Published January 1, 2011.
Unaccustomed to the spotlight, lemon can turn temperamental in this quick-hit Italian classic—unless you provide it with the perfect costars.
Attempts to create a consistent version of this dish left us frustrated. The sauce came out greasy or slid right off the pasta, while the lemon was either bright and tangy or harshly acidic.
We wanted a dish bursting with bright, bracing lemon flavor, moistened with just enough fruity olive oil to coat each delicate strand.
Starting with lemon flavor, we found the threshold of juice per pound of pasta was extremely small, and if you leaned more to either side, the lemon flavor became either too tart or barely noticeable. To boost the lemon’s power without extra acidity, we added some grated zest to the sauce.
But the amount of olive oil needed to balance out the lemon juice was excessive for a weeknight-dinner meal, so we tried a dairy-based sauce. While the cream indeed mitigated the mouth-puckering sourness, it also muted the fruity olive oil flavor. An olive oil and dairy-fat hybrid, however, neutralized some of the acids in the juice while augmenting the oils responsible for the fruity, floral notes.
To get the sauce to cling to the pasta, we let the sauced pasta sit, covered, for a few minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the flavors and the sauce to thicken. A garnish of nutty Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh basil, and a drizzle of olive oil finished this bright, floral Italian classic.list of recipes