Simple Pasta Supper for a Tired Cook

We were naughty yesterday.

Instead of staying home and doing the cleaning and organizing we had planned to do, we went out to the Mountain State Arts & Crafts Fair in Ripley, West Virginia, where we walked about in the very intense heat, drank lemonade, ate roasted corn, and shopped among some of our favorite artists.

We came home with a relatively small number of pretties, but several of them I have to show to you.

These three lovelies are mugs by our favorite potter, Bill Meadows, whose mugs we started collecting about three years ago. Now, every time we go to a craft show where he exhibits, we wind up bringing home an average of about three of his pieces. The photograph really doesn’t do justice to the variagation in the colors in his glaze, but you can see how fluid and organic the shapes he works with are.

The other pretty we brought home is a lazy-susan for our dining room table. It is all pieced out of different woods, with cedar, black walnut and oak predominating, and it looks really nice on our oak dining room table, as you can see. I can’t wait until a cat climbs up on it and falls asleep–we can sneak up and give the lazy susan a spin and watch the cat dive for cover. Perhaps that will keep them -off- of the table better than any of our other gambits so far.

But, after a day wandering in the heat and eating very little (but drinking very much–I remembered to drink water and lemonade in copious amounts to keep myself and little Kat hydrated), we came home, cooled off and finally got hungry.

Of course, by that time, I was really tired, so I really didn’t want to cook anything. But, it was too late to eat out–every place was closed. (The perils of living in a very small town are thus: if you want to eat late, you cook.)

Besides, we were hungry, but not super-hungry. Not enough to want to even think about eating any meat. But hungrier than just a salad would satisfy.

What to do?

Make a quick pasta dish, that’s what!

This recipe I found on the back cover of the July 2006 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine when it came in the mail, and it has been lodged in my memory since. I -knew- I would have to make it sometime when I was hungry, but not in the mood for anything heavy. With the huge bundle of Italian flat leaf parsley that came in the Athens Hills CSA box this time around, I had all of the ingredients on hand. (Speaking of ingredients, look at how yellow the butter is in that
picture–if I had any doubts about how the Hartzler Family Dairy feeds their cattle in the summer, they are wiped away now. Butter that yellow is the result of pasturing your dairy cattle in the summer–the brilliant color comes from the beta carotene in the grass.)

Of course, I messed with it a bit. I put a little less than half the butter suggested into the recipe, and it is a good thing, too. The sauce was still a bit on the greasy side for both Zak and I, though it had a phenominal flavor. I used more lemon zest and garlic than called for in the gremolata, and I added some sherry. Though, if I had some marsala, I would have used that to keep it all Italian, but one makes do with what one has.

And as for the gremolata–what is that? It is a simple mixture of fresh Italian parsley, raw garlic and lemon zest that is minced up and used as a garnish or relish. It is traditionally served with osso bucco, but it really boosts the flavor of this simple pasta sauce that is based in caramelized onions and some fresh chile and dried chile flakes.

Instead of regular old plain linguine, I used the locally produced Rossi Pasta saffron linguine which added color and a little fillip of flavor to the dish, resulting in a really fine late night supper that was simple to make and easy to eat. With some salad dressed with a lemony vinagrette on the side, it was truly a comforting meal–light, wholesome and yet very, very satisfying. I will definately be making it again.

Saffron Linguine With Caramelized Onions and Gremolata


1/2 cup roughly minced Italian parsley
1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh lemon zest
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I used Aleppo Pepper for its mild bite)
pinch kosher salt
1/3 cup sherry or marsala wine
1 fresh small green chile–serrano or whatever type you prefer–I used a Pakistani kind I bought at the farmer’s market last year and froze–unseeded and minced
a scant 4 tablespoons butter (barely 1/4 cup)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
12 ounces dried saffron linguine (Rossi is the best)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino-Romano


Put a heavy pot full of well-salted water on to boil.

Make gremolata: mix together the flat leaf parsley, the garlic and lemon zest until well combined. Set aside.

Heat olive oil on medium heat in a saute pan. Add onion, pepper flakes and pinch of salt, and saute until the onion is golden colored and wilting. Add sherry, allow alcohol to boil off and then reduce the resulting liquid until the pan is nearly dry and the onions are a deep, rich reddish brown and are beginning to break down.

Add fresh or frozen chile and saute one more minute. Take pan from heat and add butter in small pieces and swirl pan over heat while it melts to incorporate butter into onions.

Add lemon juice, stir well to combine and put burner down on granny low and keep sauce warm.

Cook the pasta according to directions–if you use Rossi Pasta, do not overcook–it cooks in about three minutes. Cook to al dente, drain, and put pasta pot back on heat. Boil off any remaning water, turn heat down to medium, add onion sauce and pasta to pot and combine, tossing with tongs. Add 2/3 of cheese and a tablespoon or two of gremolata and keep tossing over heat until pasta, sauce and cheese are all well combined.

Serve with remaining cheese and gremolata at the table for each person to sprinkle on their pasta to their taste.

I think this would be great with chicken marsala and some cooked greens–I will have to try that out and report back.


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  1. Divine!!! Sounds like a winner. Intrigued with the gremolata!
    Wow, I love the mugs!!!

    Comment by tanna — July 3, 2006 #

  2. Great simple meal, Barbara. I have an Italian background, and one of our favourite quick pasta dishes involves nothing more than olive oil, garlic and a bit of parsley. Sometimes simple is really the best!

    Comment by Stephanie — July 3, 2006 #

  3. Thanks for this inspiration for better pasta suppers. It hits all my comfort buttons while still being fun and (pretty) healthful!

    Comment by Alexis — July 5, 2006 #

  4. Gremolata is so easy and really adds a punch of flavor to a fairly simple pasta dish, Tanna. Have fun experimenting with it.

    Stephanie–you are right–sometimes, simplest is best.

    Alexis–After I knocked back the butter a bit, it became a significantly healthier dish. One could bump up the olive oil and knock the butter back further if one wanted to make it even healthier.

    Comment by Barbara — July 6, 2006 #

  5. Yes, I heeded your butter reduction suggestion and only used 2 tbsp…perfect for my palate! I think I burned the onions before they got propely caramelized though, so maybe I need more oil as well to start with.

    The smell of the sherry and onions recalled a dish my dad made when I was a kid (beef in thyme sauce). I never knew what its “special flavor” was until last night when I smelled that and realized it was the sherry!

    Like I said, thanks for such a great recipe!

    Comment by Alexis — July 6, 2006 #

  6. To caramelize the onions and still use less oil, Alexis–turn the heat down, and stir like mad. You don’t need lots of oil to do it–you just need to stay on top of your onions and watch your heat. That is all.

    Don’t feel bad–the first time I tried to fully caramelize onions, I burned them. We won’t even -discuss- what happened to the onions I was cooking to make proper Indian food–which is cooked darker than caramelized onions–to a deep, reddish brown. The first time I did that–well, let’s just say the house smelled not so good, and I had to start over!

    Sherry is very versatile in the kitchen–I am glad that the recipe brought back a childhood memory. (Isn’t it interesting how smells and flavors can do that to us?)

    Comment by Barbara — July 6, 2006 #

  7. Honey,I love your pottery, it is so pretty. I love the three jugs and the lazy susan. But, please. bitch leave those cats alone. They are bitches who need bitches. Ha Ha. So honey. leaves those cats alone. And by the way you all have fabulous taste. Love you bitches. xxx

    Comment by Jimmy — October 19, 2010 #

  8. Jimmy, your comment gave me a laugh today.

    The lazy susan gambit did not work to keep the felines off the table.

    In fact, one of them rather liked spinning around on it…so long as we went slowly.

    They are silly creatures…don’t know what I would do without them.

    Comment by Barbara — October 20, 2010 #

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