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
about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
a small bunch of mint
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.