Just the other day, we’d made some Whole Wheat Pasta dough (we had most of an egg left from a baking project, and pasta dough is the easiest way to use up egg), and we wanted a light dish for lunch. But it needed to have a lot of flavor. After a bit of discussion, we settled on making our version of Pasta al Limone. It’s a bit different from some versions, so we thought we’d show you how to make it.
What’s great about this dish is that it goes together quickly. We’re talking in under 15 minutes, total, provided you have fresh pasta ready. If not, you’ll have to cook the pasta a bit longer, but the sauce will hold at a low temperature, so that’s not a problem. So, let’s scratch out some of that lemon sauce!
Simple dish, simple ingredients. Make every ingredient count. If possible, fresh pasta is the way to go. It’s better than dried, plus it boils up faster. Use real Parmesan cheese, it’ll make your taste buds happy. We used chervil because that’s what we had on hand. Flat-leaved parsley (fresh), would be even better. For the lemon, use organic if possible. After all, you’ll be eating that zest. Finally, the pith of the lemon is bitter, so remove as much as you can, or the sauce will be bitter — or just juice the lemon, the sauce will taste the same.
Procedure in detail:
Zest lemon. We used to zest lemons with a sharp knife. It’s not that difficult, but then we picked up a microplane grater. Wow! Much easier, but, boy, is that thing sharp. You need to be super careful with those microplanes. However you do it, zest the entire lemon, or at least most of it. If you’re unsure about the quality of the lemon, scrub it thoroughly before zesting. It can’t hurt.
Slice thin and de-pith. Slice the lemon into thin slices, about 1/8 of an inch thick. Then take your knife and cut away the pith. Really trim it away, leaving as little as possible, as it can be quite bitter. If you’re not up for the slicing and de-pithing, feel free to juice the lemon, instead.
Cook lemons. Place a skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Let it heat until it’s very hot and shimmery. Add the lemon slices in a single layer, season with salt and pepper, and let sizzle for about 2 to 3 minutes, or they begin to break down. Shake the pan occasionally so the lemon won’t stick.
Boil pasta. Meanwhile, start cooking the pasta. If you’re using fresh pasta, it’ll be done in just a few minutes. Store-bought dried pasta will take longer, so keep that in mind.
Reserve water. When the pasta is nearly done, scoop out about 1/4 cup of the pasta water. We just dip a heat-proof measuring cup into the liquid to scoop it out. The exact amount isn’t critical, so don’t worry about measuring carefully.
Add butter and zest. Once the pasta is nearly done, add the butter and lemon zest to the cooking lemons. Stir until the butter melts, and let it all cook for about a minute more while you drain the pasta.
Add pasta. Toss the drained pasta and the reserved pasta water in the lemon mixture, and cook, tossing the pasta to coat with lemon sauce, for about 2 minutes.
Serve. Divide between two warmed bowls, top with grated Parmesan cheese, and sprinkle with chervil. Serve immediately.
This makes for a nice, light dish, although we did have the issue of our sauce being somewhat bitter. That can be remedied by adding a little more salt and cheese, but, if you don’t like bitter foods at all, squeeze out the lemon juice and use that instead of the slices (which is probably what we’ll do next time). We also really liked this dish because it’s so quick and easy to put together. Since we rolled out the pasta dough earlier that morning, the most time-consuming part was prepping the lemon. Everything else happens fast, so you need to be on your toes. Because it’s so easy, four stars.