For the many who insist that beauty is only skin deep, I ask those good souls to consider the lemon; with that citrus wonder, a most worthy part is the skin. More specifically, it is the skin's very outer most colored layer where the good cook looks for the supreme element; it's called the "zest" and what an appropriate title it is.

Too often shoppers fail to heed what they are passing over as they forage for the plumpest juice lemon in the neighborhood market. While squeezing and massaging each piece of fruit, the uninitiated are ignoring a vital area of the lemon. As with all citrus fruits, the skin of the lemon presents seasoning opportunities that more than equal its interior pulp and juice. The word "zest" refers to the outer colored portion of any citrus fruit. The under layer of pith is bitter and should be left attached to the fruit. The flavor of zest is not as harsh or mouth puckering as juice. As a mellow dry ingredient, it warmly intensifies flavors and unlike juice, which if not included as part of the original recipe, could be detrimental to its taste. Zest is just the thing to spice up any recipe that would benefit from just a touch of lemon flavor. Before grating the skin, always wash the citrus in warm water to remove any preservatives that might be on its surface. It is easiest to grate the skin on the diagonal of a whole firm fruit before juicing it. If either the zest or juice alone is called for in a recipe, freeze what is not needed. Both ingredients freeze well for up to six months.

The peel can also be dried simply by putting it in a 145 degree oven for an hour or so. Be sure and rotate the pan midway through the time. Drying concentrates the aromatic oils of the skin. If the cook chooses, dehydrated skin can be ground in a spice grinder and fresh peel can be chopped. In fine textured dishes, such as puddings or sauces, where the slightly granular texture of the zest may interfere with the creaminess of the dish, rub a sugar cube over the skin to dissolve during the recipe preparation.

The most efficient gadget for zesting fruit is an inexpensive five holed stainless steel instrument that can be pulled across the skin, and without penetrating into the pith, create threadlike strips. It can also be used to make decorative vegetable threads. As with any sharp tool, a zester dulls and should be replaced periodically. Seasoning suggestions include, pie crusts, cookie doughs, and cold soufflés. For salads, use zest as a way to dress up store bought mayonnaise. Add it to a simple oil and vinegar dressing to serve with avocado and lettuce. Use citrus threads to decorate and lightly season hors d'oeuvres. They go well in recipes using black olives, goat cheese, or smoked fish. A blend of zest into cream cheese and smoked salmon or trout works well. In stews, it is best to use a few broader pieces of the zest peeled with a knife. They will gradually exude their flavor as the stew simmers. A few peels of orange added to a beef stew or lemon to stewed lamb give a sensational taste without having to use a large number of other flavoring ingredients. And finally, don't forget pasta sauces. Lemon or orange blended into a mix of fresh tomato, black olive, caper, and Italian parsley is sublime.