My friend Allison confessed that she was becoming a hoarder. Not in the Crazy Reality TV way–thank goodness. More like in the Fill the Pantry with Good Food way. She had been buying big crates of citrus–Cara Cara oranges, and organic lemons—and making batches of marmalades, limoncello, lemon curd, preserved lemons, and the like. And, she still hadn’t made much of a dent in her purchase. So I was very happy to be the recipient of a bag of these luscious fruits, along with a pretty jar of her Cara Cara marmalade.
There’s nothing to match the power and versatility of the mighty lemon, whose juice and fragrant zest elevate all manner of sweet and savory things. And, as my initial foray into 2012 has been marked with a little slump in the kitchen, a gaze at the cooktop and cutting board with a world-weary eye, I recognized Allison’s kind gift as more than a bag of excess citrus trying find a home. No.
It was lemons to the rescue.
Just seeing them in the welcome sunlight this afternoon was a lift alone.
Lemons for Dinner? You bet.
My cousin Cathy and her husband John are both avid cooks. Whenever we get together, we love to share recipes and cook. Last visit, Cathy brought a lemon-based pasta recipe from her collection to prepare. “Capelli d’Angelo Olio e Limone” or Olive Oil and Lemon Angel Hair, from the 1997 cookbook Pastissima! Pasta the Italian Way was simple–deceptively so. There were few ingredients—a sauce comprised of onion cooked in a fair amount of olive oil, mixed with a lot of lemon juice, tossed throughout pasta, and dusted with parmesan.
It took mere minutes to make—and was truly delicious.
The lemons today inspired my to recreate the dish—with a few modifications. Rather than using onion, I substituted a leek. Lemon and leek are terrific together, and the strips of light green tangled throughout the pasta bring welcome color.
Other change-ups include red pepper flakes for bite, over black pepper, and pecorino-romano for pungency, over parmesan.
Without question, this pasta would be a fine foundation for a plank of grilled fish, a tender fillet of trout, even a scatter of lump crabmeat. But solo, it is exceptional, light yet rich, with a pleasant tang. It’s the kind of toss that accentuates the angel hair, rather than masking it with a complex sauce. So use your best here–DeCecco’s Capellini No.9 has been a constant favorite.
This romaine salad is one that I refer to as a “Mock Caesar”—it lacks the depth that anchovies bring to the traditional version, but is just right for the Vegetarian in my household.
Here lemon juice, roasted garlic cloves, and extra virgin olive oil cream up together into a vibrant dressing, generously tossed on chopped romaine leaves mixed with some finely sliced red cabbage.
Again, simple ingredients—simply assembled. It’s more a matter of using your best. Roasting the garlic brings out an inherent sweetness, and the softened cloves act as an emulsifier in the lemon-forward dressing. A crusty piece of ciabatta transforms readily into croutons. Sprinkle some fresh thyme over the cubed bread before toasting for an welcome herbal note.
With this salad and pasta, you can let the lemony sunshine in.
CAPELLINI WITH LEMON, LEEKS, AND OLIVE OIL (adapted from Pastissima! Pasta the Italian Way by Leonardo Castellucci
1 Leek, finely sliced
1/3 cup Olive Oil
Juice of 1 1/2 large Lemons
Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 cup shedded Pecorino-Romano
6 ounces Capellini (DeCecco is excellent)
Heat olive oil on medium in a skillet or cast-iron pot. Add the leeks, and cook for about 5 minutes, until they become soft. Cook the capellini according to package directions–about 2 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain well.
Place pasta in the pot with the leeks and olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, red pepper flakes (a couple of pinches) and pour lemon juice over all. Add most of the shredded cheese, reserving some to garnish the top of the pasta after it is served. Toss well, so that the lemon, olive oil, and leeks coat all the strands of pasta.
Serve in warm bowls. Dust with more pecorino. Enjoy!
Makes 2 generous servings.
ROMAINE SALAD WITH ROASTED GARLIC-LEMON DRESSING
1 head Romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and chopped
1 cup Red Cabbage, very finely sliced
2 cups homemade Croutons (cubed from a good crusty loaf, tossed in olive oil, seasoned with salt, black pepper, fresh thyme–toasted in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned)
1 cup shredded Pecorino-Romano
Juice from 1/2 large Lemon
3 Garlic Cloves, oven-roasted
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Cracked Black Pepper
In a salad bowl, assemble romaine, red cabbage, croutons and shredded pecorino.
In a measuring cup or small mixing bowl, place lemon juice, roasted garlic cloves, salt and pepper. Using the immersion blender, begin mixing. The garlic will cream into the lemon juice. Add the olive oil slowly, and continue blending. Taste for seasoning.
Pour over salad greens and toss well. Serves 4