Thursday, February 24, 2011

spaghetti with lemon and olive oil

linguine al limone

Look, it wasn’t my finest moment but my Happy Valentine’s Day gift to my husband was an epic meltdown over book deadlines and recipe flops and the near impossibility of getting anything done with a toddler underfoot in a kitchen that doesn’t actually fit the two of us. It wasn’t pretty. We ordered pizza and watched How I Met Your Mother.

Now, just in case that story elicited even a wisp of pity, you should take it back right now because the week, it got better from there. First, I realized that my “hey, let’s not do gifts this year” conversation with my husband may have never left my own head when he busted out tulips and a spa certificate. (Oops. I’m a real catch, aren’t I?) Then my very kind agent and editor talked me off the book ledge, they’re good at things like that though I suppose they have to be, taking on nuts like me. The following night, I made an actual dinner that involved those insane green beans and this little spaghetti dish I’ll get to in a bit because you know, it’s hardly as interesting as what we did the day after that:

so, this happened

Here’s where the story could continue in any of the following ways: How hard it was to be away from our little baby for the weekend (so hard! except for all of that sleep!) How quickly we adjusted to views like this, boats like that, beers like this and sunsets like that.

the viewasailbalashirequisite sunset photo

… How unnaturally excited I was to see someone cooking, and realized that might have started to miss my tiny kitchen, just a tiny bit.

flouringfryingdrainingif you insist

But I say, “eh!” You can hear about sunsets and calamari anywhere, and instead we should talk about this right now. And then never, ever speak of it again.

our ride is here

When Alex told his boss we were going to Aruba for the weekend, he said, “I have only two words for you: Kukoo Kunuku”. A dutiful employee, Alex signed us up on Friday evening and at 6:30 on the nose, the loudest, bouncing-est, most garish, windowless bus cranking island music that surely could have been heard a mile away pulled up for us. Like, they had our names, credit card numbers and we were the only people out front thus it was impossible to deny (mostly because our faces were half-covered with our hands) that the bus. It was for us. But a windowless bus with fringes for curtains and admonitions such as “If you have any complaints, write it down on a $20 bill and leave it in this bag up front” and “This bus? Hot hot hot! Driving record? Not so hot!” seems hardly a place to question, for example, why we Americans must make such spectacles of ourselves while traveling, how irritating it must be for locals to hear this bus going through their towns every night, what we’d gotten ourselves into or really anything but why we were still sober. And so we… fixed that and there are no more photos from that evening, do not even ask. The end.

run like hell!

So why am I sharing all of this today? Because all of it — the meltdown, the beaches and even the despicable tourist behavior — was delightfully, goofily perfect, a little bit of sunshine in the middle of an interminable winter. Here’s hoping that the preview of the summer to come was enough to light a fire under my ass get my creative juices flowing again so that this site may be lively once again and that book might appear in stores before you’ve all grown weary of me.

zestedsqueezedboiling and steaming up lensparmesan

And lest you think I’ve forgotten about your own need for sunshine, I attempted a tangled bowl of it in my Valentine’s-A-Day-Late this year, a Southern Italian classic that I couldn’t believe I’d gone so long without. Like other dishes I’ve shared here, it’s best when it is simple — pasta, lemons, olive oil, Parmesan and some heavy cream. Keep reading, I’ll tell you how I did it.

an attempted bowl of sunshine

One year ago: Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Tart and Thick Chewy Granola Bars
Two years ago: Red Kidney Bean Curry and Thick Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Three years ago: Pasta Puttanesca, Broken Artichoke Hearts Salad and Pear and Almond Tart
Four years ago: Vegetable Dumplings and Baked Tomato Sauce

Spaghetti with Lemon and Olive Oil [Spaghetti al Limone]

This is one of those recipes that are almost better off without one — every ingredient can be adjusted to taste and the technique is just tossing everything about. I consulted a bunch of recipes but ended up being lured in by Cook’s Illustrated’s January 2011 version, as it had so much less heavy cream and olive oil than the others and the threat of bathing suits was a mere 48 hours away! But, I ended up not using the recipe as more than an outline; I didn’t think shallots belonged in the dish, I wanted more lemon juice and I didn’t care for their resting technique — the cheese just glued itself to the pot and not the noodles when I did this — the “toss, toss, toss!” method I used in last year’s Cacio e Pepe does a better, quicker job.

1 pound spaghetti or linguine
3 lemons
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil , plus additional for serving
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup), plus additional for serving
Ground black pepper
Small handful fresh basil or arugula (what I used, deliciously, in a pinch) leaves, shredded

Cook linguine or spaghetti in well-salted water to your al dente tastes in a large, wide-bottomed pot. (You’ll have fewer dishes to wash if you use this pot to assemble the dish as well.)

While pasta is cooking, zest lemons until you have a little shy of a tablespoon of zest. Juice lemons — you’ll have anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 cup lemon juice.

Drain pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta cooking water. Dry out your pot, then boil the olive oil, cream, zest and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water together for two minutes over high heat. Return pasta to pot and stir until coated. Add the cheese and 1/4 cup lemon juice and toss, toss, toss everything together. Add more pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, if you’d like your dish a little looser. Quickly taste a strand of pasta and see if you want to add the remaining lemon juice (we did). Stir in basil or arugula and season generously with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately, drizzling individual portions with a bit of extra olive oil and sprinkling with extra Parmesan cheese.


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