Oranges and a lemon lunch

We have been buying, eating and squeezing citrus fruit rather compulsively of late, gloriously good and beautiful oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruits and clementines, lots and lots of clementines. Orange and yellow alternatives to one of those lamps for seasonal affective disorder, a citrus antidote to the dreary, damp and frankly miserable weather we are enduring.

I have also become rather obsessive about a certain lemon tree, the one with bright yellow fruit that sits in the neglected garden of a block of flats I pass at least once a day. Lately it always seems to be raining and very grey when I walk past this particular block and then blink, there it is! through the drizzle, startling and seemingly unfeasible, a tree heavy with sunny yellow lemons at this dark, damp time. For the last three years I have watched this tree, first the blossom; the delicate, pale, fragrant flowers and then after, later, the glowing fruit. Then for three years I’ve looked on in despair and frustration, through gaps in the flimsy but high fence, as the fruit shrivels, or falls and then lies abandoned on the ground. Last year I tried to enlist Vincenzo in a commandoesque plan to scale the fence late one night. But a reconnaissance mission and an assessment of the fence one afternoon confirmed his suspicions that we would bring the whole rickety thing down if we tried to go over.

Fence aside, I suspect Vincenzo was still reluctant to participate in any clandestine fruit collecting after a misguided afternoon of fig and blackberry foraging ended rather badly – insane dog, a weird rash and mild concussion – the year before,

A year on and the tree is full of yellow fruit again. Knowing I was going to write some sort of citrus post this week helped end my procrastination. On Tuesday I left a note (and a nice tip) with the porter of the building addressed to the owner of the lemon tree – who I am informed is rarely in Rome and is therefore partly forgiven for lemon neglect –  offering a home for the lemons and some lemon marmalade in return. We will see.

But now back to the plentiful citrus we already have, the ones sitting in the vast basket at the top of this post and the lemons sitting below, on the usual chair.

I bought these handsome Sicilian lemons at Testaccio market today, it was impossible not to, three vast crates of them sat at the front of the stall, big and heavily scented with bright shiny leaves and knobbly, lively, unwaxed skins. They are incredibly thick-skinned with powerful but slighty sweet juice which makes them seem much less aggressive than other lemons I’ve known. These are the kind of lemons that Vincenzo’s grandfather used to eat in Sicily, one each day, sometimes two, whole, as you would an apple, skin, pith, fruit, the whole lemon lot. These are lemons to make this one day.

Such nice lemons deserved some undivided attention so I made the lemon jelly I have been promsising myself – I am, as you may remember, extraordinarily fond of jelly –  then we decided on a lemon scented lunch, something we haven’t had for ages, tagliatelle with lemon and parmesan.

This is inspired by Nigel Slater’s recipe for linguine with basil and lemon and a lovely dish of pappardelle ( thick ribbons of fresh pasta) with lemon sauce we once ate in Sorrento. Both recipes are based on the premise that if you whisk lemon juice with plenty of olive oil and lots of freshly grated parmesan you create a thick, grainy, deeply flavoured lemon and cheese ‘sauce’ which you toss with hot pasta.

The flavours work beautifully together, the sharp, lip pucking acidity of the lemon is tempered by the parmesan and the olive oil lends it a silky glossy texture. All the ingredients come together into a surprising sauce which clings to each strand of pasta, creamy and delicious, a sauce which manages to be both soothing and vital in the same moment.

It is important you whisk the ingredients together in a warm bowl. especially on these cold days, the modest heat helps the ingredients come together and the flavours emerge.

The hot pasta continues what the warm bowl started and brings out the heady scent of the lemon juice, zest and the salty sweetness of the parmesan.

A lemon scented lunch, simple and deicious, just the thing for jaded spirits comforting but bright and vital food for grey days.

As usual I am very cautious about giving you exact quantities here and suggest some tentative experimentation, especially with the lemon juice. I say this from experience, the first time I ever made this I used (as Nigel suggests) the juice of a large lemon and even though we both liked it, there was quite alot of lemon shuddering. We now use the juice of a medium lemon (and our lemons are mild-mannered and sweet compared to the really aggressive ones I used to buy in London) slightly more parmesan and a pinch of the zest. Even though Vincenzo nods approvingly I know he would use even less lemon juice and more zest if he was as bossy as I am.

In summer a handful of torn basil leaves makes a lovely addition to this sauce.

Tagliatelle with lemon and parmesan

Serves 2

  • A pinch of zest and roughly the juice of a medium lemon
  • 80g freshly grated parmesan plus more for sprinkling
  • 75ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 220g dried or 350g fresh tagliatelle or linguine

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a fast boil.

If you are using dried pasta which takes about 8 minutes to cook then add that to the water now, If however, you are using fresh pasta which only takes 2 or 3 minutes then start making the sauce first.

Grate the cheese.

Warm a large bowl (warmed under a running hot water tap, then dried) and add the olive oil, some of the lemon juice, the zest and beat briefly with a little whisk until it emulsifies, Now add the parmesan, beat again, taste, add more lemon, taste and whisk again until you have a thick, grainy cream. Taste again, you probably won’t need salt with all the parmesan but if you feel the need add some

Once the pasta is ready (still al dente which means to the tooth and suggests the pasta still has bite and isn’t soggy) drain it and quickly toss it with the lemon and parmesan sauce.

Divide the pasta between two warm bowls, sprinkle with more (unnecessary but nice) parmesan and a grind of black pepper.


We made this again the night after posting this adding a big healthy tablespoon of crème fraîche to the lemon, parmesan and oil cream. Vincenzo really liked it, saying the cream tempered the acidity, I did too but I liked the simplicity of the sauce before. It was certainly more indulgent and a bit more special….anyway just thought I would let you know.

Have a good weekend wherever you are



Filed under food, fruit, lemons, pasta and rice, Rachel's Diary, recipes

74 responses to “Oranges and a lemon lunch

  1. Rach

    Lovely lovely lemons…. I can’t wait to try the tagliatelle with lemon and parmesan next week! In the meantime I have a batch of lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream that I made for work this morning to keep me going! x p.s. the first photo has perked me up no end on this grey drizzly morning!

  2. I am very jealous of your lovely lemons, they look so beautiful and that lemon pasta looks absolutely divine, that is another one of your recipes that I have to try. This post really is mouthwatering. I don’t think I will be trying Vincenzo’s grandfather’s trick though – especially with a lemon bought in England – that has my mouth puckering at the very thought.

    • rachel

      You comment really made me smile, it make me think of my grandpa who used to shudder and shake his head at the mere mention of the word lemon.
      I am not planning any whole lemon eating either….
      I am still planning your lemon curd even without an aga.

  3. A citrus antidote indeed. I should no longer be surprised by your posts as I think we are kindred spirits–although we are of different generations.
    I have been dreaming of lemon pasta of late. Back in the day it was one of my favorite dinner party first courses. Mine involved freshly-made pasta, lemon zest and juice, butter, heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. Lovely photos.

    • rachel

      I have recipe for lemon and butter sauce with cream and parmesan that I have been meaning to try…this is the nudge I needed so thankyou….

  4. Mmm. Bookmarking right away. Might be nice with Meyer lemons?

    • rachel

      Very nice indeed, I should add that to the post, thank you Maggie……not that I have ever had a Meyer lemon…. but I have heard lots of trustworthy whispers that they are as sweet and fragrant as the Sicilian ones.

  5. what lovely yellows, so cheerful! you can tell that your lemons on the chair are the real deal–knobby and no wax….that luscious bowl of pasta practically glows. perfect simple food.

    Here’s hoping you will hear from the owner of that lemon tree!

    ps-is it snowing in Rome?

    • rachel

      Yes, Snow in Rome, for the first time in 24 years, everyone was quite hysterical, shouting and waving their hands in the air….

  6. TD

    It’s been snowing a lot in my town lately, and all those lemons are making me crave sunshine even more than usual! I think I might make a little bit of this sauce tonight. A nice yellow lemon is like a tiny bit of sun inside. It’s not a lot to balance the absence of sun outside, but it helps, I think.

    • rachel

      It is so grey here I am considering this for supper again tonight and putting a bowl of lemons by our bed a makeshift sun for tomorrow morning….

  7. Ahh, the jelly post. I will read it as soon as I’m done here. Many thanks! I really hope the owner of the tree takes you up on that offer. It will benefit everyone involved. It just kills me to see lemons (or any fruit, really) neglected. And of course, this pasta looks absolutely wonderful.

    • rachel

      Yes julia, that reference was with you in mind- really – just to prove my jelly credentials. we just had a lemon jelly after dinner, it was a little tart but perfectly wobbly.

  8. makingromaroma

    Rachel, it is so nice to see your citrus, as I don’t have any of my own right now. I really must get some napkins,too. Yours add such a nice tactile component to your table and meals. I’d like to hear more about Vincenzo’s foraging adventure gone wrong. It sounds like quite a story!

    • rachel

      Yes napkins, I am not very big on decoration or garnish but I am slightly obsessed with napkins, I highly recommend them.
      Ah yes the fig day – it was a nightmare actually and one Vincenzo still goes pale about. Maybe I will tell the story once fig time comes around again.

  9. Rachel Z

    I really have to thank you for this one, which I *just* made for lunch. I am studying for a major exam and have a terrible head cold…but this pasta completely brightened my day!!! Thought you’d like to know that you have helped out a fellow tall, myopic Rachel.

  10. After reading I ran out to buy lemons…and deep orange tulips. We’ll eat pasta with lemon and parmesan tonight followed by bruschetta (I’m thinking sauteed mushrooms and garlic) and a nice salad. Oh, and lots of red wine. This is my effort to pull in Spring. Lemon, be the sun. Pasta, be the lasso.

    • rachel

      Sounds like a damn delicious supper…..ok, go easy on the lemon…. oh why I am so worried ?…because I feel a bit responsible for your supper, which I know is a big deal for you two….
      pasta the lasso – brilliant !

  11. Amazing! I can’t wait to try this with some lemons from our tree. Sounds like the perfect tonic against the damp gray chill of this particularly trying San Francisco winter.

  12. Oh, Rachel. It was so nice to read your lemon stories on this grey and dreary day. Thank you. But now I am really missing the lemon tree we had outside the front door of our Point Reyes home… Well, it’s that sort of day. A little bit of bright and a little bit of gloom. I think it’s time for a walk in the mist…

    • rachel

      Thankyou Denise
      having posted this it snowed in Rome, after 24 years which tranformed a dreary day into a very exciting one for us all….then it melted which was not so nice and quite slushy

  13. yeah we usually add a touch of cream to ours. i never though about not using it, but now that i think about it, w/ just alot of parm it could be nice. but thanks for that “update” cause i”ll keep making mine w/ cream since you’re my hero and i trust you.

    one thing i fantasize about (yes, i’m serious, i’ve had actual fantasies… mainly where i’m also shacking up w/ george clooney or that lead singer of kings of leon) owning a lemon tree. i want one so badly. i wish they could grow here. i wish i had space to grow one. i think i’d put it in front of a window where i could stare at it all day. i think they are the most beautiful trees there are.

  14. Josie

    I love this pasta sauce, it is definitely one of my favorites. I make this at least once a month but I add a whole bunch of basil leaves while whisking the parmesan. I do have to say that our lemons here in Montreal are not even close to those from Italy, but we have to settle.

  15. Well. I’ve been planning a post for ‘Spaghetti al Limone’ from my copy of ‘The River Cafe Cookbook’, so it can be a sister post to yours. Its true, the lemon and oil are such a good antidote to the never ending Portland GREY. I love the page the recipe is printed on too… instead of all the other white pages it is solid yellow lemon gold. Stay warm over there…

    • rachel

      ahhhhhh I need my River cafe cookbooks back, they are in a box in a dark london garage (no sun there, ever)
      I look forward to your post because I for one can’t get enough lemons.

  16. Pingback: pasta for two (or just you; that’s ok too). « lv, molly

  17. I hope it’s cool I used one of these photos. I gave you full credit and linked to your site! This looks easy & delicious.

  18. Ben

    I was also thinking of the blue River Cafe cookbook recipe, but no sage advice there to warm the mixing bowl! My girlfriend gave me an exotic citrus box from California (we live in New York) for Valentine’s Day and we made the sauce with a Meyer lemon — more sweetly scented than Sicilian lemons, I would think, with hardly any acidity — included inside. We don’t usually use whole wheat pasta but had a box of kamut spaghetti lying around that matched the sauce excellently.

    • rachel

      I have heard lovely things about Meyer lemons….kamut spaghetti sounds very interesting….the warming the bowl advice is Nigel Slater, he is wise about things like that.

  19. wow, this looks amazing. I will be trying it out this week, thanks for the inspiration!

  20. This reminds me of the gigantic lemons my husband and I saw growing around Sorrento when we were on vacation a few years back. I hope you do get those lemons from your neighbor’s abandoned tree! Seeing this post made me a little giddy. I have made a sort of hacked version of this a few times – with much love, but have never had a nice recipe – so this is perfect. Thanks!

    • rachel

      I first ate pasta (pappardelle) with lemon sauce in Sorrento made with some of those extraordinary lemons – yes gigantic is the right word, they are mild mannered too and almost sweet.
      Yes I hope I get the lemoms too, I am going to call to see the porter tomorrow !

  21. Those lemons! So beautiful, I might have to borrow your photo to use as a screensaver to brighten up these endless February days… I made a Nigella lemon linguine recipe once and didn’t get the balance of flavours quite right, must try again. Gx

    • rachel

      A lemon screensaver is a very good idea….Even though I know London
      has been grey grey recently, I am missing it at the moment and I have run out
      of my english breakfast tea which is terrible……x

      • If you email me with your favoured tea brand and your address I’ll happily send you a tea care package – call it payback for these photos which remind me that sunshine exists somewhere!

  22. Divine post Rachel!
    This makes me want to get to the kitchen now… well after procuring the necessary ingredients anyway… to follow your wonderful writing and make this seductive dish.
    Then I want to paint the dish of lemons afterwards (a long love affair with lemons has led me to paint them often) and be reminded…
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  23. TD

    I made this dish imperfectly last night…and liked it! My husband said its okay because 1. he is not a huge fan of lime-like flavors and 2. it had a little too much oil. I did say I made it imperfectly. I was too lazy to open up your blog, convert those grams to ounces and then measure properly. So I cooked the way I cook always – by approx. estimation and unfortunately it was off. I used lime instead of lemon. I think I will try it again using the right proportions in summer when I eat something with lime every day.
    Thanks for the recipe, it’s one of my favorites now.

    • rachel

      So glad you made it – yes we have had a couple of rather imperfect
      plates of this….practice and tasting are the key I think, I do hope you try again.
      Thankyou for the message

  24. oh, how i want a boxful of those sicilian lemons… i wonder if they are similar to meyer lemons? anyway, this sounds wonderful. just simply WONDERFUL! i should make this – soon…

    and you know i will

  25. it’s a beautiful dish- olive oil, lemon and parmesan. i so do hope you can acquire some of those lemons from the tree in Testaccio. x shayma

    • rachel

      Me too Shayma…..maybe, if the owner ever comes back to Rome
      Snow in Rome on Friday, the first time in 24 years, the whole of testaccio was out in the streets.

  26. I’m eating my late-night dinner right now (sans crème fraîche). Thank you for the recipe and the inspiration!

  27. This easily represents my favorite of all simple foods. Thank you for such a beautiful, accessible blog.


  28. Thanks so much for mentioning my limoncello!

    I really love the simplicity. I think I would also prefer it without the creme, but that’s a tough call. I had lemon pasta with salmon and creme fraiche once and it was amazing, but very different from this beautiful dish.

  29. Lindsay

    I was compelled to leave you a message about your lemon pasta as soon as I finished eating it tonight!

    Trudging home in the dark and snow after a long day I convinced myself to stop at the store to pick up a lemon and — finally at 9:03 I got to eat. Amazing. I am so glad I did. In the midst of a boring, bland, gray winter, this dish totally perked up my tastebuds and my mood! Tangy, delicious, different, light…so good. I topped it with some roasted asparagus and it rocked my world.

    THANKS for a great recipe I am sure I will make many, many times again!


    • rachel

      Hello Lindsay
      I am so happy you liked the pasta and that it brightened your day – i have
      come to the conclusion lemons can do that.
      Roasted asparagus on top sounds so good.

  30. Re the lemon tree – how about a large ladder?

    I’ve been yearning to make this pasta (available at my local trattoria) for years, thanks for the recipe.

    • rachel

      Marusya, this is making me giggle..
      if we could just sneak our vast A-ladder down the street (a normal ladder poses the same problem
      as ‘going over’ – where to lean it)…..considering this option now as the owner has still not returned
      and the lemons are very neglected.

  31. Hazel

    Added garlic and anchovies and made with fresh homemade tagliatelle – a thrown together hybrid of this and Allegra McEvedy’s Courgette, Anchovy and Lemon Fettucine. Delicious.

    I love reading this Rachel – for the snapshots of your life and your passion for good food. I am always curious about your teaching, but understand your need to keep some aspects of your life private and that this is about il cibo, not the TEFL.

    Grazie per averle condivise.

  32. SUZ

    Thank you! For this recipe and the blog and for being you. Made this today and just cannot fathom how I never had the idea for a simple lemon/olive oil/cheese sauce on my own. I did add some baby broccoli just so I could have a bit more greenery in my day 🙂

    Just what was called for on a cold rainy day.

  33. Pingback: in the kitchen: February « oh-so-quiet

  34. I just discovered your site and am already planning on making this and your crackers this week, right before we head off to Rome and Sorrento ourselves! Maybe we’ll find this lovely sort of dish on a menu when we’re down in Sorrento. It’s so dreary in the eastern US right now and nothing is growing; it’s crazy to think that there are lemons on trees there!

    Your story about scaling the neighbor’s fence made me laugh. We have some neighbors behind us with two fairly large pear trees. We watch each of them bloom every year, grow luscious looking pears and then all of them fall to the ground for the squirrels. I always secretly think that I should sneak into the yard in the darkness of night and swipe some of them for myself! And yet, I never do.

    • rachel

      Hello Crystal
      have a wonderful holiday in Rome and Sorrento – it is feeling a bit like spring now in Rome which is lovely. Come to visit Testaccio the market is wonderful.
      Aha pears – if there is no fence to pull down I’m all for you sneaking into that yard !

  35. Frequent reader of your blog…and often cook your recipes which make me super happy. Just made this one tonight, and at first I thought it was a bit sharp and then I couldn’t stop eating it, its so simple and yum…this is gonna by my new default dish. Thanks for taking the time to post and blog, its my cup of tea treat to read 🙂 jen x

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  38. Grey

    Seven years on, when it’s grey and damp I think of this recipe. Oh, and I’m still wondering if you ever got access to that tree?

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