What To Do with Those Preserved Lemons? Pizza, Orzo

preserved lemon, za'atar & ricotta pizza

A little over a year ago, I made Kesté’s lemon pizza, whose beguiling combination of smoked mozzarella, sliced lemon and fresh basil defied all conventions and challenged my ideal of pizza.

When I first began experimenting with preserved lemons, this pizza came to mind, and then it materialized on the dinner table, the preserved lemons replacing the slices, everything else remaining the same. It has been awhile since I made Kesté’s original version, but the preserved lemons offer that same brightness and intensity, and the combination is one of my favorites. As I am learning, preserved lemons work nicely anywhere lemon and salt work nicely — so, everywhere? — and while there is something about the combination of smoked mozzarella and lemon that just can’t be beat, this is a fun pizza combination, too: za’atar with olive oil, fresh ricotta, preserved lemon and basil.

The key when using preserved lemons is to adhere to the maxim less is more: a little preserved lemon goes a long way. I now understand why the two preserved lemon recipes I followed called for so few lemons, and that doubling each of those recipes, which seemed the obvious move at the time, may have been unnecessary.

Quick follow-up to the preserved lemon post: As you might recall, I made two batches of preserved lemons, the first came from Jerusalem and called for a traditional process of scoring and salting the lemons, the preserving taking four weeks to complete. The second method came from Bon Appetit, took two weeks to complete, and called for boiling the lemons first, then submerging them in a brine made with sugar, salt, and spices.

BA’s assertion that these lemons were “the best [they’ve] ever tasted” convinced me to make them, and while I had my doubts about the sugary brine, if ever I run out of preserved lemons, this will be the recipe I turn to. Much to my surprise, the BA lemons do not taste sweet at all — they taste salty but less salty than the Jerusalem lemons. In a side-by-side taste test, the winner was clear. What I also like about the BA lemons is the inclusion of turmeric, whose taste is indiscernible but whose color gives the lemons a more vibrant hue. In sum, the differences are subtle, and I can’t say I can detect a difference in taste in the finished dishes, but for what it’s worth, I’m a fan of the untraditional brine-preserved lemons.

Chicken tagine with preserved lemons and green olives is still in the works, but in the meantime I have one other dish to share. Sally Schneider has a wonderful recipe for brown butter orzo “risotto”, which calls for toasting orzo in browned butter, adding water and gently simmering for eleven minutes. Without stock, wine, cream or cheese, the starch of the orzo binds with the water, melding into a creamy, risotto-like dish. Here I’ve added toasted pine nuts, preserved lemons, and plumped currants, and the combination is delectable. With or without preserved lemons, this orzo is one of my favorites.

Finally, a big thank you to all who voted in the Food52goop dark leafy greens recipe contest! I so appreciate your support.

toasted orzo with preserved lemon, pine nuts, and currants

The top lemon is from the Jerusalem jar; the bottom lemon is from the BA jar:
preserved lemons

tablespoon of preserved lemon

toasted orzo

orzo, almost there

currants, preserved lemons and toasted pine nuts

adding the currants, preserved lemon and toasted pine nuts

toasted orzo with preserved lemon, pine nuts, and currants

preserved lemon, za'atar & ricotta pizza

oven spring

A Few Ideas for Using Those Preserved Lemons:

To recap, preserved lemons can be used anywhere you would use lemon, lemon zest, and salt. Because they are salty, be sure to cut back on the salt in any recipe you decide to use them in. I have been storing mine at room temperature, but my house is freezing, so it seems safe. If your house is not terribly cool at the moment, it’s probably a good idea to store them in the fridge. When ready to use them, cut them up, rind, flesh and all. Here are a few ideas:

1. Throw them on pizza. As I noted in the post, the combination of smoked mozzarella, lemon and basil, is irresistible, and you can substitute preserved lemons for the lemon slices in this recipe.

2. Toss them in pasta or whole grain salads. Recipe for brown butter orzo “risotto” with toasted pine nuts and currants is below. I’ve made this same dish with Israeli couscous, which is also delicious, but there is something magical about orzo and its ability to make a creamy sauce.

3. Make a condiment: Philip Krajeck of Rolf & Daughters, the chef credited to the brine-preserved lemons, suggests seeding whole preserved lemons, puréeing them with lemon juice and blending them with olive oil. He serves this condiment with grilled fish. Sounds delicious.

4. Make a tagine with chicken, and green olives. Working on it.

Pizza with Za’atar, Preserved Lemons and Ricotta
Yield = 1 pizza

1 round favorite pizza dough (Lahey recipe below)
extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon
fresh ricotta
a few leaves of fresh basil (optional)

*Za’atar is a spice mixture of roasted wheat, roasted thyme, ground sumac, sesame seeds, and salt (or some sort of variation of these spices).

1. If you have a Baking Steel or pizza stone, place it in the oven and preheat your oven to 550ºF. Alternatively, just preheat your oven to high and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Allow Steel or stone to heat for 45 minutes.

2. About 20 minutes before baking, remove pizza dough from fridge and let rest on floured surface.

3. When ready to bake, place a piece of parchment paper on a pizza peel. Alternatively, sprinkle peel with cornmeal or flour. (Note: I know using parchment paper is kind of wimpy, but it prevents any kind of sticking to the peel and it allows you to not have to use any flour or cornmeal, which burn on pizza stones and steels after the pizza is removed from the oven.) With lightly oiled hands, stretch dough out into a circle — do this in the air or on the peel itself (however you feel comfortable). Place on peel (or sheet pan if you are not using a steel or stone) and drizzle with more olive oil. Use your fingers to create small dimples in the surface of the dough. Sprinkle pizza liberally with za’atar.

4. Scatter preserved lemon evenly overtop. Drop spoonfuls of ricotta evenly over the surface. Drizzle a teensy bit more olive oil over top.

5. If you are using a peel, shimmy the whole piece of dough-topped parchment paper onto preheated steel or stone. Alternatively, place pan in oven. (Note: After about a minute or two, you can pull the piece of parchment paper from underneath the pizza (if you wish) or you can just let it char.) Cook for about 5 minutes if using peel or stone — it might take more or less time depending on your oven and on the size of the flatbread you make, but start checking after 5 minutes. On a sheetpan, the flatbread will probably take more like 7 to 10 minutes.

6. Transfer to a cutting board. Sprinkle with basil. Cut. Serve immediately.

Lahey Pizza Dough:
Yield=6 rounds

1000 grams flour, preferably tipo 00, plus more for shaping dough
4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

1. Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball. Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72°) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).

2. Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to center to create 4 folds. Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.

3. Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap and chill.

Toasted Orzo with Preserved Lemon, Pine Nuts & Currants
Adapted from Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup orzo
2 3/4 cups water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 T. chopped preserved lemons
2 T. toasted pine nuts
2 T. Zante currants plumped in hot water and a splash of vinegar, then drained
freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large skillet or a medium heavy saucepan, cook the butter over moderately low heat until the solids sink that sink to the bottom are golden brown and the butter smells like roasting nuts. Add the orzo, increase the heat to moderate, and sauté, stirring constantly, until the orzo is golden and about one third of the grains are dark brown. Stir in the water and salt and bring to a boil.

2. Cook at a low boil until the orzo is tender and most of the water has evaporated, about 11 minutes. There should be a light creamy “sauce” binding the orzo and making it slightly soupy. Add preserved lemons, pine nuts, currants and pepper to taste. Serve immediately — the consistency of the dish changes as soon as it cools down. It’s best when eaten right away.

preserved lemon, za'atar & ricotta pizza


  1. Ari says

    Fun! Perfect timing. My preserved lemons will be ready this weekend. I made the Jerusalem version. Sorta wished I had made the BA version…next time

    • says

      Honestly, you can’t tell the difference in the finished dish. I hesitated even mentioning it because I was sure most people made the Jerusalem variation. It’s honestly just for future reference, and again, the Jerusalem lemons are so good in the finished dishes.

    • says

      So funny, actually, ben and I did this. We had a few leftover slices from dinner one night, and we ate them (after warming them in the microwave for 30 seconds) in the morning with poached eggs. SO good!

  2. Jenny says

    Congrats on the win!! You had my vote!! I don’t have any preserved lemons on hand, but that orzo risotto looks amazing.

      • says

        I made the ozro today. Added asparagus and rotisserie chicken to make it a one dish dinner. Just for the heck of it I threw in a hunk of parmesan rind that was languishing in the freezer. And I let a cinnamon stick gently frangrance the dish while the pasta was cooking.

        We finished the meal with a chocolate coconut pound cake from this month’s Bon Appetit.

        Absolutely lovely.

        • says

          Yum! I love a one-pot dish, and all of those additions sound amazing.

          My mother and I almost made that chocolate coconut pound cake when I was home last weekend. She had it clipped to her cookbook stand and everything but we didn’t get around to it. Should we make it? It looked amazing! Looking up recipe now — I didn’t renew my BA in time, so I’m still waiting for my next issue to arrive.

          • says

            I highly recommend the chocolate coconut pound cake. It’s a bit unexpected….moist and tender.

            Instead of one big pound cake I made 5 mini loafs so that I can gift some to the neighbors and stash one or two in the freezer.

          • says

            Wendi, I made it! It was SO good. I uploaded my photos on the Bon appetit website — I just saw that you can do this. I think mini loaf pans are a great idea. Mine kind of sunk in the middle, but that was the part I liked the best. I tend to undertake things. We ate the whole loaf in a day. Loved the choc-coconut flavors. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Michelle says

    I read your preserved lemon post with interest and now that I see what you’ve done with them I am most definitely going to make them. These two recipes look incredible.

  4. Sandy from tassie says

    Yummo … thanks Ali an awesome post, you’ve inspired me to get those lemons preserved, track down some smoked mozarella and buy some orzo :)

  5. Jill says

    Beautiful post! Wondering if you ever rinse your preserved lemons? I made a batch of the Jerusalem lemons, and I’ve seen a few recipes that call for rinsing the lemons first.

    • says

      I have seen this before, too, and I was wondering the same thing, but so far, I have not rinsed any of the lemons — I worry about rinsing off flavor? I think if you don’t rinse, you just have to be careful about salt content. This has been my basic process: cut back on salt; add 1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon to whatever I am making; taste; add another tablespoon of chopped preserved lemon; taste, etc. Make sense?

  6. says

    Ali, that pizza looks amazing! I just tried lemon on pizza myself a couple weeks ago — I chopped up a few slices and added them to roasted broccoli pizza. I imagine your za’atar/lemon combination would be super-fragrant. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Cindy says

    Just made the pizza – smoked and fresh mozz slices, diced BA lemons, grilled chicken and instead of basil, used kale…..it was GREAT!! Thank you for the wonderful inspiration!

    • says

      Awesome! Wonderful to hear this, Cindy. Love the idea of the kale. And nice call on making the BA lemons! Don’t they add such a unique flavor? Thanks for writing in!

  8. says

    Why oh why haven’t I made the preserved lemons yet?? I just got the Jerusalem cookbook and looked at both recipes for preserved lemons in that one. I need to make this ASAP, as there’s a chicken tagine in another cookbook that I need them for also! That pizza looks simply divine!

  9. says

    Ohhh I’ve been waiting to see what wonderful things your preserved lemon experiement would bring us! I am suddenly wishing I had started my own batch when you began yours. Two weeks aint bad though! This orzo sounds so killer-good, love the currants in there, the brown butter. I remember reading your orzo with whole-trout post and falling in love with the idea! And ah that pizza! Za’atar, I love it. How long do you think the lemons keep?

    PS, do you think my pizzas (rental-apartment oven tops out at 500 degrees) will really see an improvement if I make the Baking Steel purchase? We are such pizza lovers in our home…… and I know it seems silly to stew on the idea for so long, but come from a long line of frugal shoppers who can usually talk themselves out of buying anything…. oh dear :)

  10. says

    I am on standby for your Preserved Lemon and Chicken tagine recipe…I even have a real tagine to make them in. You should see it it’s so pretty!

    I think I am going to have to make a batch of preserved lemons this weekend in preparation!

    • says

      I’m going to post a recipe soon! Make those preserved lemons and find yourself some ras-el-hanout! Aren’t tagines stunning? I can’t wait for mine to arrive.

  11. says

    Preserved Lemons are so useful! I just made this recipe and it was so delicious that today I added some preserved lemon (and harissa) to my grass-fed ground beef. Burger was so umami !

    • says

      Oh that sounds SO good! I am so going to try that! I added a spoonful of the preserved lemon and harissa to a spinach tagine for lunch. SO good!

  12. says

    i just saw this on buzz feed and my jaw dropped to the floor because this looks so amazingly delicious. i am obsessed with all things za’atar and ricotta might be one of my favorite cheese.

    *and then* i saw that you linked to a recipe for kesté pizza and my jaw dropped past the floor because ohmygod kesté is my favorite pizza on the planet. i went there all the time when i lived in new york. i never even thought to try to make it at home but as soon as i post this comment i am moseying over to that link!

    • says

      molly, I know, za’atar — I am obsessed, too! And I’m wondering why I only recently discovered it?! I have been making the roasted vegetables with tahini, lemon and za’atar from the Jerusalem cookbook — so good. So jealous you actually got to eat the REAL kesté pizza…I am dying to try. Also, congrats! What an honor to be nominated by Saveur. You are amazing!

  13. SAJ says

    Garlic, lemon juice, za’atar, and mashed white beans make the best dip! Like hummus but waaaaay better.

  14. says

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    I’m experiencing some minor security problems with my latest
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