I’ve read that, “A lemon is not a lemon unless it’s a Sicilian lemon.”
Lemon trees do grow in abundance in Sicily, thriving in the volcanic soil and strong Mediterranean sun. During our trip there in 2010, we enjoyed the wonderful swordfish and branzino, often prepared with lemon, capers and olive oil. But I buy lemons by the bagful at home and cook with them in savory and sweet dishes all year long.
A memory I will always cherish is spending a sun-splashed afternoon in the tiny mountain town of Savoca in Sicily. We had stopped at a small bistro tucked into the side of this picturesque hill town perched high above the sea. The owner began a conversation with our friends who had lived in Italy and spoke fluent Italian. As we sat on the outdoor patio, he surprised us with glasses of shaved ice topped with ice-cold limoncello, a sweet lemon liqueur. I was in heaven, thinking, “This is real Italian ice!”
Back at home, I guess I’m the “lemon lady.” Some of my favorite uses include:
- Substituting lemon for vinegar when making Italian salad dressing.
- Squeezing fresh lemon juice over grilled veal chops or breaded veal Milanese
- Adding lemon extract to buttery pound cakes.
- Tucking lemon wedges along with potatoes, olive oil and fresh herbs into bone-in chicken pieces for roasting.
- Marinating fish (especially swordfish and fresh tuna) in a simple mix of olive oil, lemon, pepper and sea salt.
- Brushing shrimp kabobs with a glaze of olive oil, honey and grated lemon zest and grilling.
- Putting a thick wedge of lemon into iced tea. And that goes for sparkling mineral water, like Pellegrino, as well.
Lemon lends itself to flavoring the lighter foods we look for as the summer months begin. While I love my Sunday gravy spaghetti sauce along with meatballs, sausage and pork, when it gets warm, I’m always searching for more seasonal pasta dishes. Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil is good. But why not pasta with lemon? Here is a basic and simple recipe that you can make as written or spruce up with a few additions. The recipe takes a slight twist (no pun intended) from the classic “pasta with olive oil and garlic.”
Pasta with Lemon
- ½ cup good olive oil
- 4 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
- Lemon zest from 1 lemon (be careful to get just the yellow zest not the white layer under the skin)
- ¼ to ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (play around with this based on your taste)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper (again adjusting the amount to your liking)
- 1 pound spaghettini (thin pasta, but not as thin as “angel hair” or cappellini)
- ½ cup finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
- Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.
- In a large, deep skillet, warm the olive oil over medium low heat.
- Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant (only about 1 to 2 minutes). Do not let the garlic brown at all to avoid a scorched taste.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest with about 1 teaspoon salt. Season with freshly ground pepper. Transfer the lemon sauce to a pasta-serving bowl. (Use a little whisk to stir and emulsify it.)
- Generously salt the boiling pasta water and cook the spaghettini according to package directions.
- Before draining the cooked pasta, save ½ to 1 cup of the pasta water to loosen the sauce as needed. Place the cooked and drained pasta in the serving bowl and toss with the lemon sauce and chopped parsley. Use enough of the starchy pasta water to loosen the strands of pasta.
As you can see, this recipe is pretty simple. You might top each serving with a few grilled shrimp or chopped summer tomatoes tossed in olive oil. Instead of the parsley, you could toss in some fresh thyme, which pairs so nicely with lemon. If my husband had a choice here, he would ask for an addition of fresh white anchovies. If you enjoy butter, substitute ½-cup melted sweet cream butter for the olive oil. Or mix a chunk of unsalted butter into the finished dish.
Chilled, sparkling Prosecco, or any other light Italian white wine, is wonderful with this summer pasta. Ripe melon slices are all you need to complete the meal.
My husband and I both love martinis. But no olives for him. He prefers a twist of fresh lemon because, he insists, “Olives just take up too much room.”