Dinners so long and unhurried and lovely that you have no idea how it’s been hours since you first sat down are the greatest way to end any day, but in the summer, they seem quintessential. Though there are stretches of time each year that weeks go by without one, these evenings seem to create themselves when the weather’s hot and the sun stays out late and good friends seem to never disappear for too long. Yes, there’s life and work and things to be done, shockingly, besides making exquisite meals to share, but we try, at the very least, to build our weekends around these things: Taking our time to cook, filling our kitchen and table with incredible people and our bellies with incredible foods, spending far longer than we assumed but just as long as we hoped talking, eating, and rushing absolutely nowhere.
This past week, our Sunday dinner was exactly that. It was just the two of us and Lee’s oldest friend Michelle, one of the most constant and most participatory (she once juiced 52 limes—fifty. two.—in record time when a serious need for birthday margaritas arose) visitors to our kitchen over the past…seriously shocking number of years.
Sometimes, cooking is a mission (like, say, when there are 52 limes to be juiced and thirsty women awaiting), and sometimes, it’s so easygoing that you start talking between getting out a pan and finishing the sauce, or pause to tell a story in between garlic cloves, or open a bottle of wine while you’re waiting for the water to boil, and your fastest recipes take the better part of the afternoon—and it seems like the best thing. But then, you haven’t even sat down to eat yet, so just wait. This is the way the most memorable summer evenings wind to a close in our house: slowly but wordy, full in every sense of the word, and very, very deliciously. A multi-tasking mouth is necessary.
Around this time of year, we always develop an unquenchable love of lemons. There are so many good uses for them, but one of the best is making preserved lemons…and then putting them in everything. With July beginning and everyone well into the summer swing, we had to make this pasta. We can eat and eat and eat it and never get a bit bored: Linguine with Preserved Lemons and Red Chiles. We were three very happy, very full, very relaxed ladies after a perfect meal consisting of this pasta and a light summer salad of butter lettuce and radishes.
If you’ve never had preserved lemons, they pack just as much flavor as a fresh lemon, but without the sharpness. And because we do what we do when it comes to cooking, we’ve made the preserving part even simpler and quicker than usual. Having quick-preserved lemons on hand, ready to use in your fridge, couldn’t be simpler but could seriously change the way you cook. We like to make a few batches so they’re ready to throw in dressings, on fish, in salads, and yes, of course, in pastas. They’re so nice to bite into: a delicate punch in any dish, a burst of summer.
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Notes These are fast and easy to make. They can be used right away, but letting them sit for a day or so will mellow out the flavor. The recipe is easy to double or triple. As is, this will make just enough preserved lemon for 1 pound of pasta. Any extra preserved lemon will keep in a jar in your fridge for several weeks.
– 1 large lemon (organic if possible) to slice
– 1 tsp course salt or sea salt
– Juice of one lemon
– A little water
* Rinse the lemon and blanch it in boiling water for 30 seconds. Scrub well with vegetable brush or give it a good scrub under running water to remove wax and pesticides and anything else that won’t be delicious.
* Slice lemon into thin rounds. Cut these into thin strips.
* Place lemon strips in a small sauté pan. Add the lemon juice, salt, and just enough water to barley cover the lemons. Give everything a stir.
* Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and cook covered, simmering for 8-10 minutes until the strips have softened but still retains a bit of texture. (Be sure the water doesn’t boil out.)
* Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature in the pan.
* Once cooled, transfer everything—lemon strips and liquid—to a jar. Refrigerate for a day or two.
* When ready to use, pour into a sieve to drain and give a quick rinse. Shake off excess water.
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Linguine with Preserved Lemons and Red Chiles
While it’s a little early yet to find fresh red chiles, as the summer goes on, be sure snap some up when you can and toss them in this dish. Dried chiles work wonderfully (ours are from our garden last year), but fresh ones are spectacular.
– 1 pound of linguine
– Kosher or sea salt for the pasta water
– 1 quick-preserved lemon from above, drained and rinsed
– 3-4 red chiles, sliced very thinly (fresh if you can find them)
– 4 large cloves of garlic (or more, if you like), minced or pressed
– 1/2 tsp black pepper
– About 1/3 cup of good olive oil
– Grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese for serving
– Big handful of fresh basil leaves
* Generously salt a large pot of water for your pasta and bring to a boil.
* While your pasta water is heating up, combine the lemon, chiles, garlic, and olive oil in a bowl. Mix together and set aside so the flavors meld.
* When the water boils, cook your linguine until it is al dente. Just before it’s done, take a large mug or heat-proof measuring cup and dip it into the pot to remove a few cups of the pasta water. Set aside.
* Turn the heat off and pour your pasta into a colander to drain.
* Quickly set your empty, hot pot back on the stove and pour in the lemon-chile-garlic-olive oil mixture in. Add about 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water and the black pepper and stir to mix. Add the pasta back in and toss until thoroughly coated. If the pasta is a little dry, add more pasta water, a little at a time—you don’t want watery but don’t want it dry either. The sauce should evenly coat the linguine.
* Plate the pasta, making sure to get the good stuff off the bottom of the pot—the lemon, garlic, and pepper are likely to collect a little more down there. Tear basilleaves over each bowl and serve with grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.
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