Linguine with Lemon and Mint
The combination of lemon and mint is common in southern Italy, a legacy of the Moorish occupation, says author of 250 True Italian Dishes, John Coletta. Today mint is not widely used in cooking, but it’s a shame to waste it on garnishing drinks and desserts. It has a fragrant, distinctive flavor and a cool aftertaste that works well in savory dishes such as this pasta sauce.
Serves 4 to 6
1 tbsp granulated sugar 15 mL
Zest of 4 to 6 fresh lemons (see Tips)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 45 mL
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 cup dry white Italian wine 250 mL
6 tbsp hand-torn fresh mint leaves 90 mL
1 tbsp salt 15 mL
1 lb dried linguine (see Variation, below) 500 g
1⁄4 cup unsalted butter 50 mL
3⁄4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided 175 mL
1. In a covered pasta pot over high heat, bring water to a rapid boil.
2. Meanwhile, in a saucepan over high heat, bring 1 quart (1 L) of water to a boil. Add sugar, return to a boil and cook until sugar dissolves. Add strips of lemon zest and cook for 4 minutes. Drain, place lemon strips on a plate and set aside.
3. In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add lemon strips and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add wine and cook until reduced by half. Stir in mint and remove pan from heat. Set aside.
4. While sauce is simmering, add salt and linguine to the boiling water and cook, uncovered, over high heat until pasta is al dente. Scoop out about 1 cup (250 mL) of the pasta water and set aside. Drain pasta.
5. Return lemon-mint mixture to high heat. Add 2 tbsp (25 mL) of the reserved pasta water and the butter and heat through. Add linguine and, using pasta tongs, toss to coat evenly, adding more pasta water
if necessary. Add half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss well.
6. Transfer to a large serving platter and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Serve immediately.
Variation: Substitute spaghetti for the linguine.
Tips: Peel the lemon very thinly using a vegetable peeler, being careful not to include any of the bitter white pith; then julienne the peel. Use the zest of 4 large or 6 small lemons.
I like to tear the basil leaves by hand rather than slicing them, because I think they look and taste better.
If you have leftovers, use them to make leftover Frittata of Linguine with Lemon and Mint (see recipes, page 169).
Mint: There are hundreds of varieties of mint. Those most often used in cooking are peppermint and spearmint. Their flavors differ slightly because menthol, a volatile oil, gives peppermint its characteristic flavor and aroma, and R-carvone is the chemical compound that predominates in spearmint. This being Italian cooking, there is a Corsican mint that is native to mainland Italy, Corsica, Sardinia and France, which derives its flavor from a chemical compound called pulegone.