Spaghettini all’acqua di limone e provolone

FrankCampania, pasta, primi piatti, summer37 Comments

Spaghettini all'acqua di limone e provolone

Spaghettini all’acqua di limone e provolone—thin spaghetti cooked in lemon infused water and finished with provolone cheese—was invented by Chef Peppe Guida, chef at the Michelin starred restaurant Osteria Antica Nonna Rosa on the Sorrentine Peninsula about 11 km west of Sorrento.

In this rather trendy, lighter alternative to the standard pasta al limone, Chef Guida forgoes the usual cream. Instead, the dish gets its creaminess from an increasingly popular pasta cooking technique called pasta risottata.

As we all know, you traditionally boil pasta separately in lots of water and, when it’s cooked, drain it and dress it with sauce. For a pasta risottata, as the name implies, you cook the pasta much as you would risotto: in a relatively small amount of liquid—typically water or broth—stirring the pasta from time to time and adding more liquid as needed until the pasta is al dente. At the end, as is usual with a risotto, you stir in cheese—typically but not always grated parmigiano-reggiano—and continue to stir until you have a wonderfully creamy sauce.

In this case, the cooking liquid is water infused overnight with lemon zest, which lends a beautiful golden hue and a distinct but not overwhelming lemon scent to the pasta. The cheese is a young provolone, which adds a hint of piquancy as well as creaminess.

I think spaghettini all’acqua di limone e provolone is culinary genius. It’s incredibly simple yet full of bright sunny and perfectly balanced Mediterranean flavors. The next best thing to actually being in Sorrento.

Ingredients

Serves 2-4

  • 200-300g (6-7 oz) spaghettini (or other long pasta, see Notes)
  • 2-3 lemons
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) mild provolone cheese, grated
  • 500ml (2 cups) water
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • grated lemon zest (optional)

Directions

The night before you want to cook, peel off the zest of the lemons into a bowl, taking care to avoid the bitter white pith beneath. Pour over hot but not boiling water and let infuse overnight. The water should turn a bright yellow and take on a distinct but subtle lemon flavor. Discard the zest.

In a skillet wide enough so the pasta can sit flat on its bottom, add about half the lemon-infused water. Salt very lightly and bring to a gentle boil. Heat the rest of the lemon water to just below a simmer in a separate pot.

Add the pasta to the skillet in a single layer, drizzle with just a few drops of olive oil, and let it cook at a lively simmer. (If the lemon water doesn’t cover the pasta, add more.) From time to time, shake the skillet in a circular fashion to move the pasta around without stirring.

After 2 or 3 minutes, as the spaghetti begins to soften and bend, start to stir gingerly. Continue stirring and as the lemon water evaporates add more, one ladleful at a time, until the pasta is al dente. (If you run out of lemon water, add plain hot water.)

When the pasta is done, there should be a bit (but not too much) water in the skillet. Add a bit more if needed.

Lower the flame as much as possible, then add the provolone and a drizzle of olive oil, along with the grated lemon zest and mint if using, stirring gingerly until the cheese has melted into a creamy sauce. Taste and adjust for seasoning if needed.

Serve right away, while the pasta is still hot and creamy.

Spaghettini all'acqua di limone e provolone

Notes

The recipe for spaghettini all’acqua di limone e provolone is simplicity itself, but you do have to take some care. The main pitfall, like other paste risottate such as the famous spaghetti all’assassina, is to avoid drawing out too much starch from the pasta. You want to draw out some starch to provide creaminess, but if you overdo it your dish may turn out gummy rather than creamy.

For starters, cook the pasta at a lively simmer. Avoid stirring for the first couple of minutes, shake the skillet instead. When you do stir, be gentle. Spaghettini are liable to break if you’re rough. And a few drops of olive oil, as Chef Guida says, helps prevent the pasta sticking.

Speaking of which, there should be enough liquid left in the skillet to form a nice creamy sauce as the cheese melts, bearing in mind that the pasta will continue to absorb liquid as you stir. But hand, don’t overdo; the pasta shouldn’t be swimming. The sauce needs to cling to the pasta, not sit at the bottom of your dish. It’s a balancing act, but you can adjust if need be. If your pasta is too dry, add more liquid. And if it’s too wet, keep stirring until the sauce thickens.

You may have heard the adage that pasta water should be “as salty as the sea”. Well, that’s not actually true even for pasta you cook in the standard way. But if you follow that advice here, the dish will be inedible. Remember that the cooking liquid is reducing and concentrating its flavor as the pasta cooks. Plus the cheese will also be salty. Go light on the salt at first. You can always add a bit of salt at the end if it needs it.

And now let’s watch Chef Guida in action…

If you want a demonstration, take a gander at this YouTube video featuring Chef Guida himself preparing spaghettini all’acqua di limone e provolone. It’s in Italian but, after reading the above recipe, I reckon it should be easy enough to follow along even if you don’t understand the language:

Pasta

Spaghettini (aka thin spaghetti) is the original and ideal pasta for this recipe, as this pasta’s slender shape means it cooks rather more quickly than other shapes. But it can be a bit tricky to work with, as this very slender pasta has a tendency to stick together when overcooked. So make sure you cook your spaghettini quite al dente. And be aware, I’m not talking about the ultra-thin capelli d’angelo, which can be even trickier. Personally, I leave that pasta for soups.

If you can’t find spaghettini, then you can certainly use standard spaghetti. If you do, it’s a good idea to parboil it for say 2 minutes before adding it to the skillet. This gives the spaghetti a head start, so to speak, and lets it release some of its starch, which helps avoid some of the pitfalls mentioned above. You could also use other long pasta shapes like linguini, which you should also parboil.

Lemons

The original recipe for spaghettini all’acqua di limone e provolone calls for the world-famous lemons of Sorrento, noted for their fine, mildly acid yet highly fragrant flavor. Barring that, if you can, use organic lemons. They tend to be tastier and also less likely to be sprayed with pesticides. Also try to find untreated lemons, which is to say lemons that haven’t been covered with a thin film of wax to make them shiny. If unsure, give the lemons a good wash, which should remove the wax as well as any residual pesticides. It’s a good precaution in any event.

And in an ideal world, you’d find lemons sold on their stem with some of the leaves attached. If you’re that lucky, add a few of the leaves to the bowl to infuse along with the lemon zest. (You can also use the leaves as garnish—see “Variations” below.)

Cheese

The cheese in the original recipe is the famed provolone di Monaco, a local type that you may remember from our post on spaghetti alla Nerano. (Follow the link for more information about this very special cheese.) It should be a ‘young’ provolone, not aged. If you can’t source provolone di Monaco, the a regular mild provolone will work nicely. I wouldn’t recommend sharp, aged provolone. It makes for wonderful eating but in this dish its sharp flavor would tend to overwhelm rather than complement the lemon, which is surprisingly subtle. Possible substitutes, if you can find them, would be caciocavallo or unsmoked scamorza.

Variation

Spaghettini all’acqua di limone e provolone is such a new dish, you don’t see too many variations developing yet. One very common variant, however, is adding the whole 500g/2 cups of liquid to the skillet at the beginning, then the pasta and let it cook down. This simplifies the dish, for sure, but I think you have more control if you add just enough liquid to cover the pasta at first, then more needed. Otherwise, you could conceivably overcook the pasta before the liquid evaporates.

As mentioned, there are a number of other flavorings you can add at the end along with the cheese: a bit of grated lemon zest for extra.. well.. zest. And a drizzle of olive oil for extra richness. (In the video, Chef Guida adds both.) Or a touch of herb, most often mint but you also see recipes with basil or thyme, is another common option.

Chef Guida tops his spaghettini all’acqua di limone e provolone with lemon leaves are dried in the low oven or microwave, then ground into a powder for topping the pasta. I haven’t included this touch in the recipe, which strikes me as more suitable to a restaurant than home cookery. That said, if you want to give it a go, here the way:

Take about 500g/1 lb of lemon leaves, rinse them well and then dry them thoroughly. Place them on a rack and dry them in a very low (60C/140F) oven or dehyrator for about 12 hours. Then grind the dried leaves until you have a powder, which you should sieve to remove any larger bits.

Making ahead and leftovers

This is a dish that needs to be made at the last minute, but the lemon infused water can be kept more or less indefinitely in the fridge.

And of course, there’s no need to throw away those peeled lemons. Use them as you would any lemon, but try to use them fairly soon as they will tend dry out more quickly without their skins.

A Note for Regular Readers

Speaking of the Sorrentine Peninsula, I’ll be there in a few short days for a family wedding in Praiano. And afterwards it’s on to Naples and Rome. 

You know I’ll eating everything in sight and plan to bring back some new inciting recipes for your enjoyment. But that also means that unfortunately I won’t be pushing out new posts for a few weeks. 

Happy 15th Blogiversary, Memorie di Angelina! 

As mentioned, I won’t be blogging next week, which is a shame since on June 27 Memorie di Angelina turns 15. Hard to believe it’s been that long. It’s been quite a while since I pushed out that first post, welcoming the world to my little corner of the internet and promising to fill the blog with my favorite recipes. 

Well, 15 years and over 650 recipes later, I think I’ve made good on my promise. 

A lot has changed over the past 15 years. The virtual Italian food scene certainly has. While in those early days I was practically the only English language source for many of the Italian dishes I blogged about, today the field is really crowded, not only with other bloggers but some of the major food websites as well. 

But I keep trucking along. I plan to continue doing so as long as I enjoy it. And as long as I have an audience. If you’re reading this, that means you! I’m glad to say it seems you’re still out there, notwithstanding all the other sources at your disposal these days. In fact, I’ve seen my readership grow and grow lately, which I reckon is rather unusual for a “vintage” blog like mine. I’m so grateful and humbled by your readership and support. 

And now, on to the next 15 years…

Spaghettini all’acqua di limone e provolone

Thin spaghetti cooked in lemon water and enriched with provolone cheese

Ingredients

  • 200-300 g (6-7 oz) spaghettini (or other long pasta, see Notes)
  • 2-3 lemons
  • 100 g (3-1/2 oz) mild provolone cheese, grated
  • 500-750 ml (2-3 cups) water
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • grated lemon zest optional

Instructions

  • The night before you want to cook, peel off the zest of the lemons into a bowl, taking care to avoid the bitter white pith beneath. Pour over hot but not boiling water and let infuse overnight. The water should turn a bright yellow and take on a distinct but subtle lemon flavor. Discard the zest.
  • In a skillet wide enough so the pasta can sit flat on its bottom, pour in about half the lemon-infused water. Salt very lightly and bring to a gentle boil. Heat the rest of the lemon water to just below a simmer in a separate pot.
  • Add the pasta to the skillet in a single layer, drizzle with just a few drops of olive oil, and let it cook at a lively simmer. (If the lemon water doesn't cover the pasta, add more.) From time to time, shake the skillet in a circular fashion to move the pasta around without stirring.
  • After 2 or 3 minutes, as the spaghetti begins to soften and bend, start to stir gingerly. Continue stirring and as the lemon water evaporates add more, one ladleful at a time, until the pasta is al dente. (If you run out of lemon water, add plain hot water.)
  • When the pasta is done, there should be a bit (but not too much) water in the skillet. Add more if needed.
  • Lower the flame as much as possible, then add the provolone and a drizzle of olive oil, along with the grated lemon zest and mint if using, stirring gingerly until the cheese has melted into a creamy sauce. Taste and adjust for seasoning if needed.
  • Serve right away, while the pasta is still hot and creamy.

37 Comments on “Spaghettini all’acqua di limone e provolone”

  1. Although late to the game (I am so behin in my blog reading), happy 15th! Yours isn’t a vintage blog to me — it’s THE best resource I know for Italian cooking in English. Thank you — it is such a gift.

    Now to the recipe. I will be getting lemon leaves from a friend to add to the water and to make the dried lemon leaf powder. Why not? This dish fascinates me and I loved watching the video. I understood a lot (enough to know he was using dried lemon leaf powder) and that made me happy. My challenge will be finding an appropriate cheese. The search starts next week.

    1. Thanks so much, David. You’re really too kind to put me in such august company!

      You’re so lucky to have access to lemon leaves and I admire your intention to go the full court press on this recipe. Do let us know how it goes. As for the cheese, I’m just back from Italy and brought back a nice chunk of provolone di Monaco, but I’m afraid there’s only enough for me… 😉

  2. Wow, this sounds like a dish straight from a summer dream in Sorrento! I love the idea of infusing the water with lemon zest and using the pasta risottata technique to get that creamy texture without any cream. It’s such a refreshing twist, and I can’t wait to try it out myself. Thanks for sharing this gem and happy 15th blogiversary! Here’s to many more years of delicious recipes!

  3. Congratulations on 15 years. I could not get spaghettini in South Bend. Our special Italian shop did not have it, but they suggested angel hair. Do you think I should parboil it?

    1. Thanks so much, Francesca!

      I would definitely not parboil angel hair. It’s even thinner than spaghettini. In fact, it might be too thin to be manageable, as I mention in the notes. Personally I’d go with regular spaghetti instead. But if you’ve experimented with angel hair and made it work, do let us know!

  4. This is such a fascinating recipe! I love the concept of how its cooked, and the flavor sounds absolutely divine…especially for a hot summer day. In fact, I bet this could be served cold kinda like a pasta salad? Either way, enjoy the trip…I’ll be traveling vicariously with you as those are some of my favorite places in the world!!

    1. Greetings from Naples! Having a great time. And thanks so much for your comment.

      This is a fantastic dish, but I’d not recommend this as a salad, to be honest. When it cools the cheese congeals and it’s not very appealing. But perhaps without the cheese…

  5. If I bring a good bottle of wine, can I pull up a chair and join you for this dish? This dish is beautiful in its simplicity.

    btw, I love your blog. I hope you blog for another 15 years!

    Velva

  6. What a wonderful pasta and such an intriguing cooking method. And this lemon infused water is such a genius idea that can be used in so many ways! Well, I guess this is another recipe to try. P.S. Happy blogoversary! 🙂

  7. Frank, I am grateful you keep trucking! There are a lot of other Italian recipe bloggers out there, but for the most part, many don’t actually know how to cook, some make it more complicated than it needs to be, and more than a few are so trendy, the link with traditional Italian cooking is gone. Their food is tasty, and the recipes are good, but it could be served in any restaurant internationally because of the modifications. The alchemy of Italian cooking is limited ingredients with an “Oh My Gosh, this is amazing! How can this be so good with so few ingredients?” finish. You deliver in spades on that premise. Have a wonderful time in Italy!
    P.S. When last in Italy, I mentioned to a Brit that I use your blog. He did too. We bonded over Memorie di Angelina in Bologna.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Ingrid! Comments like your mean the world to me. And I’m tickled pink at the thought that two random visitors meeting in Italy bonded over this little blog…

  8. Buonasera Frank! OMG this is right up my alley, I’m a sucker for new pasta preparations and lemons! You can rest assured that I’ll be making this fabulous sounding pasta! And….I’ve got a piece of Provolone del Monaco stashed that I brought home from Rome that’s been waiting for summer and Spaghetti alla Nerano. Have a fabulous time in Sorrento, Napoli and Roma! I wish we could meet let’s meet for apertivo in Roma!

  9. This sounds like a wonderful summer dish, the lightly lemon flavoured pasta would be refreshing and satisfying. The video was nice too, I just wish they had more of the dish in progress (as I don’t speak Italian).

    1. I believe there are probably other videos about this dish on YouTube if you care to search. They might provide more visuals of the cooking process.

  10. I saw the video of Chef Guida making this dish a little while ago and have made it quite a few times, using the same technique to play around with variations. Such a simple and delicious preparation – very cool to see you post about it. Congratulations on 15 years of blogging, I reference many of your recipes spanning that entire length of time and you’ve provided me with loads of knowledge and skill in the kitchen, so thank you for your work and efforts. Have a great trip and hope you enjoy many lovey meals!

  11. Frank, could you comment on his use of “young” provolone? We’re used to the sliced (or chunk) version here in the US, but when grated, his looks like Parmigiano. I don’t know if I grated it would it have the same texture (or does it matter).

    1. Young as is not aged for more than say 3 months or so. The taste is rather more mild and the texture softer but not totally soft. There’s nothing quite like young provolone di Monaco, so I’d just go for any provolone that’s not labeled “aged”, “sharp” or “picante”. It will likely be softer than the cheese the chef is using, but it shouldn’t matter terribly much. If you use sliced provolone, the kind used for sandwiches, make sure it isn’t treated with corn or other starches, which interferes with melting. Good luck!

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