This pasta dish is so incredibly simple. Everything-is-ready-by-the-time-the-pasta-has-cooked kind of simple, and as the weather begins to warm up, that’s the kind of food I love to make. Because there are only a few ingredients, it’s important to buy the best quality you can afford – pasta, mascarpone, lemons, parmesan and olive oil.
If you can’t find mascarpone, double cream will work just as well. I like this sauce quite zingy, but feel free to add half of the lemon juice first, taste, then see if you want to add the rest. It completely depends on the lemons too. Just go by taste. Usually for this sauce, I like to make a handmade Pici – a thick long spaghetti-like noodle. But on weeknights, it’s all about dried pasta and here I’ve used bucatini but spaghetti, fettuccine or linguine would be lovely too.
One of the most important things when cooking pasta is to keep some of the pasta water before you drain the pasta. It’s salty and starchy and can be used to help emulsify a sauce or in this case, loosen it and create a lusciously silky coating for the pasta. I’ve suggested 320g of pasta for 4 people, the amount we eat at home, and the usual amount measured per person in Italy, but of course increase it if more is needed, just be mindful that the sauce may need to be adjusted too – you can do this by adding more of everything in the beginning, or simply thinning it out with some pasta water.
Ingredients (serves 4)
320g bucatini or another long pasta (ie. spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine)
Zest of 1 lemon and the juice of 2
70g parmesan, finely grated
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Basil leaves, to serve
In a large heatproof bowl, place the mascarpone, lemon zest and juice, parmesan and olive oil. Sit the bowl over a pot of boiling water (you will use this pot to cook the pasta in so be sure it’s large enough). Very gently whisk the mixture over the boiling water until it is well combined and the mascarpone has melted to create a thick sauce (around 1-2 minutes). It will still be slightly grainy at this point but will become smoother once the hot pasta is added. Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside.
Season the water generously with sea salt and cook the pasta ’til al dente, according to the instructions on the packet. If the sauce cools down too much while the pasta is cooking, you can sit the bowl on top of the pot briefly towards the end of the cooking.
Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the pasta water, and toss the pasta through the sauce. Keep tossing until everything is well coated, adding a little of the pasta water if it seems too dry. Season cautiously with salt, remembering that parmesan has already been added, and generously with black pepper. Transfer to a serving platter, top with more pepper and scatter over some basil leaves. Serve immediately.