When life tosses you lemons, what do you do? If you are anything like me, I guess you do your damnedest to lob them right back. The problem is, in this little game you have going on, life is almost always the stronger player, and it is harder to play that googly you just got tossed, especially if you weren’t expecting it. You blink and you miss, the bat kisses air, or worse, you hit the ball in a completely different direction, and not a good one. This is why you learn to make lemonade. (Not blinking would also be a good skill to learn, but “Constant vigilance!” à la Mad-eye Moody would be rather tiresome after a while.) Better to hold on to that lemon for a bit while you decide what to do with it. Lumbering about blindly never did anyone any good.
In case you are wondering, this is not how cricket is played. But we’re not talking about cricket so much as we are about lemons. In our house, we could go without milk and bread but there will always be lemons in the house…lemons and limes. My husband loves them more than he loves his guitar and his camera and that is saying something. Amey’s love of all thing sour is legendary. He adores lemons, loves limes, is enthralled by vinegars. His idea of ‘improving the flavour’ of any dish involves adding one of these ingredients. He is the only person I know whose fried rice is actually vinegar rice. If we had grown up in the United States, his favourite candy would have been Sour Patch kids, hands down, no contest.
College, while offering him several freedoms, also put in his sights, front and center, the tamarind and green mango vendor’s cart. This guy showed up with his cart, rain or shine, with kayris (green mangoes) just before summer and tamarind all year round. While other kids were busy with restaurants, Amey snacked happily on morsels of green mango dressed in salt and chilli. The vendor knew him by name and had his order ready when he saw him coming. This guy was happily immersed in salt and sourness while the rest of the kids were flirting with alcohol.
Being married to someone who likes sour food and likes to cook comes with its challenges. He used it on everything with a heavy-handed abandon reminiscent of Paula Deen and butter. It took some time for me to convince him that not everyone thinks of lime juice as a staple. Granted his culinary quirk is way healthier than butter, but let me tell you, there is such a thing as too much acidity in your food. You will not know this until you have someone squeeze a whole lime into your plate of dal and rice…or make you a hot dog that could pass the litmus test. A chilli fiend and a lime fanatic…our early days in cooking bought some sore trials to its consumption for both of us. The years have taught us well, w-ell, maybe they have taught him better. I can still be heavy handed with the chilli. Amey, however, has honed his handling of the acid and citrus to a fine slant. Granted, he still puts too much vinegar on his rice. But now, it is his own plate of rice. He has learned that there is your own palette and that of others. More importantly, he has also found that he appreciates the subtlety of citrus as much as he enjoys the more in-your-face flavours.
One of his early experimentations was a take on a lemon cream sauce. A dish he loves to eat when we are out is the Chicken Tequila Fettucine served at California Pizza Kitchen. That pasta dish made him happy enough to try a version with cream and citrus on his own. Born out of this was a lemon-cream sauce. With some serious, careful honing, something I rarely have patience with, he has perfected the sauce. It is creamy, unctuous, just tart enough to make the presence of the lemon felt strongly but not overwhelmingly. A gentle, soothing sauce with a burst of refreshing flavour to bring sunshine to the most gloomy day.
Broken Linguine with mushrooms in a lemon, cream and thyme sauce
Garlic – 6 cloves, chopped fine
Red Onion – 1/2, diced fine OR Shallot – 2, diced fine
Thyme – 1 tbsp of leaves
Lemon zest – 1 fruit
Lemon juice – 1/2 of one fruit
Dried porcini or wild mushrooms – 1/2 cup (chanterelles would be excellent here)
Cream – 1/2 cup
Sausage (optional) – 2, diced
Cayenne pepper – 1/2 tsp
Orange Flower Honey – 1/2 tsp (use regular honey if you don’t have this)
Linguine – 3/4 box
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan for grating over
- Reconstitute the dry mushrooms in about a cup and half of boiled hot water. Set aside for about fifteen minutes until the mushrooms go soft and the water has become a rich, brown broth.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Break the linguine into three pieces and throw into the pot. Boil pasta as per directions on box.
- Meanwhile, Heat the oil in a shallow pan on medium low. Add the garlic and fry until slightly brown.
- Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the thyme.
- Roughly chop the reconstituted mushrooms and add to the pan, along with the broth. Mix to incorporate, then bring to a boil.
- Add the lemon juice and zest and cayenne pepper. Season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in the cream. Season with salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat and simmer the sauce for a bit and let reduce slightly. Add the honey and mix it in.
- Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the sauce and toss together to coat the strands of pasta.
Serve with a fresh grating of Parmesan over each dish, along with some fresh ground pepper.
This sauce originated in a pure lemon and cream version, which made for some sticky pasta incidents. We tried variations with half-and-half, wine and vegetable and chicken broths. There was no definite depth of dimension until we started to use the mushroom broth (which, by the way, is now a favourite ingredient in our cooking). Amey balanced the flavours with some orange blossom honey which he’s partial to. Its citrus notes worked wonderfully in this sauce, making it one of the most delicious pasta sauces I’ve eaten. He’s also tried variations with other herbs. While they all work with varying degrees of success, we both agree that thyme works best, gently infusing and disappearing into the sauce more completely than anything else. Also it is great as an additional garnish.
What else you put into the pasta is entirely up to you. Shreds of roast chicken would be great, as would bacon. Leave the meat out completely and you have a vegetarian version. Strips of sautéed peppers, steamed asparagus or artichoke hearts would be brilliant with this sauce. I love to put sun-dried bits of tomato on mine. This is the sauce I will ask for more often than others when Amey decides to make pasta. To him, it is also an appreciation of how he and his tastebuds have evolved.