Take on a Challenge: Make Pasta al Limone

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.

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. 

pasta al limone ingredients
Pasta al limone ingredients

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.

Five Classic Italian Tomato Sauces to Add to Your Repertoire

Fresh Heirloom Italian Tomato Sauces
An Italian tomato sauce with fresh heirloom tomatoes

There’s more to tomato sauce than marinara. Wether you’re cooking up spaghetti or a bowl of rigatoni, these classic Italian tomato sauces will make a satisfying dinner.

Types & Names of Italian Sauces

First, there’s Puttanesca

Puttanesca Pasta Sauce


This classic Italian pasta dish has a racy name—puttanesca means whore—though records are a little murky as to how that name came to be. The flavor profile is tangy, salty and spicy. These note come from adding capers, olives, and sometimes anchovies to the tomato sauce. Our recipe gets its brininess from cod instead of anchovies.

Next up? Bolognese

Bolognese Pasta Sauce


This comforting sauce starts with browned meat, onion, and garlic. Simmered with tomatoes, the Bolognese meat sauce slowly begins to develop deep notes of flavor, from richness to sweetness. Aromatic basil, the quintessential finishing touch for any Italian masterpiece, adds a bright touch.

When you branch out to Alla Norma, you’re in eggplant territory.

Pasta Alla Norma Eggplant and Tomato Sauce

Norma is the name of a famous opera written in the early 19th century by composer Vincenzo Bellini. Because Bellini was native to Cantania, Sicily, it’s believed that a chef in Cantania named his eggplant and pasta dish after the opera to honor the work of art and its grandeur. Pasta alla Norma always features eggplant, a vegetable found in many popular Sicilian dishes, and some form of ricotta cheese.

Adding Meatballs makes sauce meaty, spicy, and hearty.

Italian Marinara Sauce with Meatballs

Make marinara way more interesting by topping your spaghetti and sauce with meatballs. The garlic, oregano, and celery flavors burst out of the savory meatballs and flavor your sauce as the two simmer together for ten minutes before serving. Then, in every bite, you get an umami-rich assortment of spaghetti, meat, tomato, and Parmesan cheese.

You know life is good when there’s Fresh Heirloom Tomato Sauce.

We adore summer’s gorgeous tomatoes, so we created a simple sauce with lots of garlic and a little basil. When you can really taste the tomatoes, there’s nothing in the world that’s better to put on your pasta than this easy sauté, where the heirlooms burst to create a sauce that’s so far from marinara despite having the same ingredients!

The best news is that you don’t have to choose just one. All of these Italian Tomato sauces are easy to make at home for a Mediterranean feast.

All About Calabrian Chile

Steak with Calabrian Chili Paste

What is Calabrian Chile Paste? 

Everyone has a few ingredients in the pantry that they turn back to time and time again. There are some spices, herbs, and oil you love so much that you find yourself rushing to the store to replace them the second they run out. For the chefs at Blue Apron, Calabrian chile paste is one of those ingredients. 

Calabria is a region in the southwest of Italy, located on the toe of the proverbial boot. The dry warm climate makes it ideal for hot pepper growing. Calabrian peppers are known for their ripe fruity flavor, in addition to fiery spice. 

Calabrian chile paste is made by crushing dried peppers with olive oil. Some chile pastes can include eggplants or other vegetables, but our favorite version is all about bright pepper and zippy spice. If you’re more interested in the flavor than the hot kick, feel free to adjust your recipe. Using less will add a peppery complexity without making your eyes water. 

How to Use Calabrian Chile Paste

Once you have your jar in hand, there are plenty of options. When cooking, Calabrian chile paste introduces a savory richness and spice to everything from pasta to eggs. We love to use it in recipes inspired by its Mediterranean heritage. Here are some of our favorite ways to use it. 

Hand-Cut Pappardelle with Chile-Tomato Sauce & Kale

Pasta with Calabrian Chili Tomato Sauce

Summer Vegetable Gnocchi with Creamy Chile Sauce

Gnocchi with Calabrian Chili Sauce

Broccoli & Mozzarella Pizza with Chile Ricotta

Broccoli & Mozzarella Pizza with Calabrian Chili Ricotta

Calabrian Chile Shrimp & Chickpea Stew with Couscous

Calabrian Chili Shrimp

Want to try for yourself? Sign up for a meal using Calabrian chile paste designed by Chef Amada Freitag.

Ready for dessert? Try this summery lemon cake.

Greenmarket Inspo: Pasta Salad Alla Norma

Every week, our test kitchen team visits New York City’s biggest farmers market: the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. Comprised of over 70 stalls bursting with flowers, local products, and beautiful seasonal produce, it’s the perfect place for a hit of mid-week culinary inspiration. Follow us on Instagram to tag along (bring a tote bag, it’s impossible to leave empty handed!) and see what we decide to make with our market haul.

Visiting the market first thing in the morning has its advantages: you get your pick of the produce before anything sells out, you are liable to spot a fancy restaurant chef in the wild shopping for that night’s dinner service, and you beat the heat, escaping with your purchases before crowds double the humidity index. This week, however, it was already teetering on too hot for shopping by the time we arrived at Union Square, making it hard to think about cooking at all. Could we get away with claiming that our market inspiration this time around was…snow cones?

Luckily we spotted summer’s #1 cutest produce item on sale for $5 per pound and quickly got back on track. Fairytale eggplants, with their characteristic tiny size and streaky lavender exterior, are the darlings of the nightshade family and are easily sliced into coins for pasta dishes, stir-fries, or grain salads. Back at the test kitchen, we adapted one of our favorite eggplant-based Italian meals, rigatoni alla norma, into a make-ahead style pasta salad, ideal for a picnic lunch or beach trip, with fairytales as the star. (Note: baby eggplant, or a smaller regular eggplant cut into a medium dice will work just as well.)

Pasta Salad Alla Norma

Serves 4

Ingredients

8 oz rigatoni pasta
1 ¼ lbs fairytale or baby eggplant (about 15 medium fairytales), cut into ¼-inch rounds
¾ lb cherry tomatoes (about 1 pint), halved
2 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
⅛ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped2 cloves garlic, finely grated
¼ cup mint leaves, finely chopped, plus more for garnishing
4 oz ricotta salata, roughly grated or shaved
A few sprigs of basil
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Cook the pasta:

In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain thoroughly and rinse with cool water. Place in a large bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to keep from sticking.

2. Cook the eggplant:

In a large pan, heat a thin layer of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Working in batches, add the eggplant pieces in an even layer; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 7 to 9 minutes per batch, or until golden brown and softened (add a drizzle of olive oil between batches). Transfer to a plate.

3. Cook the tomatoes:

In the same pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the halved tomatoes in an even layer. Cook, without stirring, 3 to 4 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add the chopped capers and anchovies, red pepper flakes, and garlic paste; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes, or until softened and fragrant. Add the chopped mint and cook, stirring frequently, 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until combined. Turn off the heat.

4. Dress the pasta:

To the bowl of cooked pasta, add the cooked eggplant, cooked tomatoes, half the cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil; stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with the remaining cheese, basil, and mint (tearing the leaves before adding). Enjoy!

HOT TIP: If you’re packing this dish up for a picnic, wrap up a few sprigs of mint and basil in a paper towel to bring along separately; tear the leaves and scatter on top just before serving, so they don’t wilt and brown in transit.