Nigel Slater, who I consider to be somewhat of a paternal figure to me in the kitchen, once said, ‘Whatever the xenophobic meat-‘n’-two-veggists say, pasta is now our national dish. The family no longer unites over a joint of beef. It unites over a bowl of pasta’.
I’m sure the meat-‘n’-two-veggists reading this will be up in arms over such a claim, I’d like to think I agree… to an extent. Because I still am the person who plonks a big meat roast in the middle of the table equally as often as I’m slam a pan of hot pasta down. The dinner table must strike a balance I guess, in order to sustain those without radial allegiance.
Pasta has, and always will, for me strike a note of serenity. It’s as comforting to cook it as it is to eat, a note that can’t be said the same of a roast in many peoples cases. I turn to pasta like I do to a thick blanket in cold weather. You know it’s there in your cupboard, waiting for you when you need it, never losing its healing properties and will welcome you with the same warmth it did the last time you needed it.
Unless you overboil it, then it’s shit. Same goes for the blanket too.
But cooking pasta is just one of those things that once you’ve done it a few times, you could do it forevermore and blindfolded. I for one know that I will always use more water than I need to allow the pasta to thrash around and cook properly, I salt it beyond belief and I will always add a small splash of the pasta cooking water to whatever sauce I’m using to help it cling to the pasta.
This kind of comforting familiarity is what affords us freedom to do what we please with the sauce. When I want something bolstering, I turn to a meat ragu (my go-to recipe for this can be found in my second eBook Kitchen Instinct) which I simmer for the length of a good film and combine with a thick pasta strand like tagliatelle. When I want something a bit more forgiving and delicate, I’m happy to just coat childlike whispers of orzo with nothing more than some butter, truffle oil and Parmesan.
But when I want something that dances somewhere strategically in the middle, I go for the recipe that follows.
Abandon any thoughts you have that preserved lemons are lemony. They are not. They are sour, salty and moreish and they offer a dish the same kind of note that perhaps an olive or a pickled onion would, but far sharper and far sourer. If you are not necessarily keen on the idea, I won’t think less of you for using the zest and juice of one regular lemon in it’s place, but you will be missing a super sharp note so I’d also add the juice of a lime to try and catch up to the spike that the original preserved recommendation offers.
It’s your call. It’ll be damn good either way.
I haven’t provided exact measurements because you can pretty much gage how much of the below you’ll need to feed your numbers. When it comes to pasta recipes, I always just freehand. You know your or your family’s appetite better than I do.
A good handful or two of frozen peas – go for a handful per person
Spaghetti or linguine – a tip from my cooking mentor in Florence was ‘Thin sauces need thin pastas; thick sauces need thick ones’.
2 preserved lemons from a jar
A handful of pistachios – I guess you can count yourself among the wealthy if you buy them already out of their shells
Parmesan (to serve)
- Boil some water in the kettle and once boiled, pour the water into a saucepan and bring the water back up to the boil (the cold of the pan will bring the temperature down so will need to be brought back up again). While this happens, refill the kettle and boil it for later.
- To the saucepan of now boiling water, add the peas and cook for about 5 or 6 minutes until the peas are soft. Drain the peas and add them back to the now empty pan.
- Pour the water from the newly boiled kettle into another deep pan and once it comes to a rolling bubble, salt the life out of it and drop in the pasta. Cook it for as long as the packet tells you to do so, but around 9 or 10 minutes is usually fine. Stir it now and then but meanwhile, you can crack on with the peas.
- Crush your peas in the pan either with a potato crusher or with your hands until you have a nice mix of crushed pulpy mess and a few whole peas left in the mush.
- On a chopping board, take the preserved lemons and halve them. Remove and discard the pips and flesh (the flesh will a bit too bitter for this dish) and then finely chop the remaining rind. Throw the rind into the pan of crushed peas.
- Take the pistachios out of their shells (or if you’re rich and bought them already out of their shells, please continue) and bash them up finely. You can either do this with a pestle and mortar or put them in a ziplock bag and bash with a soup can or rolling pin or something. Toss ¾ of the nuts into the pan of peas, holding some back for later.
- Finely chop up the parsley. Throw ¾ of it into the pea pan – again, holding some back for later.
- Once the pasta has had its time, take a small cup of the water out of the pasta pan and pour it into the pea pan. Drain the pasta and then fling the pasta into the pea pan. Toss the pasta around in the pea mix so that it is well coated.
- Bowl up the pea covered pasta, sprinkle over the reserved pistachios, parsley, some black pepper and finally grate over a generous serving of fresh Parmesan.