Preserved lemon pasta with capers & anchovies

I was apprehensive to move back to Boston for the summer. Although I lived in the city for almost three years after college, I never fell in love with it. So when Sam and I lugged our haphazard collection of laundry baskets, backpacks, canvas shopping bags and boxes into the car for our move, I was filled with dread. I’d really started to feel at home in our rambling old house in East Rock, New Haven. We were leaving  just as the peonies in our back yard began to blossom, and only a few days after Shea and I filled pots on the patio with dahlias, petunias, and marigolds.

While I never adored downtown Boston or Jamaica Plain (both of which are lovely, they just never felt like home), I’ve always loved Cambridge. I remember visiting my godparents on Martin Street when I was little; roaming Harvard square on rainy fall days and returning to something heavenly my godfather’s wife Katie had baked in their cozy home. The red brick sidewalks, uneven with age, always seemed worn with the inquisitive steps of scholars past. So when Sam and I found a place in Somerville, a felt a reticent twinge of excitement.

My dad lived in Somerville in the ‘70’s. In a commune, I might add, complete with shared meals and a sauna in the basement. He always told stories of the Somerville days, of the various characters who frequented the commune, and of early mornings at the farmers market when it was his turn to cook. So it all feels strangely familiar. We’re subletting a room on a quiet street in a cozy apartment that smells faintly of patchouli. (I never actually knew what that was, only that adults seemed to reference it with a faint nostalgic sigh when harkening back to their youth with a twinkling eye. But there is actually a bottle of patchouli-flavored soap in the shower here).

For the first few nights, I skulked around in almost complete darkness, attempting to avoid the bright fluorescent bulb that bathes the kitchen in harsh white light. I tiptoed around gingerly, inspecting every plate closely before using it, and spent more time exploring the grocery stores in my new locale than producing any actual food. You might compare my discovery of a store called Christina’s to Harry Potter’s discovery of Honeydukes. The tiny, unassuming corner store is home to every obscure ingredient that’s ever dissuaded me from cooking an Ottolenghi recipe. The floor-to-ceiling shelves are stocked with little sacks of whole spices, metal tins of roasted chestnut powder, elegant jars of orange blossom jam, and peel-top cans of guava paste. A few little shakers boasted “Authentic Greek seasoning, no additional spices required.”

A jar of preserved lemons—in all their salty, syrupy, tangy glory—got me dreaming of all things umami. I thought of of capers and anchovies and big garlic-filled corkscrews of fusilli.

Make this pasta on a summer night for friends, and don’t even tell them what’s in it (anchovies and cauliflower aren’t exactly sexy). I promise you, even the most adamant anti-anchovists will be swooning in savory satisfaction.

Preserved lemon pasta with capers and anchovies

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. fusili pasta
  • 1 C pasta cooking water
  • 1 T evoo
  • 1 Head cauliflower, stem removed, sliced into small florets
  • 2 T evoo
  • 5 Cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½  Whole preserved lemons, cubed
  • 6 anchovy fillets, diced
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 1 T capers
  • ¼ C dry white wine
  • 1½ C Pecorino Romano, grated
  • ½ bunch parsley, finely chopped

Instructions:

  1. Roast the cauliflower: preheat oven to 415°. Place cauliflower florets in a large mixing bowl, add 1 T olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Toss with a spoon until florets are coated in oil, adding more oil if necessary. Spread cauliflower on a baking sheet and bake until edges start to turn golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to ensure even roasting. Remove from oven and  Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of water seasoned with a generous teaspoon of salt to boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Before you drain, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain.
  3. In a large skillet with high sides, heat 2 T of olive oil. When the oil runs easily along the bottom of the pan, add the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently at medium/high heat, until the garlic starts to turn golden. Add the diced preserved lemon, capers, and lemon juice. Cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes. Next, add the capers and anchovies and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the wine and stir as it cooks down. Once the mixture has thickened slightly, turn off the heat. Add in the roasted cauliflower and stir to combine.
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the mixture and return to a medium heat. Stirring frequently, begin adding the reserved pasta water. Keep adding as the pasta re-absorbs the liquid. Then add in most of the cheese and most of the parsley, stirring consistently. The pasta water adds a magic creaminess that you won’t believe. Once all of the pasta water has absorbed, you’re ready to serve! Garnish with remaining parsley and cheese. Enjoy!

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