When life gives you lemons my philosophy is to use them in as many ways as is humanely possible. Once again I found myself with more lemons than I could possibly wish for. And not just any lemons. Lemons picked and brought to me straight from Ravello, on the Amalfi coast.
Domenico is working on an apartment down the street and the construction crew is from lemon land. Every Monday they drive their truck up to Rome and Domenico makes sure it is loaded with at least one crate of lemons for me. I of course use them to make desserts like this lemon tart, this lemon gelato and made a huge batch of Melissa’s lemon squares. But I also use them in salads and in other savory ways.
This pasta is basically a lemony spin on a pasta technique I use all the time. It’s one I learned from Domenico’s mother, while she was preparing orecchiette con le cima di rape. In this dish the vegetables and pasta get cooked together, in one pot. They are then drained, and tossed in a pan with olive oil, garlic and anchovies.
I’ve used this technique a lot over the years, mixing in different vegetables (zucchini, broccoli, ) and just about every kind of pasta. Last week I stuck to the Pugliese origins of the dish, using a pack of cavatappi al grano arso. Kind of like long, skinny orecchiette, the cavatappi are traditionally made with semola di grano duro (which make them firm and chewy to the bite) . This particular pack was made with the addition of grano arso, a type of burnt wheat that gave a nutty taste and (I admit) a kind of ugly brown color. I know I could have used a regular pasta, and the photos would have been more blog worthy. And I’m sure the dish would have been just as good. But I had these and they were, indeed, perfect. So please forgive the not-so-exciting photos.
The lemons played two rolls. I tossed a half cup of freshly squeezed juice with the cooked pasta and broccoli in a hot pan with browned shallots. And then, rather than add grated cheese, which I’m sure would have been delicious, I chopped up a mixture of toasted hazelnuts and tons of lemon zest.
I use nuts a lot in cooking, especially when I’m making an otherwise vegetarian meal. Added to salads or sides they make things not only more filling, but give a crunchy texture that I love. For this dish I put both hazelnuts and lemon peel together in a mini chopper and whizzed it until is was the texture of rough sand. The smell was amazing and I used it just like I would have used grated cheese. So yes, this dish is also vegan.
I’ve still got at least a dozen huge lemons left to get through. And another load on it’s way. So saying I’m open to suggestions is putting it lightly.
- 1 large head of broccoli, cut into small florets
- 6 shallots, chopped finely
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter (just use all olive oil if you want this to be vegan)
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ to ½ tsp ground red pepper
- zest from 2 lemons
- juice from one lemon
- ½ cup toasted hazelnuts
- 1 pound / 500 grams cavatappi or orecchiette
- In a pan large enough to hold all the pasta later, heat olive oil and butter over medium to low heat. Add shallots and let cook till golden and just beginning to brown. This will take about 20 minutes. Don’t skimp on the time, since this adds lots of flavor to the dish.
- In the meantime, using a potato peeler, cut off the zest from two lemons. Place zest and toasted hazelnuts in food processor and pulse until like rough sand. It’s ok if there are bigger pieces here and there.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Check to see if your pasta pack has cooking time instructions. In Italy they usually do, and they are usually correct. The trick here is to put your pasta in to cook, and then add the broccoli florets 4 minutes before the pasta should be done. Orecchiette and cavatappi usually take pretty long to cook, about 12 minutes. So let the pasta cook for 8 minutes, then add the broccoli.
- Drain the pasta and broccoli, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
- Add the pasta to the pan with the shallots, heating over medium heat. Stir and add some of the cooking water, and about half of the nut/zest mix. Keep stirring, over low heat and add the lemon juice and the rest of the nut mixture. If you think it looks dry, you can add more of the pasta water. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
- I don’t serve this pasta with grated cheese, but if someone really wants it, let the have it. Whatever makes people happy, right?
- I also have some hot pepper on the table, in case anyone wants their’s a bit more spicy. For this dish I used Erotica, a pepper from Peperita which is on the mild side.