Making marmalade doesn't need to be complicated or fiddly. Actually, you really only need only two ingredients.
If you're a marmalade skeptic, start with this marmellata di limoni, which is extraordinarily simple and low maintenance. You just need a few hours up your sleeve, some good music (or good company), and a watchful eye while you let the lemons boil away, perfuming your entire house like the best aromatherapy you've ever experienced.
In Italy, making jam (marmellata or confettura) is traditionally found all over the peninsula, just as you’d expect from a cuisine that still relies heavily on the seasons to dictate what’s on the table (and preserve it for later on in the year). It’s usually eaten for breakfast or turned into tarts known as crostata.
Lemon marmalade is made most notably where you find profuse amounts of lemons. There's Campania’s Amalfi coast, where the lemons grow larger and sweeter than anywhere else. And, of course, Sicily, where lemons have been growing since the Middle Ages, one of the many exotic and beautiful things brought to the region when it was an Arabic island.
While the classic English-style citrus marmalade results in a crystal clear jam punctuated with finely sliced citrus peel, Sicilian recipes for marmalade are a thick purée of blended fruit. The recipe requires first boiling the lemons whole (oh, the perfume of citrus!) rather than chopping peel, sieving out the pith, or any of that. You only need to scoop out the pulp to remove the seeds and then pulse everything in a food processor, blender, or—the more traditional way—pass it through a passatutto or food mill (and in this case, you don't need to scoop out the pulp to remove the seeds, as the food mill will be filter them out).
The result is a perfectly smooth, perfumed, bittersweet jewel-toned jam. Spoon it onto buttered toast, drizzle it over some yogurt, or try a spoonful in a mug of black tea to sweeten it. This would also be lovely to cook desserts with, not only in a crostata, but also brushed over a plain sponge cake (this one is my favorite—it's fluffy and light and happens to be gluten-free. Or for a triple-threat lemon layer cake, try it in in this recipe, swapping it in for the raspberry jam.
For marmalade inspiration, I turned to Nigel Slater, who has plenty of excellent advice (even if for Seville oranges https://www.theguardian...), as well as some old Sicilian recipes, which are usually all a version of the one found in “Marmellate e Conserve” by Enza Candela Bettelli (in Italian, 1986).
Note: It sounds like an awful lot of sugar, but this is the classic ratio for citrus marmalades (1 part fruit to 2 parts sugar) and we’re talking lemons here—much less sugar is just a bit too tart, but if you are using naturally sweeter lemons such as Meyer lemons (a cross between a lemon and a mandarin or orange) or Amalfi lemons, you could get away with less sugar. Taste it as you go and add more sugar, if you like. Although I love this jam just as it is, it would also go beautifully infused with elderflower, fresh ginger, fresh rosemary, or speckled with vanilla. —Emiko
- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 2 hours 30 minutes
- Makes about 10 cups or 2.5 litres jam
- Wash your lemons well and cut off the little buttons on the tops where the stems were, then place in a large jamming pot (a heavy based one with tall sides is ideal) with about 2-2 1/2 litres (8-10 cups) water. Simmer these whole lemons gently until the skins become incredibly soft and a fork slips through easily—about 2 hours if large, 1 hour if they are small and the skins fine.
- Remove the lemons from the pot, saving the water left in the pan and topping up, if necessary, to have about 1 1/2 litres (5 cups) of liquid.
- If using a food mill, it is sufficient to cut the lemons in quarters and pass through a food mill set over a bowl to collect the pulp. The seeds and some hard membranes will be separated from the pulp and can be discarded. If you don't have a food mill, halve the lemons and scoop everything out with a spoon. Place the insides (pith, seeds, pulp and all) in a colander over a bowl to drain and set aside the skins for the moment. Strain out the seeds like you would with an orange squeezer/hand juicer (actually you could use one of these too to remove the seeds) and discard them. Blend the pulp/juice along with the skins you set aside with a food processor or blender.
- Return the blended pulp and skins to the pan with the lemon water, along with the sugar (if you are using sweeter lemons and want to use less sugar, taste as you go).
- Place a saucer in the freezer to test the marmalade later.
- Bring the marmalade to a boil and boil rapidly for about 20 minutes for a soft set. The liquid will first look very opaque and a little frothy, then as it cooks, it will turn transparent golden and shiny. To test if the jam has set, place a blob of hot marmalade on it, pop it back in the freezer for 30 seconds and then take a look at it. Poke it or turn the plate a little, if you can see the surface crinkle, it's done. If you prefer a firmer set jam, leave it a little longer and test the jam on the cold saucer.
- Ladle the hot jam into the jars one by one (be careful of fingers, hot jam burns!). Seal the lids tightly (a dishcloth helps protect your hands) and set aside. Place the jars in a large boil and fill with water to their necks. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Let the jars cool. As the jam cools, the seals should tighten and contract. Store somewhere cool and dry; once opened, store in the fridge.