Milk Street: The Secrets of Amalfi (Ep 507)
Spaghetti with Lemon Pesto
Start to finish: 25 minutes
This pasta dish is modeled on the spaghetti al pesto di limone that Giovanna Aceto made for us on her family’s farm in Amalfi, Italy. The lemons commonly available in the U.S. are more acidic than Amalfi’s lemons, so to make a lemon pesto that approximates the original, we use a little sugar to temper the flavor. For extra citrus complexity, we add lemon zest to the pasta cooking water; the oils from the zest lightly perfume the spaghetti, reinforcing the lemony notes of the pesto.
Don’t forget to remove the lemon zest from the boiling water before dropping in the pasta. If left in as the spaghetti cooks, the zest may turn the water bitter, and the strips are a nuisance to remove from the strands of cooked noodles.
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
11⁄2 teaspoons white sugar, divided
1 pound spaghetti
1⁄2 cup slivered almonds
1 ounce (without rind) Parmesan cheese, cut into rough 1-inch pieces, plus finely grated Parmesan to serve
1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Using a vegetable peeler (preferably a Y-style peeler), remove the zest from the lemons in long, wide strips; try to remove only the colored portion of the peel, not the bitter white pith just underneath. You should have about 2⁄3 cup zest strips.
In a large pot, combine 2 quarts water, 11⁄2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon of sugar and half of the zest strips. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, then remove and discard the zest. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Reserve 11⁄2 cups of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the remaining zest strips, the almonds, Parmesan, the remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon sugar and 1⁄4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Process until the mixture resembles coarse sand, 10 to 20 seconds. Add the oil and process just until the oil is incorporated (the mixture will not be smooth), about another 10 seconds; set aside until the pasta is ready.
To the spaghetti in the pot, add the pesto and 3⁄4 cup of the reserved pasta water, then toss to combine; add more reserved pasta water as needed so the pesto coats the noodles. Toss in the chives. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve drizzled with additional oil and with additional grated Parmesan on the side.
Lemon and Shrimp Risotto with Fresh Basil
Start to finish: 45 minutes
This is our version of the rich, intensely flavored risotto di limone that Giovanna
Aceto taught us to make in Amalfi, Italy. In an unusual twist, the risotto is finished with an egg yolk and a couple tablespoons of cream, giving the rice a lush, velvety taste and
texture. To create a flavorful broth for simmering the risotto, we steep the shrimp
shells and strips of lemon zest in water, and for citrus notes that register at every level,
we stir in bright, puckery lemon juice and floral, fragrant grated zest just before serving.
If you purchase shrimp that are already shelled, bottled clam juice is a fine substitute.
Bring two 8-ounce bottles clam juice, 3 cups water, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and the zest strips to a simmer in the saucepan and cook, covered, for 10 minutes to infuse, then strain as directed.
Don’t uncover the pot for at least 5 minutes after adding the shrimp. Lifting the lid
releases some of the residual heat that’s needed to cook the shrimp.
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more to serve
12 ounces extra-large (21/25 per pound) shrimp, peeled (shells reserved), deveined and patted dry
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup carnaroli or Arborio rice
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1⁄2 cup loosely packed fresh basil, roughly chopped
Using a vegetable peeler (preferably a Y-style peeler), remove the zest from 1 of the lemons in long, wide strips; try to remove only the colored portion of the peel, not the bitter white pith just underneath. Using a rasp-style grater, grate the zest from the remaining lemon; set aside separately. Halve the lemons and squeeze 1⁄4 cup juice; set the juice aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium, heat 2 teaspoons oil until shimmering. Add the shrimp shells and cook, stirring constantly, until pink, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 5 cups water, the zest strips and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, then bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce to low and cook for 10 minutes. Pour the broth through a strainer set over a medium bowl; rinse out the pan. Press on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible, then discard. Return the broth to the pan, cover and set over low to keep warm.
In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add the onion and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the grains are translucent at the edges, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pan is almost dry, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups of the hot broth and cook, stirring often and briskly, until a spoon drawn through the mixture leaves a trail, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add the remaining broth and cook, stirring, until the rice is tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the shrimp. Cover and let stand until the shrimp are opaque throughout, 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, the lemon juice, egg yolk, cream, basil, and the grated zest. The risotto should be loose but not soupy; if needed, stir in water 1 tablespoon at a time to achieve the proper consistency. Taste and season with salt. Serve drizzled with olive oil.
Amalfi-Style Lemon Cake
Start to finish: 1 hour (25 minutes active), plus cooling
Servings: 10 to 12
Giovanna Aceto, whose family owns a generations-old lemon farm on the Amalfi
Coast of Italy, showed us how to make torta al limone, a simple lemon cake popular
throughout the region. Naturally, Aceto used farm-grown lemons, a variety called sfusato
amalfitano that mature to the size of softballs; the fruits are wonderfully fragrant
and have a subtle sweetness. Lucky for us, in recipes such as torta al limone, regular
supermarket lemons work perfectly well, as their tartness can be offset by adding a little
more sugar. Lemon zest perfumes the cake, then a lemon syrup is poured on after baking
to keep the crumb moist and add a layer of tangy-sweet flavor. We use a Bundt pan as a
substitute for the conical fluted pan that Aceto uses for her torta. The fastest, simplest
way to prep the Bundt pan is with baking spray, which is similar to cooking spray, but
with added flour. Alternatively, mix 2 tablespoons melted butter and 11⁄2 tablespoons flour, then brush the mixture onto the pan, making sure to coat all the peaks and valleys.
Don’t forget to grate the zest before juicing the lemons; grating is much easier when the fruits are whole. Also, don’t allow the cake to cool for more than about 10 minutes before the first application of syrup. Absorption is better and more even when the crumb is warm. But after pouring on the second half of the syrup, don’t let the cake cool for longer than 30 minutes or it may be difficult to remove it from the pan.
428 grams (2 cups) white sugar, divided
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest, plus 3⁄4 cup lemon juice
260 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon table salt
198 grams (14 tablespoons) salted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
1⁄2 cup whole milk, room temperature
Heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Mist a 12- cup nonstick Bundt pan with baking spray. In a small saucepan, combine 214 grams (1 cup) of sugar and the lemon juice. Cook over medium-high, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, 4 to 5 minutes. Pour into a 2-cup glass measuring cup or small bowl; you should have about 11⁄4 cups syrup. Cool while you make and bake the cake.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining 214 grams (1 cup) sugar and the lemon zest on medium until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the bowl once or twice. Add the butter and beat on medium-high until the mixture is light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as needed, 3 to 5 minutes.
With the mixer running on low, add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Increase to medium and beat until well aerated, about 3 minutes. With the mixer running on low, add about one-third of the flour mixture followed by about half of the milk. Next, add about half of the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining milk and finally the remaining flour mixture. Mix on low until just combined, about 1 minute. Fold the batter a few times with the spatula to ensure no pockets of flour remain; the batter will be thick.
Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake about 2 inches from the edge comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Poke the cake with a toothpick every 1⁄2 inch or so, inserting the toothpick as deeply as possible into the cake. Slowly pour half of the syrup evenly over the cake, then let stand for about 5 minutes to allow the syrup to soak in.
Slowly pour the remaining syrup onto the cake, then cool for 30 minutes. If the cake looks stuck to the sides in any spots, including the center tube, carefully loosen those areas by inserting a thin-bladed knife between the cake and the pan. Invert the cake onto a platter, lift off the pan and cool to room temperature.
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PHOTO CREDITS: CONNIE MILLER OF CB CREATIVES