Lemony green beans with frizzled ham and a�oli

Cape Town - Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s – and we should all be chanting this venerable British nursery rhyme at this time of year.

It’s easy to find 2kg string bags of juicy oranges at bargain prices, while few of us need to buy lemons: if we haven’t a tree in our own garden, we are sure to know someone who has, and this is the time to strike a bargain. In return for a large bag of fresh juicy lemons, fill jam jars with lemon curd or marmalade as a thank-you gift.

Both citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, making them ideal for juicing and drinking fresh, while oranges add colour and flavour to savoury and sweet salads and lemons are indispensable ingredients in so many dressings, meat and poultry dishes, risottos, desserts and bakes that it’s hard to imagine culinary life without them.

For those who relish North African cuisine, make time to preserve lemons in salt in wide-necked jars. This is also the season for whipping together both lemon and orange curd: combine half a cup of fresh lemon or orange juice with 100g butter in a saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring, until the butter has melted. Whisk half a cup of white sugar, one egg and three egg yolks, preferably free-range, into the mixture, then stir continuously over medium-low heat for 5-7 minutes until the mixture thickens. Cool and bottle – makes 750ml.

Whenever you are juicing lemons and even hard oranges, zap them in the microwave on full power for at least 10 seconds before squeezing to get maximum juice from the fruit.

Try these ideas for adding citrusy zest to every course on the menu.

Orange and poppy seed cake

This continental cake recipe comes from Modern Classics, Book 2 by Donna Hay, published by Fourth Estate in 2003.

1/3 cup (80ml) poppy seeds

¾ cup (180ml) milk

200g butter, softened

1 tbs finely grated orange rind

¾ cup (180ml) castor sugar

3 eggs

2 cups (500ml) cake flour

1½ tsp (7ml) baking powder

½ cup (125ml) freshly squeezed orange juice

Syrup: 1 cup white sugar

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

½ cup shredded orange rind

Preheat oven to 160°C. Combine poppy seeds and milk in a bowl, stirring. Place butter, orange rind and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until light and creamy. Gradually add the eggs and beat well. Sift flour and baking powder over the butter mixture and add the orange juice and poppy seed and milk mixture. Stir to combine, then spoon into a 20cm round cake tin lined with baking paper.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

While cake bakes, make the syrup: combine sugar, orange juice and rind in a saucepan over low heat and stir to dissolve sugar. Increase heat and boil for five to six minutes until syrupy.

Pour half the hot syrup over the hot cake. To serve, cut warm or room temperature cake into wedges and pour over remaining syrup. Serves 8 to 10.

Orange and thyme pork with winter slaw

Citrusy pork loin is complemented with crunchy winter vegetables dressed with buttermilk in this lively dish from Fast, Fresh, Simple by Donna Hay, published by Hardie Grant Books in 2011. I am sure that chicken breasts, on the bone, would make a delicious substitute and, if you can’t find celeriac, you could add grated carrot to the slaw.

2 tsp olive oil

1 tbs shredded orange zest

1tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 2tsp dried)

4 x 80g pork loin steaks

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

¼ cup (60ml) fresh orange juice

1 tbs brown sugar

Winter slaw:

1 small celeriac, peeled and finely sliced

1 fennel, finely sliced

1 cup finely shredded cabbage

¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

¼ cup buttermilk

1 tbs lemon juice

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

Make the slaw: combine celeriac, fennel, cabbage and parsley in a bowl and toss together. Combine the buttermilk, juice, season mixture and pour over the slaw and toss to combine.

Heat a frying pan over high heat, add the oil, orange zest and thyme and cook for three minutes or until crisp. Remove from pan and set aside.

Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper and add to the pan. Cook for three minutes on each side until well browned.

Remove from pan. Add the orange juice and sugar to pan, bring to a boil and cook until reduced. Return pork and orange zest mixture to pan and cook pork for a further minute each side or until heated through. Serve with the slaw and pan juices. Serve 2.

Lemony green beans with frizzled ham and aïoli

Welcome spring with slim, tender-crisp green beans topped with crisp Parma ham, toasted almonds and garlicky aïoli. Replace Parma ham with bacon if preferred. Find this recipe in a just-released cookbook by a Hout Bay journalist that is going to become the new culinary bible for dinner party hosts: Scrumptious by Jane-Anne Hobbs is published by Struik Lifestyle.

650g slender green beans, topped and tailed

5 tbs (75ml) extra-virgin olive oil

juice of 1 large lemon

salt and milled black pepper

12 paper-thin slices Parma ham

2 tbs (30ml) sunflower oil, for frying

1/2 cup (125ml) flaked almonds

300ml aïoli, made with olive oil and 3 or more cloves crushed garlic

Have ready a large bowl with cold water and a handful of ice cubes.

Cook the beans in a pot of rapidly boiling salted water for three to four minutes, or until they are just tender but retain a slight bite. Drain, plunge them into the iced water and leave to chill for four minutes. Pat the beans dry, place in a mixing bowl, add the olive oil and lemon juice and toss well to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the aïoli, mix the mayonnaise with the crushed garlic, decant into two small bowls and chill.

Fry the Parma ham slices, a few at a time, in very hot sunflower oil for a minute or so, or until frizzled and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.

Wipe out the pan to remove the oil and toast the flaked almonds over a medium heat for a minute or two, or until golden brown.

To serve, pile the beans on to a platter and top with the Parma ham and almonds. Pass the aïoli around in separate bowls.

Serves 8 as a starter or side salad.

Lemon curd mousse

Another winner from Scrumptious by Jane-Anne Hobbs, who describes this dessert as a happy accident. She mistakenly left two ingredients out of a jelly recipe she was trying but produced this delectable mousse, which is easy to make, instead.

8 extra-large free-range egg yolks

6 extra-large free-range egg whites

1 cup (250ml) white sugar

1 tbs (15ml) powdered gelatine

1/2 tsp (2,5ml) cornflour

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

4 tbs (60ml) lemon juice (you’ll need 2 big lemons)

1 cup (250ml) fresh cream, chilled

Pinch of salt

Separate the eggs and set the six whites to one side. Put the yolks, sugar, gelatine, cornflour, lemon zest and juice into a metal bowl and whisk for a minute, until creamy.

Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (the bowl should fit snugly, and its base must not touch the water). Cook, stirring continuously with the whisk, until the mixture is hot and slightly thickened. This will take five to six minutes. You will find the mixture thickens suddenly, at which point remove it from the heat. Don’t let the mixture get too hot or it may curdle.

Whisk in the chilled cream and strain the mixture into a clean bowl.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to firm peaks. Add a big blob of whites to the mixture, stir well, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.

Divide the mixture between eight glasses, then cover and chill for four to five hours, or until firm. Serve with fresh fruit.

Serves 8. - Cape Argus