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Today: A no-cook, company-worthy sauce that fits right into our laziest pasta-dressing habits.
Boiling pasta is what we do when we don't know what to do -- it's in our muscle memory as cooks. But most of our go-to dressy pastas still demand attention.
Carbonara expects us to maneuver eggs. Linguine con vongole: to dance with clams. Cacio e pepe: to swirl a molten sauce out of butter and dry cheese. And none of them, once maneuvered, is terribly willing to sit around and wait for dinner.
So aren't you pleased that this is a pasta that doesn't expect hand-eye coordination or time management? It's just as happy being served hot, warm, even cold. And all you have to do -- other than boiling pasta (you've got this) -- is put items in a bowl and stir.
In other words, it's what you serve when you want to throw a dinner party and come across as blithely, gloriously relaxed as Nigella Lawson always does. She says this is one of her proudest creations.
But it's also a pasta that you can happily cook alone, and eat alone until you can't eat any more. Then pack up whatever's left -- for lunch, or tomorrow's dinner, or Saturday's picnic, or a cold midnight snack.
This is how it will go -- you'll be eating linguine in 20:
Put a pot of water on to boil. Throw in a fistful of salt. Find a large, handsome serving bowl and start piling stuff in.
Slice mushrooms thinly. Pull thyme from its sprigs. (Nigella would like them to be "gorgeously scented" -- see what you can do about that.) Zest and juice a lemon. Mince a clove of garlic into tiny bits. Put it all in the bowl, and stir it together with salt and olive oil.
Look askance at the stiff, pale mushroom slices floating in gorgeously scented dressing and press on. Your water is boiling now. Drop your linguine in, grate Parmesan, chop parsley.
By the time you turn back to the mushrooms, the salt has pulled out their bloat and they've drunk up the dressing. They've, essentially, cooked. They just don't know it.
Most pasta recipes would have you reserve a cup of pasta water for some oft-unannounced purpose, but Nigella gets right to it -- she has you drain the pasta only loosely, hanging onto whatever salty, thick water clings to the noodles.
Swish the noodles through your steeped mushroom concoction, add the parsley and cheese, and -- whenever you're ready -- start eating.
Adapted from Nigella Express (Hyperion, 2007)
Serves 4 to 6
4 cups (8 ounces) finely sliced cremini or button mushrooms
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Maldon or kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 sprigs fresh thyme stripped to give 1 teaspoon leaves
1 pound linguine or other pasta shape
1 bunch fresh parsley, leaves chopped, to give 1/2 cup
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Photos by James Ransom
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Food52er Hippy in the Kitchen for this one!