Fettucine al Limone
I found reference to Fettucine al Limone in a book called “The Wedding Officer” by Anthony Capella. Like most books I read, I can now recall almost nothing about the plot or its principal characters. I think that the eponymous hero of the book was an American officer in Italy after the liberation of Italy (if that’s what it was) by the Allies in 1944. His job, as I recall, was to ensure that proposed marriages between American soldiers and local women were genuine marriages. I recall the book as being a good and well-written read and I would recommend it. You might go now and read it. By the time you have finished it you will come back to this recipe which will appear all the more attractive for your literary excursion. Not, of course, that this dish tastes better (or worse) as a result of having been cooked by one who has read the book!! But you may feel fulfilled.
At some point, and for some no doubt excellent reason, our eponymous hero acquires a cook. I think that the word “acquire” is well chosen. He may well have interviewed this woman but my recollection is that the choice of employment was not his. I also recall, though I think the book may not spell this out, that she is one of those beautiful dark-haired, full-breasted and pouting Italian senoritas that set the Anglo-Saxon pulse a-pounding.
Be all that as it may, this voluptuous (I am sure she was voluptuous) young woman was a serious cook. I recall long passages describing the caramelising of onions, I could almost taste the tomatoes, smell the garlic … anyway you get the picture. And one of the recipes was Fetuccine al Limone.
What got me was the idea of the lemon. I like lemon at the best of times but lemon in pasta seemed like a sure-fire winner. But in vain did I search for the recipe in the book itself. I eventually found a recipe somewhere on the Internet and I subsequently modified it. It’s almost impossible to muck this one up unless you don’t taste it to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.
The first thing is to procure some decent pasta. Best thing is to make it; it’s dead easy, impresses people and rolling it out can occupy small children). If you can’t or won’t make it then at least buy some good stuff. It’s an interesting thing about pasta that you buy in a shop that you can rarely find how long you are supposed to cook it for. Eventually you find “cotturi 5 min” written in a 3 point Arial font on the upper left back of the packet. I have come to the conclusion that this is because it does not much matter how long you cook it for so long as you test it after (say) 5 minutes and see how it’s going.
Here’s the stuff you’re going to need for the sauce:
2 lemons - get these zested, you’ll also be needing the juice (these are probably the only compulsory ingredient in this dish. You’re kind of stuffed if you want to make this and you’re out of lemons.)
1 onion, chopped
a knob of butter about the volume of a box of matches
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (but note that garlic is like cumin; you cannot have too much)
a slack handful of pine nuts
about a cupful of frozen peas
about half a cup and a bit more of grated parmesan (you can use any kind of cheese really, it’s only going to thicken it all up at the end. You could do a low fat version with no cheese but then you’re stuck really because of the cream and butter so you may as well go the whole hog)
some olive oil
400g chicken breast, finely chopped (when she was younger my daughter insisted on chicken with almost everything)
300ml of whipping cream
You’ll need also salt, black pepper which you add, as they say, to taste.
Method and approach
Here’s what you do:
Find a decent pan - like a frying pan, possibly a wok. You’ll need one with a good bottom (but not, perhaps, like that of the voluptuous Italian cook in “The Wedding Officer”)
Heat the pan and fire in the pine nuts. No oil – nothing at all. You’re just roasting them to bring out their nutty flavour. Or at least I think that’s why you roast them. I never thought about it but that explanation makes sense. Set them aside. Tell anyone who is hovering that they are seeds you are preparing for the garden (they are perhaps dahlia seeds). This will mean you should have as many left later as you put into the pan in the first place
Melt the butter. Hurl in the onion. Now I am pretty certain our voluptuous friend would caramelise the onions and you may as well if you wish. You need at least to get them soft. If you want to caramelise them then cook them slowly and for a long time til they get golden brown and taste really sweet. Knock out – If you have the patience, which I don’t. You might need to add some olive oil as you go or you could even add more butter
Now fire in the garlic, add salt and pepper, and twirl the whole thing around
Add the lemon zest. At this point you may ponder, as I sometimes do, about how the lemon as a fruit has been maligned. It is a popular expression, is it not, to say “it’s a lemon” when you mean that it (a car, or a clock, or a ship) is no good. And yet in my culinary experience the lemon is a wonderful thing. How, we may wonder, did the lemon come to be so impugned?
If you are doing the chicken thing, then chuck in the chook and cook it for a few minutes till it’s cooked. Then you can whack in the pine nuts and add the cream
Adding cream is a bit of an interesting thing really. I am sure that a recipe more measured, but immeasurably less exciting, than this one would say “add the cream gradually”. I have no patience for the “gradually” so I just bung it in. Also bung in the juice of lemon
Finally, add the peas. These are for colour. If they are frozen peas, then remember they are partially cooked so don’t cook them for too long a time. If they’re fresh peas, well, they don’t really need cooking anyway
Taste it. Does it taste unbelievably succulent? What you want is for the tang of the lemon just to cut through the voluptuousness (whoah!!) of the cream. You don’t want the thing to be too overpoweringly lemony but if you want to add more lemon then go for it. You’re the one who’s eating it!! Last thing you do before serving is to add the cheese.
And that’s all, folks, as Fred Quimby would say.
Well, not quite. You can cook up the pasta and then, well you know the rest … plates, bla bla, bla, and serve with a green salad. It’s really good - you’ll like it. Give it a whirl - it’s pretty easy!!
It’s a lemon: I wondered how this expression came about and repaired immediately to Dr Google. The Goog says that “[e]conomist George Akerlof examined the market for lemons in his notable paper: "The Market for Lemons: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism", published in Quarterly Journal of Economics in 1970, in which he identified the severe lemon problems that may afflict markets characterized by asymmetrical information. He eventually received a Nobel Prize for the broad applications of the theory in this paper.” I decided at this point that the answer was not worth knowing.
Fred Quimby: “That’s all, folks” would appear at the end of all Tom and Jerry cartoons all of which were produced by Fred Quimby. At the end of one these my Father would always shout in a loud voice “Good old Fred!!”. I don’t think he knew Fred but it was part of an essential family ritual.
Above: file photo