I love white pizza. Thin crust, of course. Topped with fruity olive oil, minced garlic, and cheese. Occasionally I like to toss on some spinach, artichokes, or broccoli florets just for fun. This pasta with lemon and olive oil (Spaghetti Al Limone) is magical all on its own, much like a pure white pizza. It needed absolutely no embellishments to make it sing with lemony freshness. I would definitely make it again as a stand alone dish, but on this particular evening I decided to dress it up a little bit with a cauliflower recipe that my mother gave me as inspiration, and the results were fantastic.
Do not be fooled by the above photo. It may look like a bowl of plain, undressed spaghetti with some stuff thrown on top, but there is some big time flavor lurking within. I’ve talked before about the magic of using pasta water to make a simple pasta sauce come together. About how the cooking method infuses the sauce – in this case comprised of olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and cream (holy moly the cream!) – into the depths of every single strand of pasta. It will blow your mind.
It’s almost like those Italians knew what they were doing when they started this gig. I’m totally on board, and you should hop on, too.
Spaghetti Al Limone with Chicken & Cauliflower
Sources: Cauliflower: Gourmet (September 1994), Spaghetti: Smitten Kitchen
For the chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and sliced into bite-sized pieces
Zest of one lemon
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
For the cauliflower:
2 Tablespoons finely chopped Kalamata olives (about 6) or other brine-cured black olives
1 Tablespoon red-wine vinegar
3 Tablespoon olive oil, divided
4 cups 1-inch cauliflower florets (about 1 head)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
For the spaghetti:
1 pound spaghetti
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil , plus additional for serving
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup), plus additional for serving
Ground black pepper
Small handful fresh basil or arugula leaves, shredded (I used arugula and it added an awesome peppery punch!)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for your spaghetti.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the chicken pieces with the lemon zest, 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Marinate for about 15 minutes while you prepare the cauliflower.
In another small small bowl stir together the olives, vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. In a large non-stick skillet heat one tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Cook the cauliflower, covered, for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the skillet and sauté cauliflower until tender and browned, about 3-5 minutes more. Transfer the cauliflower to a bowl and toss with olive mixture and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Using the same skillet that you cooked the cauliflower in, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Saute the chicken pieces until completely cooked through and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken to the cauliflower mixture.
Add a small handful of salt to your boiling water, and cook spaghetti until al dente. While the spaghetti is cooking, zest the lemons until you have a little shy of a tablespoon of zest. Juice lemons — you’ll have anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 cup lemon juice.
Drain pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta cooking water (AKA “the magic”). Dry out your pot, then boil the olive oil, cream, zest and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water together for two minutes over high heat. Return pasta to pot and stir until coated. Add the cheese and 1/4 cup lemon juice and toss, toss, toss everything together. Add more pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, if you’d like your dish a little looser. Quickly taste a strand of pasta and see if you want to add the remaining lemon juice. Stir in arugula and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and cauliflower to the spaghetti and serve immediately, drizzling individual portions with a bit of extra olive oil and sprinkling with extra Parmesan cheese if desired.