Someone asked me recently what my favorite ingredient was. Actually, the question was what do I try to keep in my fridge at all times. My answer is, of course, the lemon. I LOVE cooking with lemon.

It’s a good thing too because as a personal chef, I’m always looking for ingredients that everyone can eat. Ever hear of someone allergic to lemon? And then there’s the versatility factor. It’s essential with seafood, well matched with poultry, charming in baked goods, and the perfect finishing touch in soups and sauces. A nice surprise in pasta and rice, it’s also refreshing in tea, ginger beer, cola, seltzer, vodka, and beer.

Another wonderful thing about lemon is that it can uplift other flavors without taking over. Apple pie tastes more apple-y if you squeeze a tablespoon of juice over the filling. A half lemon in a turkey before roasting it will make divine pan-juice gravy. A bit of zest in a confectionary sugar glaze on top of sour cream blueberry cake will have you licking the plate.

Of course lemon can be the diva too. Her starring role in Lemon Chicken and Chewy Lemon Cookies make them two of my favorite ways to enjoy this remarkable fruit.

Lemon Chicken for 8, adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook

Wash and zest 7 ½ medium lemons, then juice them. Marinate 8 chicken leg quarters in the juice and zest for 3 hours, or overnight. Drain the chicken (save the juice!) and pat it dry with a paper towel. Preheat the oven to 400. Dredge chicken in 1 cup white flour with 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 tablespoon sweet paprika. Arrange chicken in a large baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Mix the reserved juice with 3 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1 cup of chicken stock. Pour over the chicken, top each leg with a thin slice of that last half lemon, and bake for 35 more minutes, basting the chicken with the juices periodically. Great with white basmati rice.

Lemon Icebox Crumbles, from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book

Mix till crumbly: one stick soft butter, 1 ½ cups sifted white flour, and the zest of two lemons. Mix in ¾ cup white sugar and two egg yolks. Add the juice of both lemons and blend until wet enough to roll into balls. Preheat oven to 350. Chill the dough for 30 minutes. Form walnut-sized balls and roll in confectionary sugar then place on greased cookie sheets one inch apart. Flatten cookies with the back of a glass. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden on the bottom. Try not to overbake. Makes 2 dozen.