I’ve fallen a bit behind in getting my citrus trees ready for the summer. Normally, I would have given them their first dose of citrus food by now but time seems to be scarce lately. My kalamansi plant is a few years old and still hasn’t quite taken off. Evidence suggests that a nocturnal creature has been feasting on its leaves each evening, so solving this will have to move to the top of my gardening list. On the other hand, Mother Nature continues to shower my Meyer lemon tree with lots of love. While this would normally be late in the season for the tree, the warmer weather kicks it into gear to produce fruit throughout the year. It’s also a a mature tree and a wonderful product of this is large, flavorful fruit.
When I paid a visit to it this morning, I was happy to see an abundance of not only lemons but also flowers–a promise of more fruits to come, but more importantly, a bold declaration that it doesn’t need my help, thank you very much.
What you see above is today’s harvest, including the lone kalamansi fruit that was begging to be picked from my tiny tree. Have you ever smelled a just-picked Meyer lemon? The essence that perfume companies try to capture in a bottle has nothing on its fresh citrus scent. Naturally, my original cooking plans have had to take a back seat to the opportunities offered by this basket of sunshine.
I do have a few sweet ideas for my Meyer lemon bonanza, but I opted for a savory dish to kick off the celebration. I used the usual suspects in this pasta dish: garlic, anchovies, crushed red pepper, bread crumbs and lemon juice. You’ve seen these ingredients here several times before but this time, I experimented with frying lemon zest. We fry to improve texture and coax more flavor out most other ingredients so I thought lemon zest was fair game.
As it turns out, the idea was not half bad. The lemon zest got just a little nutty when fried very briefly but it was the crunch that I enjoyed. This dish has a moderately bold flavor profile due to the addition of anchovies and peppery arugula but the crunchy texture of the bread crumbs and lemon zest was a pleasant touch.
I shamelessly admit that this dish is my way of consolidating the salad course and main course on one plate. I try not to use too much bottled salad dressing at home (though I keep a bottle or two around) but some days I can’t be bothered to prepare that in addition to everything else. I “cheat” by taking advantage of a simple pasta dish like this one whose sauce contains most of the ingredients that I would use in a dressing to begin with. Depending on the amount of anchovies and garlic used, the flavor should be assertive enough to accommodate the additional leafy greens that are tossed into the pasta right before serving. Though it doesn’t seem like it in the photos, I added a few cups of greens to the pan. In addition to the arugula, I also threw in some chopped organic greens that a Pescadero farmer gave to my husband yesterday. This is a shortcut he doesn’t seem to mind ever taking with me.
Bucatini with Arugula, Anchovies, and Fried Lemon Zest
* I used approximate measurements for some of the items below but the recipe is flexible
- 1 pound bucatini pasta (or spaghetti)
- 6 – 8 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
- 8 – 10 anchovy fillets (I use Talatta brand in olive oil)
- 1 – 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
- Half an onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs (I didn’t have leftover bread so I used Panko)
- Juice of 1 large Meyer lemon or two regular lemons
- Zest of three lemons
- Olive Oil
- 2 – 3 cups arugula (or your choice leafy greens)
- Boil your pasta according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, heat about 1/3 cup of olive oil in a pan large enough to accommodate the pasta over medium heat. Fry the lemon zest briefly. Depending on how hot your oil is, this should take less than 30 seconds. As soon as some of the pieces start to color, use a slotted spoon to transfer the fried zest to a plate. Once the zest has been removed from the pan, add the bread crumbs. The bread crumbs will absorb most of the oil and will take a minute or two to start turning a nice light brown. Don’t let them burn. Stir occasionally to allow even browning then remove from pan and set aside.
- Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel and add more olive oil. I would add about 1/3 – 1/4 cup to the pan as this will be your sauce. Heat to medium-high and add the anchovy fillets and crushed red pepper. Within a minute or two, the anchovy fillets will dissolve so add the garlic slices and the onion at that time. Don’t let the garlic brown. As soon as the slices become fragrant add half of the lemon juice to slow down the cooking process. Taste for seasonings. You may think that the sauce is too salty due to the anchovies but remember that you’ll be tossing it in a pound of pasta and lots of greens. The flavors will balance out once the dish is finished. Turn off the heat if your pasta isn’t ready.
- When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the pan with the sauce. Toss to coat and add the greens. Toss again. You can also toss some of the bread crumbs into the pasta. You can add the rest of the lemon juice at this point and even more olive oil if the sauce seems too dry for you. Serve a portion on a plate and garnish with Parmigiano Reggianno and the fried lemon zest.