As you might have picked up from my introduction to this Issue 31 The Weekender, I am very excited about the imminent arrival of Spring and - dare I say it - Summer in the Western Cape!
In classic Cape Town style, the weather has been a touch schizophrenic. Whenever I step outside of the relative safety of my home, I'm sure to bring along a sunhat, a raincoat, sandals, and a thick jersey. You simply don't know when the weather is going to turn and you're going to regret dressing with any kind of optimistic faith in the forecast some hours before.
Nevertheless, when the sun does make an appearance, it's simply divine. It's a warm and lovely reminder of the long nights and good times ahead. I never enjoy sharing a simple meal with friends more than I do during summer. Simplicity reigns in my kitchen during this time!
After all, there is scarcely a better feeling than rolling into your kitchen after a few hours at the beach, still damp from swimming in the sea and a touch sun drunk. You're too pleasantly tired, hot, and hungry to wait out a slow roast in the oven. So, you feast on dishes made from ingredients that are as close to their freshest form as possible.
I suppose that's why I like this dish so much. It's fresh, zesty, and ready in fifteen minutes. My housemate made it for us at a dinner several months ago, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. Well, now that the evenings are stretching out again in the Cape, I thought it was a good time to try my own hand at making pasta al Limone.
What you'll need
Here's a list of what you'll need to pick up from the shops:
Long pasta like spaghetti or linguini
A whole lemon
Half a head of garlic
Fresh parsley - I like the flat-leaf Italian kind
Half a wedge of parmesan
Good flaky salt
Regular old salt
How to make it
It's almost embarrassing how easy it is to make this dish. I fear that I won't have very much to write at all. But, I did promise that it would be ready in fifteen minutes or less. I wasn't joking!
Step One: Prep your kak
You know the drill by now, folks. Prep your meez. That looks like:
Setting a pot of water on the boil for your pasta
Mincing your garlic into teeny weeny little squares
Zesting your lemon with the part of the cheese grater that has weeny little holes
Using the same face of the grater to grate your parmesan
Juicing your zested lemon (take care to remove the bitter seeds)
Pro tip: I learned from local legend Chef Ollie that you can grate large quantities of parmesan beautifully in a blender. He has no idea who I am, but I often see him shopping for fresh ingredients at my local Spar or ordering a coffee from my local cafe. I stole this tip from his Instagram. Hi, Ollie! I'm a big fan!
Step Two: Cook your pasta
Okay, now you gotta cook your pasta according to packet instructions. If you're a purist, you won't break your long pasta to make it fit in your pot. I got around this problem by cooking mine in my beloved oval Le Creuset casserole dish. I also just thought that the yellow was a gorgeous complement to the lemony pasta dish. Listen! If you don't make your life beautiful, nobody will.
Everybody cooks their pasta differently, but this is my cooking blog and I'm going to tell you how I do it. I won't put my pasta in the pot until the water has come to a rolling boil. That's approximately one step above bubbling, okay? It's bubbling with some dance moves. I also salt my pasta water very generously with regular old salt (get real: flaky salt is too fancy for pasta water).
That being said, I think it's totally unhinged to aim to make your pasta water "as salty as the Mediterranean sea". Where did we come up with this metric? Have you actually tasted the ocean? Uh-uh. If your pasta water tastes like something you'd accidentally sample during a risky swim in rough seas, you've gone too far.
As with literally anything ever in cooking, you'll know it's done by tasting it. I don't time my pasta, I just sort of hang around and sample it every so often before I go, "Yep. That's al dente, baby."
Once it's done, drain your pasta but - and I cannot stress this enough - SAVE YOUR SALTY, STARCHY PASTA WATER. You're going to use a splash to emulsify your sauce.
Step Three: Emulsify your sauce!
Once the pasta is done, heat some ollie oil in the same pot and fry your garlic on low-medium heat. When it starts to get lovely and fragrant, chuck in your lemon juice. When that has cooked down a smidge, chuck in your lemon zest and, finally, your parmesan.
Add the cheese in bit by bit. If you add it all at once and your heat is too high, you risk simply melting it into an admittedly delicious but undeniably un-emulsified glob. You want to shake it in gently, stirring all the while, so that you land up with a thick-ish, lemony sauce. You can pour in some pasta water (about a tablespoon at a time will do it) until the sauce looks like it's at a consistency that will stick to your pasta.
The lemon flavour is pretty intense, so I would recommend adding salt to taste at this stage to balance out some of that bitterness.
Once you're satisfied with the balance of flavour and the consistency of your sauce, you can toss your cooked pasta in the sauce. Reunited at last!
Step Four: Serve!
Serve your lovely pasta while it's hot. Don't forget to add a generous crack of black pepper, a sprinkling of parmesan, and some freshly chopped parsley! I forgot to photograph it, but it's an essential burst of herby freshness which complements the acidic lemon zest. Divine!
That's that! It's incredible that such a fresh and tasty dish comes together in almost no time at all. I can't wait to cook up even fresher, faster summer dishes ASAP!
Enjoy it, folks,