When the weather warms up, our layers come off and we tend to put heavy recipes back on the shelf and look for something lighter for dinner. So when a recipe that centered on caramelized lemons and pasta popped into my email recently, I was intrigued and had to try it.
It came via the New York Times from famed cookbook and food writer Melissa Clark, who is often a guest on National Public Radio’s “The Splendid Table” as well as the “Today” show, “Rachael Ray,” “Iron Chef America” and others. She has been recognized for her food writing by the James Beard Foundation and IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals). All in all, she has written 38 cookbooks.
The surprising part of this recipe is the addition of celery leaves, which threw me for a moment. But then I realized that nary a week goes by when I don’t toss out a limp celery, just to replace it and repeat the same sad movement a week or so later. I do, however, always have some salvageable leaves. I didn’t have quite as many as were required, so I added more Italian flat leaf parsley to make up the difference. I also used Maldon sea salt flakes, which added a nice occasional crunch. Cooking this dish will make your house smell wonderfully citrusy hours later.
Pasta with Caramelized Lemons and Chili Flakes
• 4 lemons
• 1 pound linguine or spaghetti
• 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed
• Pinch of sugar
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
• ¾ teaspoon chili flakes, more to taste
• ⅔ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, more to taste
• Black pepper, as needed
• ½ cup celery leaves, coarsely chopped (optional)
• ⅓ cup parsley, coarsely chopped (optional)
• Flaky sea salt, for garnish
1. Boil a large pot of salted water. Finely zest 2 of the lemons and set aside. Trim the tops and bottoms off the other 2 lemons and cut lengthwise into quarters; remove seeds. Thinly slice the quarters crosswise into triangles. Blanch the lemon pieces in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a dish towel. Blot dry.
2. In the boiling water, add pasta and cook until just barely al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over high heat. Add the dried lemon pieces and season with a pinch each of salt and sugar. Cook until the lemons are caramelized and browned at the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
4. Melt the butter with the remaining oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the chili flakes and zest of both lemons; cook until fragrant. Whisk in the reserved pasta water.
5. Toss in pasta, juice of 1 lemon, cheese, pepper and remaining salt. Cook until pasta is well coated with sauce. Toss in the caramelized lemon and the celery leaves and parsley if using. Taste and add lemon juice if needed. Serve, topped with a drizzle of oil, more cheese if you like, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Serves 4 to 6 people.