Monday, March 5, 2012

Roasted lemon and red onion chutney

Saturday it was spring: sunny, warm beautiful beckoned many of us out of our homes and into the city's parks for a picnic.
I may have already told you about a park near our house that we often go to in the warmer months. It is a lovely, quaint garden tucked away behind an historic villa with a fish pond crossed by a little bridge, beautiful trees, a large and nicely kept lawn and a miniature playground. It is small and you may only enter with children and no dogs. I know this sounds unfair, but it is because of these strict rules that people can let their children crawl or walk in the grass barefoot without worrying about them stepping in/on the undesirable and often scary things that litter urban parks. It is so safe you can let your children run free and explore the secret trail beyond the bridge while you lie on a blanket and relax in the shade of a tree.

That is exactly what a bunch of us was doing, glass of red wine in hand, when we saw a woman approaching us followed by our children like she was the Pied Piper. She asked us if she could take the kids to the large park right across the street to feed animals. A couple of dads volunteered to tag along and when they all got back both fathers and children were brimming with interesting and funny stories.

That is how we found out about this group of volunteers who goes to these parks on their lunch break every day to feed the animals (mostly turtles, ducks and fish) and to make sure they are well. 

My daughter told me excitedly that a few weeks ago, when Milan was covered in snow, the pond had frozen over. If you share Holden Caulfield's curiosity about what happens to the ducks when ponds freeze in a city park, I can tell you that the Milanese ducks all huddled together in a wooden bird house by the water to keep warm, waiting for the volunteers. When they arrived with food, my daughter told me through big bouts of laughter, one of the ducks literally ice skated towards them.

Also, one of the huge carps that live in the same waters recently died and it was embalmed and is now exhibited at the nearby Museum of Natural History.

On their walk around, they also met a Brazilian turtle with a blue beak called Freddy who is a protected species. Apparently people often abandon illegaly imported animals in city parks.

My daughter and husband also met an alligator snapping turtle from Florida who eats pythons. To think I have probably walked by it a hundred times over the years and never knew were were compatriots!

Needless to say, my daughter and her friends loved every minute.
I think it is amazing that there are people out there willing to use their free time to care for animals and to teach our children about the environment that surrounds us. I can only express my gratitude towards these volunteers who take care of the little nature we have in big cities with passion by thanking them for turning my child's afternoon into a great adventure.

But you are here for a recipe, so let me digress no further. Remember that saying that goes "if life gives you lemons make lemonade"?
Lemonade? Not me, nossir. From now on I'm making chutney. Roasted lemon and red onion chutney to be exact. And you will too if you try this.
I was inspired by this recipe and the photos a few months ago. I had bookmarked it and finally decided to use up all that lovely citrus I had lying around.
I did however make some adjustments. Part of the changes were dictated by what I had in my kitchen, others by my personal preferences.

I used red onions instead of shallots. Also, I roasted my onions alongside the lemon instead of keeping them raw: whatever it lacked for in texture it made up for in color and flavor. The onion softened and caramelized slightly with the lemons and helped to further neutralize the acidity from the lemons. I made sure to use less honey so the end result wouldn't be too sweet. I also omitted the mint because I didn't have any, but I am sure it adds a lovely note and will definitely use some next time. What I am also thinking of adding when I make it again is some grated ginger, just a touch, to add some freshness and a teeny bit of heat.

When I served it my daughter eyed it suspiciously and stated with her typical 6-year old attitude: "I'm not eating that". I reminded her that our household rule is to taste before refusing something. Well, maybe I shouldn't have insisted because she ended up  making a huge dent in the supply. We ended up slathering this stuff on everything we ate yesterday and it was gone before nightfall. Not only di we drizzle it over crumbled feta and warm toasted bread, we mixed it into the vinaigrette for our salad and even used some on grilled meat. It would work wonders on roasted fish or even smoked salmon. Can you think of something else you would pair it with?

Ingredients (makes about 1 cup)
2 large lemons
1 red onion
1/2 tbsp honey
about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
a small bunch of mint

Heat the oven to 400°F / 200°C  and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Quarter the onion and slice the lemons. Remove the seeds and discard the end parts because too much pith will make the chutney bitter. Place the lemon slices and the onion on the baking sheet and brush with olive oil on both sides.
Roast making sure you turn them a few times (the bottoms get darker quicker than the tops so watch out) for about 25 minutes, or until the citrus and onion start slightly caramelizing. Let cool slightly.
Grossly chop the onions by hand so they don't turn into a mush in your food processor, but process the lemons until they are still slightly chunky with any cooking juices (the juice normally dries up or turns dark, so no worries if you don't have any) and the olive oil, honey, salt and pepper. You can add some fresh lemon juice if you want some extra acidity. I didn't, it was just right for me.  Stir in the chopped mint right before serving.

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  1. yummy recipe..Perfectly made


  2. I am starting to wonder exactly how similar our bookmark lists are.. Two out of two so far!

    I had no clue about the little corner of Milano you described (both the garden and the volunteers). Milano will never cease to surprise me, I guess, and I'm just so glad when it is a positive surprise.

    1. Looks like we have the same taste ;o)
      The park I am talking about is Parco della Villa Reale, right next to i giardini di Porta Venezia. You really should go. And if you need a kid to get in, I'm happy to give you mine ;o)
      Yes, I am always happy when I discover any hidden gem Milan has to offer; and there are more than one would think. It just takes some looking.

  3. The recipe sounds amazing. Currently I am devouring anything savory. Pickles, marinated mushrooms, dill beans, citrus fruit by the pound. I am very tempted by the sound of this. What a nice story of the volunteers in the park. There really are some good people out there to counteract the bad ones (like the guy who called me a b*tch when I pointed out that he should let me and Roman off the subway before he shove his way on. ) Glad to know the whole planet is not just selfish, entitled people. Happy Spring!

    1. You should definitely make this if that is the kind of thing your tastebuds are asking for: it has that snacky appeal yet is really healthy and full of vitamins.
      Cannot believe that guy, what nerve...

  4. That sounds absolutely charmed! And for a child that would be so exciting to be able to feed the animals - hey for an adult that's already exciting! :D

  5. looks delicious! Sounds like something I should make for the next bbq (after the melt down...)

    1. Wait, did I miss something? Melt down? Off to check.

  6. What a lovely day out you had in the park. Kids just love to see animals and feed them. Your chutney looks delicious. What a great way to use up your lemons. It looks like a very colourful chutney and I'm so glad it's proving to be versatile.

  7. I'd much rather have a lovely dollop of this than a glass of lemonade - this is definitely what you should make if life gives you lemons! :-)

  8. outing in the park with some good company and food is one of my favourite things to do. unluckily it happens only once a year here.

    turtles name was freddy? one of our restaurant customers used to tell us daily tales of his turtel named freddy as well. lol just reminded me of some good old stories.

    I am going to love your lemon onion chutney! Awesome recipe!

    1. That is really funny, what a coincidence. My mom "inherited" a couple of turtles and called them Max and Moritz, which may ring a bell for you.

  9. OH I am a bit envious of these places that one finds in Italy! Love that chutney too the tanginess is what I am all for coupled with the sweetness of honey!

    1. This is actually a pretty singular initiative here I believe, it is the only park I know that is run that way.

  10. Yum!!!! I am in the mood for some tangy food myself these days!

    I know those parks quite well... but never knew about the volunteers! That's nice! :-) And great quote from one of my childhood favorite books... hehehe

    1. Next time you come over, perhaps we can have a picnic there together with our kids.


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