Back in February of 2015, my sweet sister sent me the cookbook Date Night In, by the author of the blog Not Without Salt, with a note saying “Happy happy Valentine’s Day to my favorite newlyweds! I hope this book is as good as it looks and lives up to its perfect 5-start Amazon rating!” And did it ever–the photos are lovely, the recipes make me hungry, and the stories about the author’s life and relationship so compelling that it reads more like a memoir than a cookbook. I had an immediate case of the kind of life-envy easily inspired by particularly gorgeous lifestyle and cooking blogs (hello there, Mimi Thor). I loved the romantic idea of making a spiffy at home date night a regular thing, and immediately had piles of day dreams about following the example set in the book. But, funnily enough, the only recipe I’ve yet cooked from the book or blog I made just for myself: pasta with walnuts, lemon and herbs.
When I first made this pasta I had spent most of the day feeling still full from the night before–Hal and I had hosted a birthday feast for our friend Tom featuring insanely rich shrimp and grits (and lots of cheese. and German chocolate cake). And for a good part of the next day I thought I might have to send myself to bed without my supper to balance things out. I was also on my own for dinner, so popcorn was sounding like an aces choice. But then I started poking around on Pinterest, and started to get hungry, and happily realized that everything I needed to give this recipe a try was already in the fridge–dinner kismet! I know pasta isn’t always consider exactly a light meal, but this did feel light. And lovely, and elegant, and perfect for an at-home date night. Even (especially?) a solo one.
This recipe has the simplest sauce, and it comes together in less time than it takes to cook the pasta. It requires a level of effort that was perfect for a slightly sluggish after dinner party day, and would be great for a weeknight meal. And it’s really wonderfully full of delicious smells every step of the way: from toasting up the walnuts to chopping the rosemary to zesting the lemon, making this pasta is delightful (especially if you spent part of your day being seriously grossed out by cleaning grits out of your sink, just saying). Even though I was on my own, wearing yoga pants in a kitchen stacked to the brim with dishes, and even though I ate on the couch in front of the TV, having this for dinner got me pretty close to that idyllic lifestyle blog feeling I was craving the first time I flipped through Date Night In.
Here’s a very silly thing about this pasta: it’s the first savory dish I’ve made in I can’t think how long that didn’t involve garlic. No garlic! It only occurred to me a couple of hours after I had dinner, and it absolutely staggered me. I’m tempted to throw some in with the butter next time, but wonder if the sharpness of garlic would overpower the otherwise fairly delicate favors. If I decide to throw caution to the wind and garlic into the pan, I’ll report back. In the meantime, this sauce is wonderful just as is.
pasta with walnuts, lemon and herbs
adapted slightly from not without salt—the original recipe has larger proportions
enough pasta for one (or one plus leftovers): fettuccine, linguine, or bucatini
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
zest and juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup toasted and chopped walnuts
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
handful of Parmesean shavings
salt to taste
Cook the pasta–in well salted water–until al dente.
As the pasta cooks, add butter to a large skillet. Once the butter is melted, add the rosemary and lemon zest and cook over medium heat until fragrant (and it really will be wonderfully fragrant), just about a minute. Stir in the cream and a big pinch of salt, then remove from the heat.
Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the pasta water.
Add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss until well covered–if the sauce isn’t easily covering the pasta, add a few tablespoons of pasta water to thin it out. Add in the walnuts, parsley, Parm and lemon juice and toss to combine. Add salt (and pepper, if you can’t imagine pasta without it) to taste). Plate your pasta, top with a little extra parsley and cheese, and feel hugely pleased with yourself.