While stuck at home, Blue Apron’s Head Chef John Adler turned to an old favorite recipe. Keep reading for Chef John’s advice on how to master this occasionally tricky dish: Pasta al Limone.
The thing that I love the most about this Pasta al Limone recipe is its deceptive simplicity. It’s just 5 familiar ingredients, but it can be tricky to pull them together into an elegant “simple” sauce.
This dish is a Neopolitan classic, and there are dozens of versions. This is the Franny’s version, and in my unbiased opinion, it’s easily the best. During my time as the Head Chef at Franny’s, I had a list of customers I had to notify when this was coming back on the menu. The Meyer Lemon Spaghetti, in particular, had a dedicated fanbase.
Franny’s Pasta al Limone
The mise en place is easy: 1 pound of dried pasta, 4 oz butter, 1/2 cup grated parm, zest and juice of 3 lemons, separated (if you can do this with meyer lemons it’s a whole different ball game), good olive oil, salt and pepper.
The secret, as they say, is in the sauce. Better stated, it’s in how you build the sauce.
You begin as you would for cacio e pepe, by toasting freshly cracked pepper in a dry pan over medium-low heat. The key here is the aroma; you want to unlock the fruity aromas that are bound up deep within all dried spices.
When the pepper begins to smell floral and complex, you’re there. Add 1/2 cup tap water and turn off the heat.
Cook your pasta in heavily salted water. I favor long noodles here, mainly because this entire dish is an aromatic experience. When you slurp up long noodles, you get more of that. Cooking time will vary based on your noodle selection, but be sure to leave the noodles al dente so that you can finish them in the sauce.
When the pasta is one minute away from being done, take out 3/4 cup water and pour 1/2 cup of it over the zest. This activates the zest, and also keeps it from clumping up in the pan.
Drain the pasta and add it to the pan of pepper water. Turn the heat to medium.
Add your zest, butter, a few more cracks of paper, and a medium *glug* of oil to the pan of noodles. Stir constantly until it is glazed. If it starts to break, add a few drops of the reserved pasta water to bring it back together.
Add the parm and stir to incorporate.
Turn off the heat and add in the lemon juice. Stir until fully incorporated and the pasta looks light and creamy.
Divide between bowls (serves 2 in times of emotional eating, 3 if feeling reasonable, or 4 as a mid course) and finish with another drizzle of oil.