Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren



August 2014

Lick-The-Plate-Clean Lima Bean Salad

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lima beans

Serenbe has a way of turning renters into residents.

Two years ago, Frances’ job brought her to Atlanta for a few months and they put her up in a high rise in the city. The location didn’t feel right, so she found a real estate agent and explained what she wanted. The agent brought Frances to Serenbe, she loved it, rented a house and became good friends with the owner.

When she returned to rent the house again a year later, it was for sale with some very interested buyers. Since Frances wasn’t able to rent it, she bought it. And we had a little potluck to welcome her back home.

The guest list was a mixture of meat eaters and vegans, so I made roasted pork butt and a lima bean salad with pear relish. Why pear relish? Because that’s what caught my eye when I opened the refrigerator. The limas were frozen, but I have not one thing against frozen beans—they’re one of the few foods that freeze well.

All the guests brought dessert, including a beautiful berry clafoutis and cupcakes with berries that had been macerated in sauterne. But the lima bean salad plate was licked completely clean. Sometimes the best salads are created between the freezer and the fridge.

Lima Bean Salad

  • 4 cups cooked lima beans
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels
  • 1 cup Vidalia or sweet onion, diced
  • 1 to 1 ½ cup pear relish
  • Kosher salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and salt to taste. Let sit for an hour in the refrigerator to let the flavors mingle, then serve at room temperature.



August 2014

Camp Serenbe Cooking Class, Part 2: Ending On A Sweet Note

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IMG_0163I wrote last week about my Camp Serenbe cooking class full of eager young chefs who picked, chopped and whisked the week away with me. They were so incredibly precious with their cookie sheets and mise en place all ready to go.

After we did the tomato sauce and cheese soufflé on Monday and Tuesday, we spent Wednesday making a salad bar. They picked carrots in the garden at the Inn and created their own vinaigrettes with oils and vinegars.

The next day, it was time to talk dessert. The kids went into the Grange hamlet and picked blueberries for a blueberry cobbler from the bushes planted near the crosswalks. Then I asked how many of the kids had made their own whipped cream. We talked about the kind of whipped cream you can buy in a can—or, as I like to call it, That Which Shall Not Be Named—and I laid down my cardinal rule: If you can’t pronounce the words on it, don’t eat it.IMG_0150

So we made our own and wound up with so much of it that there was nothing else to do but go outside and have a whipped cream painting party. Some kids put it all over their entire face and bodies. Some just did a mustache. Some didn’t want it touching them at all. Some were throwing it at each other. But it was just one of those Auntie Mame moments—oh hell, let’s just do this. Sure, it would’ve been easier (and cleaner) to stay in the kitchen, but those kids left with big smiles—and freshly whipped cream—on their faces.

Blueberry Cobbler

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice butter and put it in a baking dish to cook in the oven until butter is melted. Mix together all the dry ingredients and then add milk. Pour batter into the melted butter then scatter fruit around. Bake for 30 minutes to 1 hour until middle is set.

Note: Several types of fruit can be used for this recipe. Sliced strawberries, blueberries or sliced peaches can be added raw. If using apples, peel, slice and cook in skillet with ¼ cup butter and 2 tablespoons brown sugar until soft.



August 2014

Camp Serenbe Cooking Class, Part 1: Kids, Knives and Simple Souffles

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IMG_0049 copyWhen my daughter Kara approached me about doing a farm-to-table cooking class for Camp Serenbe, I agreed. But not without some trepidation.

How was I going to occupy 14 hungry children, ages 8-13, for four days? And was I really going to give them knives?

I needn’t have worried. We had an absolute blast. They were all so well behaved and every time they cracked an egg or stirred a roux it was a new, exciting adventure. Plus, I can’t deny how good it felt to have all those adoring eyes looking at me like I was the most amazing chef ever.

IMG_0004By the end of the week, I wanted them to understand how to make a complete meal. The first day was about knife skills, so they picked basil and tomatoes at The Inn at Serenbe, then came back and chopped. We added some extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and made them into a beautiful uncooked tomato sauce.

On the second day, they went to Many Fold Farm, a nearby family-owned farm that produces organic eggs and fresh sheep cheeses. When they returned, we sat down with 15 dozen eggs and learned how to separate them. Once they mastered that, we whipped them up and added them to a cheese soufflé. People are mystified by soufflés, but nothing could be simpler. It’s much harder to get everyone to pronounce “croissant” correctly.

Stayed tuned for next week’s post about homemade blueberry cobbler and what we did with five quarts of fresh whipped cream.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

from Joy of Cooking

Makes enough for 1 pound of pasta

  •  5 large, ripe tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Drain the tomatoes in a colander for 20 minutes. Remove them to a large bowl and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Let stand for at least 30 minutes. Serve the sauce at room temperature. If serving over hot pasta, sprinkle each portion with 1 to 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar.

Fannie Farmer’s Cheese Soufflé

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup scalded milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Few grains cayenne
  • ½ cup grated Cheddar cheese
  • 3 eggs, separated

Melt the butter, add the flour, and when well mixed gradually add the scalded milk. Then add the salt, cayenne and cheese. Remove from the heat.

Beat the egg yolks until lemon-colored and add them to the mixture.

Beat the egg whites stiff, but not dry. Cool the mixture and fold in the egg whites.

Pour into a buttered 1 ½ quart mold and bake 30 to 45 minutes at 375 degrees



July 2014

Chow Bella! My Italian Dinner with Chef Chris Hastings

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Chris HastingsWhen chef Chris Hastings and I paired up on an auction item for the TumTum Tree Foundation—a non-profit that provides funds for children’s charities across Alabama—everyone assumed we’d do Southern food.

But we both cook Southern for a living and wanted to do something different. “What should we cook, Marie?” Chris asked. I said, “Let’s do Italian.”

It doesn’t exactly come out of left field: Before he opened Hot and Hot Fish Club, Chris was the executive chef at Bottega, Frank Stitt’s iconic Italian restaurant in Birmingham.

Chris was all over it and I was just as excited, though we could’ve been making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for all I cared. I just adore Chris and, though we donated the dinner to the foundation, getting to hang out with him was like giving a gift to myself.

No assistants, no nothing—just me and Chris and a bunch of fantastic food in my kitchen. The guests—who also did an overnight stay at The Inn—hung out with us and we all sat down together to eat in my backyard.

We did two pastas: The tagliatelle with chanterelles and another with pesto, arugula and pistachios. We made salad with warm balsamic vinaigrette. Chris did an Alabama lamb with ratataouille, whole roasted gulf snapper with shrimp and a beautiful plum swirl sorbetto with biscotti.

But that’s not all. We started with a huge platter of Chris’ cured meats and this brushcetta with cheese from nearby Many Fold Farm. It’s savory, sweet and a simple way to start off any Italian dinner.



Bruschetta with Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onions and Honey
  • 8 pieces crusty bread, sliced ½-inch thick
  • 1 cup Brebis or soft mild goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • Honey
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ½ pounds onions, sliced thin
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper

In a large skillet, melt the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until the onions begin to soften, about five minutes.

Stir in the sugar and cook, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan frequently, until the onions are golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Toast bread over a wood fire or under a broiler. Pour a bit of the olive oil on each slice.

Spread cheese on slices, then spoon a bit of onions on each. Drizzle with honey. Garnish with edible flowers, if desired.



July 2014

How To Paint A Beautiful Salad

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Last week I wrote about the roasted pork I made for a cooking demonstration at our weekly Farmer’s and Artisan Market. You know, the one with the gorgeous and flavorful tomato, peach, Vidalia onion and mint mixture on top.

In that same demonstration, I also made a salad of mixed lettuces with oranges, fennel, mint, pistachios and orange balsamic vinaigrette. Many consider salads an afterthought—lettuce, tomato, dressing, blah, blah blah—but I think they allow for more creativity than any other part of the meal.

Not sold? Pick up a platter, Picasso. It’s time to paint.

Imagine your platter (or bowl) as a canvas. And think of your ingredients as the colors. Now compose the salad as you would a painting. This doesn’t mean that it has to be perfect or even beautiful; it just means make it whatever you want it to be.

When I do cooking demonstrations, I always talk about how important it is to have fun while you’re cooking and entertaining. Be
with your friends. Enjoy your family. Don’t get stuck in the kitchen trying to make perfect plates like you’re in a restaurant … because you’re not.

Don’t get me started.DSC_0327

My favorite part about salads is that there are no rules. No rules! Want to add nuts for texture? Fine. How about some seeds instead?
No problem. You can make it sweet and fruity, savory and salty or a combination of both. And it will be fabulous.

For this demonstration, I wanted something to complement the tomato, peach, onion and mint topping on the pork, and this salad did just that. I tossed it with a vinaigrette comprised of orange juice, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil and kosher salt. Then, as artists do, I stood back to admire it and decided it needed one more thing: Edible nasturtiums. Perfection.

Mixed Lettuces with Oranges, Fennel, Mint, Pistachios and Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • 6 cups mixed lettuces
  • 2 oranges, peeled and sectioned
  • 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup mint leaves
  • 1/3 cup pistachios, chopped
  • 6-8 nasturtium blossoms, optional
  • Vinaigrette
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt

In a bowl, combine vinegar and orange juice. Add in a slow, steady stream and whisking constantly, the olive oil. Once emulsified, taste to season with kosher salt. Set aside to assemble salad.

In a large bowl, place mixed greens. Pour desired amount of vinaigrette and toss gently to coat the leaves. Place on individual plates or on a lovely platter. Sprinkle the oranges, fennel, pistachios and pistachios on the lettuce. Garnish with nasturtiums and serve.



July 2014

Georgia On A Plate: Pork with Peaches and Tomatoes On Top

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When we moved to Serenbe full time, my youngest daughter, Quinn, was six years old and heading into first grade. One day, after picking her up from Woodward Academy, I saw a car with a Woodward license plate frame getting off at the Palmetto exit. I didn’t know anyone else in our area who sent their child to Woodward, so I followed the car and pulled up beside it at a stop.

The driver looked at me like I was crazy when I motioned to roll the window down. “Hi there,” I said. “Do you have a child at Woodward?” That’s the way I started a conversation with Sharon Thompson, whose daughter Olivia became Quinn’s lifelong best friend.

The Thompsons have lived in the Chattahoochee Hill Country for generations. They were pork farmers decades ago, then got out when big business took over the pork trade. Now that the tides have turned and heritage pigs are hot again, they’re back selling some of the best swine in the south as Double T Farms.

I used one of their beautiful Berkshire pork loins for a demo I did recently at the Serenbe Artists and Farmer’s Market. The dish—roasted pork with tomatoes, peach, Vidalia onion and mint—is a version of my recipe that appeared in the July issue of Atlanta magazine. They wanted me to use chicken because my family has been known for fried chicken for decades, so I did paillards because they’re so much easier for the home cook. But at the demo, I used pork because it’s delicious at room temperature.

I rubbed the pork with grapeseed oil, kosher salt and pink peppercorns because I thought black would be too strong and not marry well with the topping. For some reason, pork and peaches go well together, but I’d never tried peaches and tomatoes together. It worked beautifully—a make-ahead dish perfect for summer entertaining. You know what they say: What grows together goes together.

Roasted Pork with Tomato, Peach, Vidalia Onion and Mint topping
  • 1 three-pound boneless, center-cut pork loin
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pink peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 450. Rub the oil, salt and peppercorns evenly over the entire surface. Place the meat on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 and roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers 150 to 155 degrees.

Remove to a cutting board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand for 15 minutes. Skim off the fat in the roasting pan, leaving behind all the pan juices.

  • Tomato, peach, onion and mint topping
  • 2 cups heirloom tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium peach, peeled and chopped
  • ¼ cup diced Vidalia onion
  • 2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice

Place tomato, peach, onion, mint, oil and orange juice in a bowl and toss together. Season to taste with salt, place on top of the pork and serve.



July 2014

Foraging For Chanterelles With Jazz Violinist Zach Brock

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Zach Brock, a phenomenally talented jazz violinist and composer, was one of the most recent participants in Serenbe’s Artists in Residence (AIR) program. At his welcome reception, he and I got on the topic of hikes; the Kentucky native doesn’t get to do a lot of those in his current Brooklyn home.

So I invited him to go foraging with me. I needed some chanterelles for an Italian dinner I was doing with chef Chris Hastings, and a friend of mine lets me forage for them on her magical piece of property here in the Chattahoochee Hill Country.

Zach had never foraged in his life, but he picked up on it quickly. All you need is a small paring knife, a basket and some common sense. It’s important to know what you’re foraging for because eating the wrong mushroom is a mistake you don’t get to make twice.

Chanterelles are my third favorite mushrooms, right behind fresh porcini from Italy and morels. They’re trumpet-like, golden in color and always found on the forest floor. Once you find them, slice them off—never pull a wild mushroom because you can kill the root.

Though Zach didn’t get to taste the pasta he helped me create, he left Serenbe with a wonderful taste in his mouth. He stayed for two weeks, during which he performed a concert with surprise guest Freddy Cole, Nat King Cole’s brother.

At the AIR board dinner honoring Zach, he stood up and gave a small speech, though he normally doesn’t do public speaking. “I was immediately embraced by the Serenbe community,” he said. “As an artist, the appreciation is so nourishing. In my day-to-day life, I’ve questioned the relevancy of my work and it was so wonderful to be in a place where art is celebrated and valued.”

Those words were so delicious to me—so affirming of the community we work so hard to create at Serenbe. Like music, cooking isn’t about one chef or ingredient—it’s about many wonderful elements coming together to create something everyone can enjoy.

Tagliatelle with Chanterelles and Butter

This dish is decadent simplicity at its best. It only has a few ingredients, so it’s important for them to be the freshest and highest quality to honor the chanterelles. That includes the pasta—it makes all the difference.

  • ¾ pound butter, high quality
  • ½ cup shallots, minced
  • 1 pound chanterelles, chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound fresh tagliatelle

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add shallots and sauté on low heat until golden. Add chanterelles and stir until coated with the butter. Place lid on pan and let steam for a few minutes. Remove top and stir. Season with salt. Toss with cooked pasta* and serve.


In a large pot, bring water to a boil (2 gallons per 1 pound of pasta). Salt water until it tastes like the sea. When boiling, add the fresh pasta and stir into separate pieces. Depending on freshness, cooking time is 3-4 minutes. Save some cooking water and drain.

Place back in pot and stir in the chanterelles. Add a bit of the pasta water if needed for more liquid.

Note: If fresh pasta is not available, use a great quality dried one. A large, flat noodle is best with this mixture.



July 2014

Alabama Road Trip: Getting Loved Up All Over the Cotton State

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It all started with an innocent conversation. My friends Karen, Clare and Phyllis, and I were talking about Rural Studio, the off-campus undergraduate architecture program at Auburn University that’s builds affordable housing out of recycled materials in one of the most impoverished counties in Alabama. I’ve been fascinated with their work for years and got to visit as part of the Serenbe AIR (Artists in Residence) board. Karen, Clare and Phyllis said they’d love to see it.

I said, what are we waiting for? Let’s go to Alabama. And if we’re going to go to Alabama, let’s stop in Birmingham. And if we’re going to stop in Birmingham, we absolutely have to have dinner at the Hot and Hot Fish Club. And if we’re going to do that, we should have drinks with chef/owner Chris Hastings first.

They were, as you might imagine, sold.

So we headed out bright and early one morning. Shortly afterwards, the “check engine” light came on in Karen’s car, so we made a short pit stop. But we can have fun anywhere—even a Ford dealership in Opelika, Alabama.

When we got to Newbern, where Rural Studio is located, we stopped at a little grocery store that’s the only thing for miles and miles. In the back, someone had opened a restaurant and we decided to have lunch. Karen and I split a Gorilla burger—a hamburger topped with onion rings, more onion, cheeses, lettuce, tomato and a really funky cole slaw. God, it was delicious.

We toured through Newbern and saw the unbelievable impact Rural Studio has made on that community. The Newbern Library. The 20K houses. Such inspiring, humbling work.

Then we were off to Birmingham. We had drinks with chef Chris Hastings then toured the city a bit until it was time for our 6:30 reservations at Hot and Hot. When we were seated, Chris came out and asked, “Is there anything you won’t eat?” We said no. He said, “Okay, we’re getting ready to love y’all up.” And then food started coming and didn’t stop. For hours.


He sent out his signature dish—the Hot and Hot tomato salad with field peas, fried okra and bacon—and added shrimp to it. He sent out charcuterie plates filled with chicken rillettes, duck prosciutto, coppa, head cheese and bresaola. But my favorite—and even as I’m thinking about it I can still taste it—was the lardo butter. It was part of his butter plate that came with honeysuckle and beef butter, but the lardo. Oh God, the lardo. It was pure animal fat that he’d run through a fine mill grinder and then whipped. It was air. Pure air.

Six-thirty on a Tuesday night in Birmingham and the restaurant was jammed, which is such a testament to Chris’ talent. The ladies and I ate. And drank. And we laughed so much that the woman at a table near us kept turning around giving us the Look of Death, but Chris couldn’t have cared less. “The greatest compliment you can give a chef is to come in, really understand what we’re trying to do, appreciate the food and fill our dining room with laughter,” he said. And so we kept on going.

And going. And at one point I looked around and saw that the restaurant was no longer jammed … because it was 11:30 p.m. We’d closed the restaurant down, so we said our goodbyes, got back in the car and headed to Serenbe. We pulled in around 2:30 a.m. the morning after we’d left. I moved a little slower that day, but it was a small price to pay for such a wonderful adventure.




June 2014

Dorothy, Daydreams and Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

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Serenbe Playhouse is doing an incredible adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz every weekend through August 3. It’s outside at The Inn’s animal village with a real yellow brick road and puppets from the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.

And though every part of director Brian Clowdus’ production is brilliant, my favorite part is at the end, when Dorothy is reunited with Auntie Em. She’s so caught up in the day-to-day drudgery until Dorothy touches her and says,” Don’t you see the magic?” The clouds lift from Auntie Em’s eyes and she says, “Oh Dorothy, it is magic.

I get choked up every time I think about it.

We all have to chop wood and carry water. Dishwashers have to be unloaded and laundry has to be moved from the washer to the dryer and back into the drawers—only to be worn and washed again. And you can look at those things as drudgery or you can see them as magic.

I choose magic.

As much as I can, I choose to see the magic that’s around me every day. And when I get out of balance—and can’t quite make it to Oz—daydreams give me the gift of stepping out of the spin. I find that when a daydream keeps popping up, it’s my soul saying, “Just give me five minutes, Marie.” And if I pay attention to it, it will grow.

When I was a little girl, I would lie in my bed and imagine a little town in my backyard. My favorite part of that daydream was the grocery store, which had tiny shopping carts. Years later, when Steve and I visited New York, I’d make a beeline for Dean & DeLuca, the original gourmet grocery store in Soho. I loved the black and white tile floors, the metro shelving and beautiful takeaway food. I bought bottles of the sundried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar they introduced to America.

Today there is a little town in my backyard. And whenever I make this warm balsamic vinaigrette, I taste a little piece of that daydream that became Serenbe.

Here’s to the salad days, every day.


Steve and I at Serenbe Playhouse Emerald Ball


Tart Greens Salad with Proscuitto and Warm Balsamic Dressing

Serves 8

1 medium red onion, sliced into thin rings

½ cup red wine vinegar

1 small head each of romaine, red-leaf lettuce and curly endive

½ cup pine nuts, toasted

3 whole scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

3 ounces shaved Parmesan

3 ounces prosciutto, cut into bite-size squares

1 cup basil leaves

1 cup parsley

8 large cloves garlic, cut into ¼-inch dice

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Soak the onions in ½ cup vinegar for 30 minutes to reduce their sharp taste. Wash and dry the lettuces and tear them into bite-sized pieces. Toss the greens with all but 3 tablespoons of the pine nuts, most of the scallions, half the cheese and prosciutto and all of the basil and parsley.

In a medium skillet, cook the garlic in the olive oil over very low heat for 8 minutes, until barely colored. Remove with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the vinegars to the oil. Cool for a few moments, add the brown sugar and let it bubble slowly for 1 minute. Add the garlic back in and season with salt and pepper.

Top the greens with the drained red onion and the remaining scallions, pine nuts, cheese and prosciutto. Spoon the warm dressing on top and serve.



June 2014

Love and Lemon Gelato: How I Visit Italy Without Leaving Serenbe

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Pudge and I outside Selborne Sweets

Pudge and I outside Selborne Sweets

When I was 21, I went to Italy for the first time with my friend, Connie. At one point during the trip, we walked into a gelato shop near the Piazza Navona in Rome. The man behind the counter—seeing two young American tourists high on Italian charm and architecture—asked us if we wanted the Around The World. We said we did. And he commenced packing 21 gelato flavors on top of a single cone.

I was in love … with water, sugar and pure flavors.

A few years later, I fell in love again—with Steve … and the lemon sorbet I had on our first trip to Italy as a couple. I had daydreams about having a latte and lemon sorbet every day.

The latte daydream became a reality when the Blue Eyed Daisy opened across the street from our house a few years ago. I walk over every day and have one. Okay, actually two. I even take my own cup. And when Selborne Sweets opened just a few feet from my house recently, part two of the daydream became a reality.

In addition to homemade fudge, chocolate dipped strawberries and ridiculously addictive caramel corn, Selborne Sweets carries High Road craft ice creams and sorbets made locally. They have a limoncello flavor that takes me right back to Italy.

I may have to start showing up with my own cup.

Come have a cone or cup of the world’s most perfect summertime refreshment soon. And if you have daydreams like mine, here’s a recipe for lemon granita to fill in the gaps between trips to Selborne Sweets—it’s a quick, easy fix and doesn’t require a machine. I used a version of it years ago in my dinner series class at FSU and love the crystals in it. Serve it in frozen lemons for the intermezzo course.


Lemon Granita

Courtesy of Gourmet magazine

Makes about 2 ½ cups

2-3 large lemons

1 cup filtered or bottled still water (not distilled)

1/3 cup superfine granulated sugar

With a vegetable peeler, remove zest in long pieces from 2 lemons. Squeeze ½ cup juice from lemons.

In a small, heavy saucepan, heat water and sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir in zest and transfer syrup to a bowl to cool. Chill syrup, covered, until cold. Discard zest and stir in lemon juice.

Freeze lemon mixture in a metal bowl, stirring every 30 minutes to remove ice crystals from side of bowl, until liquid has become granular but is still slightly slushy, about 3 to 4 hours. Serve immediately.