“Do you need some help?” Susanne yelled down to the man in uniform (white pants, green polo shirt embellished with what must have been a company logo.)
She spoke bits of Italian, leftover from her years at a Swiss boarding school, but most of the time we simply got by with hand motions and speaking slowly (and loudly) in English.
The next thing I knew, she’d hopped over the guardrail, just as the worker had, and she was climbing down a ladder into what appeared to be an orchard carved into the hillside outside Amalfi. She later laughed about how he must have been peeking up her skirt as he helped her down the ladder.
I hurried towards the ladder. “Come down! C’mon!” she cried.
I laughed. “No way! I’m not getting my skirt dirty!”
Susanne stomped around the lemon grove for a while with this mysterious semi-urban farmer, who was tending to the trees and would presumably walk down the hill towards another grove once he was done. These “fields” of lemon trees were perched along hilltop plateaus between houses with breathtaking views over the Tyrrhenian Sea. We’d simply stopped to take a photo of the coastline.
She came back towards the ladder. “Do you want some lemons?” The worker was motioning to me with that classic Italian sign language that meant eating: fingers all pressed together and hand pointing to mouth.
A little while later, she climbed back up the ladder with two huge bags of lemons, two varieties, around a kilo each.
The worker asked me things in Italian that I understood, even though I don’t speak it.
“Do you know how to prepare them?”
“No, what should we do?”
“The small ones are for juice. The big ones you can eat- cold, thinly sliced, with salt and oil.”
Sir, yessir. We thanked him and dropped the lemon bags in the trunk of the car, and carried on with the harrowing drive through the Amalfi coast towards Agerola, for the mozzarella festival. The lemons would make for our youth hostel dinner the following night, along with a big ball of smoked mozzarella, some bread, cherry tomatoes, and salad.
In Rome a couple of weekends ago, I spied some large Amalfi lemons at the Mercado Trionfale. They maybe weren’t as big as the ones we’d been given that day on the coast, but they were sizable and would fit in my carryon suitcase. I decided to grill them and toss them with fava beans and fresh herbs, and serve them today for lunch alongside some expertly roasted dorade (sea bass) and rice.
To make this more of a main, you could add feta and thick bread for sopping, or bulgur, or you could toss it with pasta.
Fava bean and grilled lemon salad
First, find the best lemon you possibly can. It should be untreated (organic). Its skin should be thick, and its flesh should be light yellow and meaty.
You should remove the zest first and do something else with it – freeze it for a later use, chop it up for vinaigrette, or put it in a small bottle with some olive oil to make lemon-flavored oil.
Other ingredients as follows:
400 grams fava or broad beans, frozen with skins
20 stems of fresh oregano
Handful fresh parsley, cleaned and lightly chopped
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Best-quality olive oil (Provençal in my case)
Additional lemon juice
Blanch the fava beans: toss them into a pot of boiling salted water and let them sit, stirring occasionally, until the water comes back to a boil. Then drain and run under cold water.
Skin the fava beans and put them into a pretty salad bowl.
Meanwhile, heat a grill or a cast-iron grill pan until just beginning to smoke. Grill the lemon, sliced about ½ inch thick, brushed with oil and salt, about 2-3 minutes on each side.
Drizzle a bit of lemon juice (from the ends of the sliced lemon) over the fava beans. Pick the oregano leaves off their stems and add them to the beans. Add the parsley, sea salt, pepper, and some olive oil. Toss by hand, taste and correct seasoning.