She had me at “limone.” That’s because lemon is perhaps the best flavor on the planet.
When Sara posted a comment longing for a recipe for chitarra al limone she ate in Sulmona, she set me on a delectable sleuthing mission.
Sulmona’s where I had maybe the best pasta dish of my life…but I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. The dish was chitarra al limone, unlike any I’ve had before or since. I’ve tried several recipes, but nothing comes close. When I asked the owner for her secret, she said “limone!” I said, I know…and what else? She smiled and said, “solo limone, signora.”
She’s going to her grave with the secret. I thought it might be that they used that panna that comes in little tiny cartons and doesn’t need refrigeration, but I tried it and that wasn’t it. The secret’s still in Sulmona…
When I asked Sara for more description, she offered this:
It was very very light and I don’t remember that it was creamy, buttery or eggy. It was as if essence of lemon and very little else coated each strand… I’ve tried just olive oil and lemon with a touch of cream but that just wasn’t the same.
Armed with these clues, I speculated that the dish had to contain cheese, probably Parmigiano-Reggiano, to counter the tartness of the lemon and help create the luxurious mouth feel that she described. I’m thinking that Sara’s signora wasn’t being coy when she said “solo limone.” To her, cheese is probably just a “given” not worth mentioning.
I consulted the usual reference suspects: Ada Boni’s Italian Regional Cooking, Le Ricette Regionali Italiane (Solares), Artusi’s The Art of Eating Well, The Ultimate Italian Cookbook by Carla Capalbo and Marcella’s Italian Kitchen. None offers a recipe for chitarra al limone. Giuliano Bugialli’s Bugialli on Pasta has a Spaghetti al Limone recipe “from all over Italy” containing quite a bit of butter and cream, more of a lemon- flavored cream sauce than the intense lemon sauce desired by Sara. Michele Scicolone has a Linguine with Lemon recipe in 1,000 Italian Recipes but it’s made with butter. For an Abruzzese dish, I felt that olive oil would be more traditional.
A Web search brought up several more cream-based recipes but also one for Spaghetti al limone on Oprah’s site-created by Moira Hodgson-that captured my attention with this description: “silky, no-cook sauce of Parmesan, lemon zest and olive oil coats spaghetti strands like cream.”
I prepared Hodgson’s recipe exactly as written, using linguine which is easier to source than chitarra. I loved the technique of first whisking the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and lemon juice. I think the acid in the juice helps to dissolve the cheese.
The pasta was delicious, but for my taste, there was too much oil pooling in the dish and the lemon flavor was too prominent. Knowing that lemons can vary greatly in tartness, I felt it would make sense to hold back some of the lemon juice to add (if needed) after tasting the pasta.
So, I prepared a second batch, cutting back on the oil and holding back on adding all the lemon juice at once. The results were silken. Very nice for summer. It may be served alone as a primo or as a side dish with grilled shrimp or salmon.
Here’s hoping Sara will try the recipe and report back to us.
|Linguine al Limone|| |
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided (or more to taste)
- 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound dried linguine
- Chopped fresh basil or parsley (optional)
- Set a covered large pot of salted water over high heat.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk ¾ cup of the cheese and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice to make a paste. Gradually add the oil while whisking constantly until smooth. Whisk in the lemon zest, salt and pepper.
- When the water boils, add the linguine and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until al dente. Reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water before draining. Return the linguine to the pot. Add the lemon sauce. Toss to coat. Taste and add as much of the remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice as desired to taste. Add a few tablespoons of reserved cooking water to loosen the sauce if needed. Allow to sit for a few minutes for the linguine to absorb some of the sauce. Toss in some torn basil or chopped parsley if desired. Pass the additional ¼ cup (or more to taste) Parmigiano at the table.