In the doldrums of February, I’ve been casting about for foods that could sparkle things up and remind me of warm places and summer. I remembered an email I received long ago from Virginia Del Giudice, owner of the lovely La Percalina Vintage Clothing Shop in Buenos Aires, who used my simple Lemon Olive Oil recipe from A New Way to Cook to make gifts for friends. YES, that’s what I need. How could I have forgotten it? I’ll make some for my own landlocked friends.
It is nothing more than strips of lemon peel gently pounded in olive oil until the right flavor is achieved. You can use a mortar and pestle, or a bowl with a rock, bottle or other pounding device.
At olive oil making time in the Abruzzo and Molise regions of Italy, lemons are often added to the last pressing to clean and freshen the press for the next season. The resulting oil, called limonato, is an intense olive oil redolant with lemon. Since the real thing is both expensive and hard to find, I make my own version by gently pounding lemon peel in a mortar with gutsy olive oil.
This oil marries the perfume of olive and lemons without acidity from lemon juice. It is splendid on many foods – practically anything you would dress with olive oil – especially vegetables like roasted peppers, fennel and eggplant and fresh fish. It is great for improvising quick pasta dishes – like fresh fettucine, chopped arugula, Parmesan and pepper. It makes a superb salad dressing when mixed with a dry fragrant vinegar such as Banyuls or Cava. Balsamic overly accentuates the sweetness of the lemon.
Virginia made beautiful labels for the bottles:
“I designed the labels with my computer and printed at home on a thin green paper I kept a long time in a drawer. It had some wrinkles but I found that nice and didn’t want to correct it! It has a feeling of old times. In small text I wrote your suggestions for usage.”
Virginia was kind enough to share her labels, which you can find here. They’re in Spanish, which is lovely. Or you can take Virginia’s basic layout and make your own.
Recipe: Lemon Olive Oil
Makes about 1/2 cup; can be scaled up indefinitely.
With a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from 1 lemon in thin strips. (Take care to avoid the bitter white pith).
In a mortar or medium stainless steel or wooden bowl, combine the lemon peel and a pinch of salt. Pound and crush the peel with a pestle for several minutes to extract the oils. Use a circular motion to crush the peel against the bottom of the bowl as you dribble in the 1/2 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil a little at a time and continue working the peel this way for about a minute.
Set the oil aside to infuse at least 1 hour before serving and up to 8 hours until it is pleasantly fragrant with lemon (But, If you let it steep too long, it will begin to taste like candy). Strain into a clean, dry jar.