Late winter is usually a somber time in the garden. But in Southern California, it’s citrus season — bringing a combination of riotous color and flavor intensity that cannot be matched any other time of the year. Whether it’s the heady fragrance of smooth-skinned Meyer lemons or the ruby red intensity of Moro blood oranges, citrus gives winter something to celebrate.
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While a simple emulsion of freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice with olio nuovo is divine on salad, I went in search of decadent and found it with the help of my new BFF in the kitchen, a Vitamix blender. Pressing one button and waiting six minutes results in a custard that is pure silk — whether the final outcome is slightly chilled and mounded into an awaiting tart shell or lightly frozen and scooped onto a pool of raspberry coulis.
I’ve made plenty of custards in my day, laboriously stirring egg yolks and sugar over a double boiler, ever watchful of impending lumps while adding juice and butter.
But the Vitamix rocked my little world, and I embarked on a grand and glorious tour of possibilities. The first stop was this Meyer lemon olive oil custard – or curd, as some would call it.
The key to the recipe is to use any blender whose blades can generate enough friction heat to gently cook the mixture quickly. The thermometer reading when I completed the cycle topped off at 170 F, plenty of heat to fully cook the eggs and plenty of speed to whisk the ingredients together in a remarkably smooth finish.
But the best benefit of this blender technique might be that the controlled low temperature and fast processing time could preserve the key health benefits of extra virgin olive oil. I went straight to the best source in California to confirm my suspicions.
“Exposure to light, oxygen and excessive heat deteriorates the natural antioxidants of extra virgin olive oil and removes some of its healthy benefits,” says Selina Wang, research director of the UC Davis Olive Center. “Using the freshest oil and keeping the cooking temperature and time to a minimum help to preserve the polyphenols and antioxidants without the risk of oxidation, which breaks down olive oil’s nutrients and flavor.”
As for its taste, I shared my lemon curd with Zester Daily co-founders Corie Brown and Chris Fager when I joined them for lunch, smuggling a purse-sized cooler into a swanky restaurant. They both agreed it topped the mark for creamy and lemony, but it was the mysterious hint of a different kind of tartness, an herb-like, grassy lemon verbena flavor, that finally gave away this custard’s secret ingredient.
6-Minute Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Custard
Makes 6 servings
This versatile custard can be served warm in a cocktail glass as a satin finish to a special dinner, chilled in a tart shell with a garnish of fresh fruit and whipped cream, or frozen and scooped like gelato. Just let it rest for 10 minutes before serving to reach optimum consistency.
3 whole eggs, room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup Meyer lemon juice, strained
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon zest
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably fresh olio nuovo
1. Place all ingredients but the olive oil in a high-speed blender (must be capable of generating frictional heat above 160 F).
2. Turn the blender on to its highest setting and process for 4 minutes.
3. While continuing to run on high speed, pour in the olive oil and blend for an additional 90 to 105 seconds until you can see the custard firming up on the sides.
This recipe was created using the Vitamix Professionial Series 750, using its “hot soup” programmed cycle. It can be replicated by setting the blender at its top speed and running for a total process time of 5 minutes 45 seconds.
The custard can be refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for longer storage. When defrosted, it will return to the same creamy consistency as when fresh.
Top photo: Lemon curd in a pastry shell. Credit: Caroline J. Beck