Before Elizabeth David and Joanne Harris, before collecting cookbooks, memoirs of passionate cooks and any other book about food and the related world, before of all of this, there were two books that had triggered persistent culinary fantasies, which still come back to visit me.
The first is a book of my childhood, one of those first proper books that children read, one of those of the old times: it’s Heidi by Johanna Spyri. I still have here before my eyes the vivid images evoked in the chapter where Heidi arrives to his grandfather’s mountain cabin in the Swiss Alps, the precise words describing her first frugal dinner made of rustic bread, cheese and warm fresh milk. I still feel on my tongue the genuine taste of the cheese, of the buttery milk and crisp bread.
The second book dates back to my teenage years, two short lines in the book Voices written by Dacia Maraini, a writer who had already inflamed my imagination with the Silent Duchess and Bagheria, bringing me into a baroque world of Mediterranean flavours.
Voices is a novel set in a hot Roman summer, a crime story which ignites sensations and questions.
The protagonist is Michela Canova, a journalist trying to shed a light on the murder of her neighbour. She invites some friends over for dinner and cooks for them lemon spaghetti.
The two sentences describing Michela cooking the spaghetti are not particularly evocative, though, all my senses and perceptions were already kindled up by the highly sensors and vivid writing of the author. The bright yellow, the butter and the freshness of those spaghetti got impressed on my mind, as if I had actually tasted them, as if my task was to recreate after many years a map of original flavours.
Fresh lemon tagliolini
After ages, yesterday I entered into the kitchen with a precise purpose. I wanted to make those zesty lemon spaghetti and give a real taste to an idea. Yet, I opted for delicate fresh pasta tagliolini, dressed with a generous dusting of grated Parmigiano Reggiano and some fresh thyme, to enhance citrusy freshness of the lemon.
This is an every day dish, one of those essential preparations that remind you how good simple things are.
Fresh pasta tagliolini
- 100 g (3.53 oz) all purpose flour, or 00 flour
- 100 g (3.53 oz) semolina flour
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 eggs
To dress tagliolini
- 50 g (1.76 oz) butter
- 1 organic lemon, juice and zest
- 3 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- ground black pepper
- fresh thyme
- Sift the semolina flour with the all purpose flour, place it on a wooden board and make a well in the centre. Break the eggs in the centre of the flour, add a pinch of salt and pour in the extra virgin olive oil.
- Mix the flours and the eggs with a fork, then start kneading the dough, until the dough is soft, elastic and it doesn’t stick to your fingers anymore. You’ll need about 10 minutes.
- Let it rest for about 30 minutes at room temperature, wrapped in cling film or covered with a bowl.
- After the resting time, roll out the dough: you can use a classic rolling-pin or the pasta maker. The most important thing, either you’re using the rolling-pin or the pasta maker, is to keep rolling and flipping and rolling and flipping until you get a dough that is paper-thin.
- Let the pasta sheets dry on a wooden surface dusted with semolina flour for about 20 minutes, then cut them into thin noodles. Arrange them well apart on the wooden surface or on a large tray to dry.
- In a skillet melt the butter over low flame with the juice and the grated zest of one lemon.
- Cook the tagliolini in boiling salted water for about 1 minute, drain them al dente and pour them into the pan with a tablespoon of cooking water.
- Add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano, the freshly ground black pepper and some fresh thyme. Toss the tagliolini for a minute or two, thus allowing the cheese to melt with the butter and lemon juice into a creamy and zesty dressing from the pasta.
- Add some fresh thyme and serve immediately.
And what about you? Do you have any recipe inexplicably impressed on your mind after reading a book that has nothing to do with cooking? I mean, maybe an elfic recipe from The Lord of the Rings, or the mind-blowing butterbeer of Harry Potter (I need to find that recipe)?
- Jamie Oliver has another great recipe for Lemon linguine, spiced up with a bunch of balsamic fresh basil.
- Which is your favourite recipe for lemon tagliolini? Link it here, I’m just craving for more zesty pasta!