On Valentine’s Day my husband and I enjoyed a delicious meal at Nani’s. I ordered the lemon pasta. It was simple, flavorful and completely satisfying, without being disgustingly rich like some cream-based sauces can be. Several weeks later I was hosting some girlfriends for dinner and decided to create an at-home version of the dish.
When I make pasta, I always like to add some protein and vegetables so that it can be a complete meal. Since a lemon sauce is so delicate, though, I knew I had to be careful not to overpower it with too many extra ingredients.
I decided on kale and pine nuts. Kale is one of my favorite vegetables, and pine nuts have a richness that I knew would complement the lemon sauce. I really wanted to maintain the simplicity and the integrity of the simple sauce, while adding a little something to it with special toppings.
While raw kale could have been incorporated into the pasta while it was mixing with the sauce, and would have been delicious that way, I thought the texture of the crispy kale (cooked in the oven) would add a nice crunch on top.
When you make a delicate sauce, such as a lemon, the balance has to be perfect. For me, it also has to be light enough for you to be able to eat more than a couple of bites without feeling sick. So, while many might make this sauce with heavy cream, I found it really didn’t need it.
Because lemons vary in the amount of juice they create, taste the sauce and add more accordingly if necessary. Also, be careful not to overdress the pasta if for some reason there is more sauce they you need. These proportions made the perfect amount for my pasta – just enough to dress the pasta but not so much that there was much, if any, extra sauce in the bowl.
This entire meal took me about an 1 1/2 hours to make along with a salad. You could do some things ahead – toast the pine nuts, juice and zest the lemons – but do not make the kale until you are ready to serve it so it will stay crispy.
To create two cups of crispy kale I used 4 heads of kale (any variety will work, I used the curly kind). I would recommend this dish for a simple, but special, dinner. A basic mixed greens salad goes perfectly. I bought a loaf of bread to go along with our dinner, but the pasta was so good nobody even considered a slice. Instead, we all went back for seconds.
Recipe: Lemon Pasta with Crispy Kale
- 6 lemons, juiced
- Zest from 2 lemons
- 1 pint of half and half
- ½ cup of Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
- One pound of fresh fettucini
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups of crispy kale (directions below)
- In a sauce pan, slowly heat up the half and half on medium low heat. Whisk in the lemon juice, and bring the mixture to medium. Season with salt and pepper and the lemon zest. Allow to cook on medium until it has reduced by about one-third. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.
- While the sauce is reducing, prepare the kale. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Tear the kale into bite size pieces and place the pieces on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook in the oven until they are crispy, but not burned, stirring every five minutes or so (they should still be primarily green with browned edges.)
- Prepare the pasta according to the directions, under-cooking it just slightly. Strain it and add it back to the pot. Add the sauce to the pasta and combine. Cook on very low heat until most of the juice is absorbed and the pasta is done (a minute or two).
- Put in a bowl and top with the crispy kale, the pine nuts and additional Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Number of servings (yield): 6