I’m not being coy here but, honestly, I can’t remember where I first saw the idea of pasta with lemon, a cross-breed of comfort food and refreshment. The combination of vegetables in this version isn’t sacred but I wouldn’t stray far from the essential mix of fresh greens, mild onions and sweet dried tomatoes. Some puy lentils are excellent in it but you would need to be sure you want to add such an earthy element to an otherwise light and heady mix. I’ve given quantities for two people for this dish because of the type of pasta used. While it is as easy to make a cauldron for twelve as a pan for two of pasta, vegetables and oil using dried short pasta pieces like penne or macaroni, the same cannot be said of fresh long ribbons or noodles, especially with a cream sauce. The pasta absorbs all the sauce and becomes flaccid before you can thoroughly stir it in, then it sticks to the pan, then one person gets all the tomatoes while someone else gets soggy pasta and the onions. So, should you never cook fresh pasta for more than two? No, it’s not impossible, but you need a slightly different approach. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and put it straight on to warm plates, share out the sauce over the noodles and combine each portion with a few deft flicks of a pair of tongs or forks.
DROP THE SPINACH into boiling water, leave it for a minute then plunge it into cold water. Squeeze it to remove most of the water, chop it and set it aside while you get on with the sauce.
Put the lemon, garlic, wine, a half glass of water and the leeks into a small pan, bring to the boil and simmer gently for six to eight minutes, until the leek has softened a little, then add the tomatoes and remove the pan from the heat.
Meanwhile, boil enough water to accommodate the pasta comfortably, add a little oil, then slide in the pasta. Cook the pasta at a rolling boil, stir it occasionally and test it often. Fresh pasta can cook in anything from three to eight minutes, and it can go from cooked to flabbily overcooked while you’re trying to remember where you left your wine glass. When it’s as cooked as you like it, drain it and return it to the pan.
Just before you drain the pasta, pour the cream into the sauce, bring it back to the boil and simmer for a minute. It should thicken a little but still be a very thin cream. Add this sauce and the spinach to the pasta pan, season generously, stir to combine everything quickly, then divide the dish between two warmed plates. Serve with some recently grated parmesan or crumbled goat’s cheese; a little fresh parsley, basil or fennel, either in the sauce or scattered over the finished dish, will add an extra dimension.
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