Labor-intensive culinary tasks — shelling fava beans, making dumplings, preserving bushels of fruit — are best done with a bunch of friends and a few bottles of wine.
Lacking companions with that kind of free time and interest, you can get by with a season or two of any good TV show — wine optional. Be aware, though: if you’re using sharp tools, it’s best to avoid especially subtle or visually stunning shows, as you’ll end up either missing critical moments or else slicing up your fingers. This goes double if you’re dealing with lemons.
It also helps to know a few shortcuts. Like how to zest citrus with a vegetable peeler.
The technique is easy enough: a lot like peeling an apple. The key is to apply just enough pressure to remove only the zest, leaving the bitter white pith behind. And if you’ve got serious grandmother skills, you can even remove the zest in one long, continuous spiral.
Unlike a microplane-style grater or a bartender’s lemon zester, a vegetable peeler removes zest in wide strips, perfect for candying or making homemade limoncello. It’s also a lot faster. Once you get the hang of it, you can zest a lemon in under twenty seconds. This comes in especially handy when you’re racing to process a huge pile of fruit before it spoils.
(Even though citrus is about the most shelf-stable fruit there is, it will go moldy and spoil in a hurry if it’s extremely ripe, scratched or bruised, piled up without much air flow, or lying around in hot weather. To keep it fresh a little longer, you can put it in the fridge, either in the fruit bin or sealed in plastic bags. If you don’t have that kind of fridge space, spread it out in a single layer somewhere cool and dark. Either way, use up any soft or scratched fruit right away.)
And while microplanes and bartender’s zesters are designed to release the volatile citrus oils — desirable when you’re using the zest immediately — a vegetable peeler makes fewer cuts, leaving most of the oils trapped in the slices of zest until you’re ready to use them. (Enough of it will still aerosolize to irritate your nose and throat if you’re zesting a lot of fruit. I solved this by tying a bandana around my face, bank-robber style.)
So once you’ve got huge piles of lemon zest and buckets of lemon juice? Start a batch of limoncello, make some marmalade or a lemon cake if you want, but I’d freeze the bulk of it. One marathon zesting-and-juicing session can set you up for many months of making lemony drinks, desserts, infused salts, marmalades, and so forth. I froze some of the zest in large strips; the rest I pulsed in the food processor a few times to break it into small shreds first. To keep it from freezing into one huge block, I recommend spreading it out in a single layer (in a bag or on a sheet pan), freezing it, then breaking it up and transferring it into a glass container.
Ice cube trays are nice for freezing a few tablespoons of juice. For larger amounts, I used zip-lock baggies. To keep things simple, I poured 1 1/2 cups of juice (the amount required for a batch of my husband’s delicious lemon bars) into each bag, sealed them (removing as much air as I could without squeezing juice everywhere and making a mess), then stacked them in a square container (actually, my old Brita water pitcher) in the freezer. Once frozen solid, the bags hold their shape, and I can leave them stacked in the corner of the freezer until we need them.
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