As I mentioned last time, I spent a wonderful weekend in New York City with my sister, and one of the highlights of that trip was a meal we had at a restaurant in TriBeCa called Pepolino’s. I ordered cinghiale, a dish I’d tried before, and my sister ordered a simple but delicious creamy lemony pasta. It was the kind of night where we closed the place down. So when the Recipe Redux group announced that our challenge this month was to describe your favorite summer vacation meal (and pair it with a recipe for a slightly healthier version of the dish), I thought back to that celebratory weekend in NYC. This was a bit of a challenge because 1) creamy pasta can be the be-all and end-all of luxurious meals (at least I think so), and sometimes trying to make it healthy just changes it into a different beast altogether, and 2) cream + lemon often just equals a curdled mess. So how did this restaurant get such luscious creamy pasta that was so absolutely infused with the flavor of lemon without breaking the rules of cooking?
The answer, most likely, is fat and lots of it. In the past, I’ve made soups and pastas with “lighter” ingredients that can’t stand up to the heat of cooking let alone the acidity of lemons. And using high-fat ingredients, like heavy cream instead of milk or low-fat yogurt, provides enough of a buffer to prevent the protein from curdling. So, knowing that the challenge to making a healthy version of this creamy pasta would focus on cutting out the cream, I turned to eggs. Adding eggs to cooked pasta (a la carbonara) can result in a surprisingly creamy and rich dish without adding cream (you’re still adding calories, cholesterol, and some saturated fat, but it’s a win overall).
Then the challenge was the lemon flavor. The first time around, I added 4 Tablespoons of lemon juice and the zest of 1 1/2 lemons, which really delivered on the lemon flavor, but I thought it was way too tart, verging on bitter. David loved it, so if you’re someone who can’t get enough lemon, add some lemon zest even though the recipe below leaves it out. In the final rendition that I made just this last weekend, I added a bit of white wine to complement the flavors and cut the over-zealous flavor of the lemon and added a bit of half and half to make sure the dish really did deliver with the promise of a creamy texture.
The results? This is close: it absolutely has a fantastic lemon flavor, it’s creamy, and it’s satisfying. But I think nothing can quite capture the magic of dinner out in New York City with family or friends. But for an at-home recreation, I think this is quite a success.
Creamy Lemon Pasta
Inspired by Pepolino’s in NYC
3/4 lb. spaghetti
2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup half and half
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until done (according to package directions or to taste). Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain and return the pasta to the pot immediately.
2. While pasta cooks, separate one egg yolk and whisk it together with the two remaining eggs. As soon as the cooked pasta is returned to the pot, pour in the eggs and stir vigorously. The goal is to coat the strands of spaghetti evenly without letting clumps of eggs cook into chunks of scrambled egg in the middle of your pasta.
3. Once the eggs have been thoroughly incorporated and coat the pasta evenly, add the peas, then add the lemon juice and stir again. Finally, had the wine, then the half and half, stirring after each addition. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.