta di limone, the Italian version of lemonade – fresh lemond juice and water in a tall glass with ice – add your own sugar and stir for the most refreshing drink imaginable, eye-wateringly, mouth-puckeringly sharp:

perfect for sipping on as you wait at Sorrento’s Marina Piccola harbour for the jetfoil across the bay to Naples:

Perhaps best of all spotting the lemons growing on trees in groves right in the heart of Sorrento town, in most cases still a slightly unripe green:

and we soon worked out that strolling through the Cataldi citrus groves was a much pleasanter way of reaching Sorrento’s frenetic Piazza Tasso than braving the Lambretta and Fiat crowded narrow streets:

Sorrento lemons are turned into all sorts of lemon products of varying quality and taste. Most famously there is the signature lemon liqueur Limoncello. At its best it can be rather good, aromatic, zesty with a touch of bitterness to cut through the sweetness. At worst, it’s like a chilled LemSip decanted from a dodgy cupid-shaped bottle.

How is it that the Italians have a reputation for being stylish when they produce some of the worst tat in the world? A country of many contradictions…

as a holiday souvenir, I left alone the lemon-flavoured bottles, packets, jams and soaps and contented myself with half a kilo of fresh lemons complete with fragrant green foliage from the local fruit and veg shop.

What to do with my precious cargo now we’re back home? I’ve collected together the following four lemon recipes I fancy having a go at in the next week or so. There’s a zesty lemon cake from Capri, a classic lemon granita, a simple pasta recipe and an unusual lemon salad. Having belatedly checked in one of my favourite cook books, Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, I’m pleased to say that none of these recipes appear there – it would have been a bit of a downer to repeat what’s already been done! I’m sure they’ll bring a ray of Mediterranean sunshine into the approaching English autumnal gloom…

Recipe for Caprese al limone – Capri lemon cake

Caprese al limone

This cake along with its dark chocolate cousin, is served up all over the island of Capri. I’ve hunted down a number of different recipes and this one, adapted from Salvatore di Riso’s “I dolci del Sole” sounds the most workable whilst remaining authentic.

Serves 10 or more


100g extra virgin olive oil
120g icing sugar
200g blanched whole almonds
180g white chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
grated rind of 1 Amalfi lemon (or 2 medium or 3 small normal lemons)
5 medium eggs
60g caster sugar
50g cornflour
5g (1 teaspoon) baking powder

Line the base of a 22cm round cake tin (preferably springform or loose bottomed) with baking paper and butter and flour the interior.

In a food processor or liquidiser, grind the almonds to a coarse powder with the icing sugar. Set aside

Whisk together the eggs and sugar using an electric mixer for 10 minutes until you have a thick foam (as if making a génoise mixture).

In a large bowl, combine the ground almond and sugar mixture with the grated chocolate, the grated lemon rind, the cornflour and the baking powder. Mix together well.

Add the olive oil, vanilla extract and the beaten egg mixture to the bowl and mix well to combine not worrying unduly should the eggs collapse a little. This is a dense, moist cake rather than a light fluffy one.

Pour the mixture the prepared cake tin. Bake at 200 degrees C for 5 minutes then reduce the heat to 160 degrees C and bake for a further 45 minutes.

When the cake is done, cool in the tin. Turn out and serve sprinkled with icing sugar.

Recipe for lemon granita

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s master granita recipe given in “The Classic Italian Cookbook” but incorporating the lemon water ice trick of infusing the lemon zest in the syrup for added zing. You’ll notice there’s much less sugar than in a classic water ice recipe.


8 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (maybe 4 lemons?)
peel of 4 lemons removed using a vegetable peeler, roughly chopped
325ml water
50g granulated sugar

Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture has come to the boil, turn off the heat, throw in the chopped lemon peel, cover and leave to infuse until the mixture is cold. Strain and stir in the lemon juice.

Pur the mixture into one or more shallow metal or plastic trays or boxes (a pair of old fashioned metal ice cube trays with the plastic dividers removed would be ideal). Put into the freezer and check after 15 minutes, stirring the mixture with a fork to break up the ice crystals, scraping them down from the sides and in the corners where they will form first. Repeat the process again after 15 minutes and thereafter every 8 minutes until the granita reaches the right texture. This may take 3 hours or so!

Serve in pretty glass goblets with a teaspoon, or more informally in a plastic tumbler with a strawer and spoon.

Recipe for fettucine al limone

Adapted from a recipe for “Danny’s Lemon Pasta” featured on the BBC Radio 4 programme “Woman’s Hour” aeons ago and which I’ve been storing in my recipe files for an age. The Danny in question is Danny Kaye and the chef one Ruth Reichl.


4oz best unsalted butter
10 fl oz double cream
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
finely grated zest of 4 small lemons
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for the table

1lb fresh egg fettuccine

Serves 4

Melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed frying pan or sauté pan. Add the cream, lemon juice and half the lemon zest and bring to the boil over a medium heat and reduce by one quarter. Remove from the heat and cover.

Cook the pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water until al dente (this will take only 2 to 3 minutes). Reserve a little of the pasta cooking liquid and drain the pasta in a colander.

Add the drained pasta to the frying pan containing the sauce along with the reserved lemon zest, 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water, the grated parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Toss well.

Recipe for lemon and cucumber salad

Not for the faint hearted! Inspired by the lemon salad served on the island of Ischia where chunks of peeled and thick-pithed local pane lemons are simply dressed with olive oil and flavoured with salt, pepper and aromatic mint and flat leaf parsley.
This would work well with simply grilled fish or a thick barbecued veal chops.

Serves 4


3 unwaxed lemons, peel left on, very thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber peel left on, very thinly sliced using a mandolin
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
1 small medium hot red chilli, halved, deseeded and finely shredded
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Lay the lemon slices on a platter, sprinkle with a little salt and leave for half an hour. Once the half hour has elapsed, wipe off the salt and liquid drawn out with kitchen roll.

Arrange the salted lemon and cucumber slices attractively on a serving platter. Scatter over the chopped herbs and chilli, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

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