We had two encounters with mascarpone cheese in pasta recently. One was seeing this Tagliatelle with Spinach, Mascarpone, and Parmesan over on Jamie Oliver's website. The other was catching the tail end of a British cooking show where the host was making mascarpone-lemon spaghetti. (We're sensing an English theme.) This is our version, which borrows a bit from both but has the bright flavor of Meyer lemon plus toasted hazelnuts, which turned out to be the best ingredient of all...
Mascarpone is a soft, scoopable, sweet cheese. Not sugar sweet, but mild and milky with just the tiniest bit of tang. The Meyer lemon has that same quality: sweeter than a regular lemon but still tart. They make a great sauce together, lighter than a typical cream sauce but still silky and rich.
The hazelnuts were a last-minute addition. We made this pasta once without them, and we even tested a few bites with the nuts sprinkled on top before we dumped the whole lot into the pan. But they really elevated this dish to something special, in our opinion, by adding another texture and flavor.
We didn't bother pre-cooking the spinach. Instead, we threw it in with the warm pasta and sauce, adding a tiny bit of pasta water to keep the mixture loose while we continued to heat it over a low flame. The spinach wilts in no time. In fact, the entire dish doesn't take more than 15 minutes to pull together.
Ever since Elizabeth shared this recipe a few years ago, I've been dying to try it. I finally got it on the menu last week and, honestly, couldn't stop shoveling it into my mouth. It was simultaneously sophisticated and absurdly fast and easy.
The sauce is just a handful of ingredients — lemon, mascarpone, salt and pepper. Toss with freshly-cooked pasta and wilted spinach, and it's ready! The hazelnuts are a smart, delicious touch.
I could see adding a slice or two of garlic, to add one more element, but it's really not necessary. Regardless, it is a tremendously delicious and easy little pasta dish — satisfying and beautiful.
Spaghetti with Mascarpone, Meyer Lemon, Spinach, and Hazelnuts
Serves two as a main course
1 Meyer lemon, zested and juiced (about 3 tablespoons juice)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of fresh pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 pound spaghetti
5 cups (loosely packed) fresh spinach, washed, spun dry, and roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts
Combine the zest, lemon juice, mascarpone, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl. Whisk to combine.
Bring a pot of water to boil and salt generously. Cook the pasta until al dente, taking it off the heat about 1 to 2 minutes before you would normally remove it. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
Return the pasta to the pot, and set over low heat. Stir in the mascarpone sauce. Add the spinach and toss so that the spinach begins to wilt. Add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water (more if necessary) to keep the sauce fluid but not too watery. Continue to cook and toss until the spinach is cooked. Add the hazelnuts and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
Related: Seasonal Spotlight: Meyer Lemons
(Images: Faith Durand)