January 31st, 2012

Lemons to the Rescue


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
Sea Salt
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.


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
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper

immersion blender

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


Posted in Fruit, Pastas, Recipes, Salads

28 Responses to “Lemons to the Rescue”
  1. Angie@Angie's Recipes Says:

    My mouth waters seriously…
    I love that Mock Caesar too…delightful and delish!

  2. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    There is nothing like a pile of sunny lemons to brighten the day. Although lemons don’t usually come to mind when thinking of pasta, I think they are a perfect fit– especially with that beautiful salad.

  3. Nancy Says:

    a little lemon – or a lot of lemon – truly makes everything better, and your pasta and salad look incredible! lately when i’m making dressing i toss a wedge of lemon, peel and all, into the blender – so good.

  4. zuza zak Says:

    i love simple pasta recipes! thanks for sharing, here’s my fisherman’s pasta, though you can do it without the mussels too…



  5. rhonda Says:

    yum yum!!!! Bill is a lucky man!! ;-)

  6. Faith Says:

    Fresh citrus is definitely one of my favorite things about winter! This meal looks like the perfect way to celebrate the bright flavor of lemon!

  7. Teresa, foodonfifth.com Says:

    Nance, this is a great post. Simple recipes that look smashing. This is certainly the time for citrus of all types…I just received a coupon in the mail from Krogers for a free bag of Cara Cara’s so I suppose I must get busy turning them into something like juice to drink, candy the peel and some granita. Happy February.

  8. Cathy Says:

    Nancy, great minds think alike. I was thinking about this lemony pasta yesterday. I will be making it soon–with your modifications!

  9. Chandani Says:

    Nancy thank you for visiting my blog. Capellini with lemons and leek so refreshing I Can’t wait to try it.

  10. Juliana Says:

    Oh Nancy, I too have lots of lemons, my sister and a friend gave so many lemons that I sure am looking for recipes…love yours, and will try the pasta dish tonight :)
    Thanks for these lovely recipes using lemon and hope you are having a great week!

  11. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    Citrus is inspiring. I just peeled a Cara Cara that wasn’t very cooperative, but delicious. Now I need some more lemons.

  12. Mary Says:

    That is one of my all-time favorite pasta recipes, add some artichokes and I’m all over it. Mmm, even better that that is if there happen to be grilled shrimp as well. Oh, man, you are making me so hungry! I don’t even recall the last time I made pasta and this is a fantastic reminder. Nice job!

    P.S. You could never have too many lemons!!

  13. anh@anhsfoodblog.com Says:

    I adore lemons! They are so versatile. Love the two recipes you feature here!

  14. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Mary–I agree completely.Never too many lemons! Artichokes would be divine in this pasta.

  15. FOODESSA Says:

    Citrus is certainly in the air. I just finished tweaking my lemon pasta dish at Sunday’s lunch.

    Your recipe is wonderful…gotta give it a whirl as well. My fork is always a willing participant when pasta is on the menu ;o)

    Have a great day Nancy.

    Ciao for now,

  16. Joyti Says:

    I think I might have all the ingredients needed to make your pasta at home – and it looks SO delicious.

  17. Jill Mant~a SaucyCook Says:

    Your recipe sounds soooo good and your photos are truly lovely. I will be trying this-your way, with the leeks! Ciao!

  18. 2 sisters recipes Says:

    We make lemon pasta every summer, its a wonderful and delicious dish. And, this recipe sounds wonderful as well. I have bookmarked this one. Thanks :)

  19. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best Says:

    I’m inspired by the simplicity of these recipes particularly the pasta. No doubt they rely on the quality of ingredients, which is great because citrus, cabbage and leeks are at their peak right now.

  20. Tammy Says:

    Ahhhhhhh. it is lemon season here also. I make simple lemon pasta with tuna and capers.

  21. Beth Says:

    I love the title of this post! Lemons truly are wonderful. And this simple pasta looks great too.

  22. Sruthi Says:

    I can’t believe how simple this pasta is and yet so flavorful.

  23. Simply Life Says:

    I always forget what a simple thing like lemons can do to a dish- this looks incredible!

  24. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    I swear I would have used those lemons the exact same way- in pasta and a salad; however, I would not have done your recipes and for that I am so thankful to see this amazing pasta creation with the lemons and leeks. LOVE lemon and leeks together! They bring out the best in each other

  25. Barbara Says:

    You are so right! Lemons rescue a lot of dishes, are fabulous in sweet desserts and your pasta dish reminds me how wonderful they are in savory form! This looks great!

  26. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com Says:

    Everything looks so lemony, good!! Can’t wait for summer :)

    Your friend sounds like me, the citrus hoarder :D

  27. Rach Says:

    Lovely. I make a similar pasta – I should say, I used to make a similar pasta, it’s been a while – but I have never thought of adding leeks. I will now. Roasted garlic in the dressing! – noted. I could do with some lemon lifting, never been so tired, teething! Luca that is, not me. Do you have a remedy for that? Just coming back into the world really, limping you could say. Hope all’s well with you Rx

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