As I've always said, when life gives you lemons, make lemon pasta. Actually, I'd never said that until I typed it just now, nor had I made lemon pasta until a few weeks ago, when I had the girls over. Though it was downpouring and chilly outside, inside I'd decided to cook up a meal to celebrate the first days of Spring. I shook a pitcher of margaritas, tossed a salad, spooned strawberry ice cream onto chocolate cookies to make dessert sandwiches, and then got down to business, margarita in one hand, recipe for Sandro Fioriti's Spaghettini Al Limone in the other.
I remember very clearly the night I first tasted the spaghettini at Sandro's restaurant -- it was about seven years ago, just a few months after I moved to New York. Back then Sandro's was on 9th Avenue in Chelsea, a few blocks from my first apartment. To start, my dining companion and I shared another of the dishes chef Sandro is known for, Roman-style fried artichokes. The artichoke is trimmed, lightly fried, then flattened with a pan. The leaves are left crispy, but the heart stays soft. After that particular meal, I fondly remember that a choke thorn was lodged in my throat for at least the next 24 hours.
The pasta was like nothing I'd tasted before -- thin swirls of al dente noodles drenched in a cream sauce that was flecked in all directions by gleaming lemon zest and a curious, deeper, primal taste of lemon, which I now know to be from the lemon juice that's strained into the sauce as it cooks. Ethereal on the tongue but made heavy with cream, the pasta was a deceivingly light meal. After dinner we walked 20 blocks uptown to meet a friend at a bar. I carried my leftovers all the way to the bar and then back home.
To my disappointment, Sandro's closed years ago, and Klee Brasserie is now in its old space. Recently New York Magazine ran the pasta recipe to showcase a use for Meyer lemons. I think Sandro uses standard lemons though, so I did too. I haven't cooked much lately and was nervous about my decision to double the recipe and also substitute one pint of heavy cream for a pint of half-and-half in an attempt to decrease the high fat content. I also used spaghetti since I couldn't find spaghettini.
As a methodical cook, zesting and juicing the lemons was slow going for me, but other than that, there's not much labor involved with the recipe. When it came time to toss the pasta with the sauce, I hesitated in pouring all of it in -- was I really going to pour all that fatty liquid onto the pasta? Yes. The pasta soaked it right up, and so did we. It was flavorful, fragrant, slightly tart, reminiscent of Spring, and it suffered none from my substitutions. I ate a humongous amount of it that night and in the days following -- as much for the memories it evoked as for actual hunger.
Sandro can now be found at the third incarnation of Sandro's, this time on the Upper East Side, serving his lemon pasta and fried artichokes, and there's free cacio e pepe after midnight at the bar. I look forward to enjoing his cooking again soon, and wonder how the pasta I ate during my first nerve-wracking, intoxicating, unforgettable New York months will now compare to the one I made seven years later.
That's the thing about New York: its restaurants, bars, museums, parks, waterways, schools, and businesses exude so much richness and zest, and it lets its inhabitants absorb as much of it as we can, while also letting us make the city our own.
"We take these grenades, and we turn them into lemonade." -Eddie Izzard, "The Riches"