Pasta is always a conundrum as a side dish. I want to pencil it into my weekly meal plan, but then I blank on how to sauce it: Cream? So fattening for a weeknight. Tomato? Good, but it gets old. Lots of cheese? Heavy again.
Enter Nigella Lawson. I spotted her Lemon Mushroom Pasta recently on the website Food 52 and immediately had to have it in my life. I’m a serious fan of lemon and garlic, so I knew it would land in my happy place.
Two things about the recipe really grabbed my attention: First, the cooking method. You toss sliced mushrooms in a serving bowl with lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil and a generous amount of salt. And then you let them sit while the pasta cooks. The acidity “cooks” the mushrooms just a little, softening them up, so when you toss in the cooked pasta with a little water clinging to it, you get a juicy sauce with a lot of flavor without grabbing for butter or cream. Yes, there’s a little cheese, but not a lot.
Second, the variations are endless. Don’t have linguine? Try fettucine, or angel hair, or orchiette, or farfelle. I made it one night with penne and it was delicious. Don’t have thyme or parsley? Skip ‘em and toss in some thawed frozen peas or freshly, lightly cooked sugar snaps, halved grape tomatoes or maybe sliced green onions. Don’t like parmesan? Try gruyere, or manchego. Any hard cheese would work. The first time I made it, I used sliced shiitake mushrooms from the farmer’s market. The next time, I used button mushrooms from the supermarket. I think any mushrooms would work – try cremini, oyster or hen of the woods.
The only thing you can’t skip are lemon juice, the olive oil and the mushrooms. One night, I used it as a side dish beside flank steak. Another night, I piled slices of sauteed chicken breast on top. You could just round it out with some good bread and a salad and you won’t need meat at all.
How great is that? Thanks, Nigella.
LINGUINE WITH LEMON, GARLIC AND THYME MUSHROOMS
Adapted from Food52 and “Nigella Express,” by Nigella Lawson (Hyperion, 2007).
4 cups (8 ounces) sliced mushrooms
1/3 cup good-quality olive oil
1 tablespoon flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
8 ounces to 1 pound linguine or other pasta shape
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Slice the mushrooms and put them in a large serving bowl with the oil, salt, garlic, lemon juice and zest and thyme. Stir to coat the mushrooms, then let them stand while you cook the pasta.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cooking according to package directions. Use tongs or a pasta fork to remove the cooked pasta from the water, draining loosely so there’s still a little water clinging to it. Drop it into the bowl with the mushrooms and toss together well.
Add the parsley (if using), cheese and pepper. Toss again and serve.
Yield: 3 to 6 servings.
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