I almost wanted this recipe to fail. It pretty much spits in the face of years of complicated cream sauce creations.
You see, to make a proper cream sauce for pasta you have to whisk together butter and flour, forming a roux. Then you have to continue whisking in liquid until it reaches the perfect consistency and temperature. Then you have to sacrifice a small animal and pray to the pasta gods that your sauce is neither too thin nor too thick.
Or you could just stir some mascarpone cheese in with your spaghetti and eat it. Take that pasta gods!
1) Toast hazelnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
2) Cook pasta in salted water until done (about 1 tablespoon kosher salt per gallon).
3) Meanwhile wash spinach well.
4) Stir together mascarpone, lemon juice, salt, and nutmeg.
5) When pasta is done, reserve about 1 1/2 cups of the pasta water.
6) Drain pasta and then add pasta back to pan. Pour over mascarpone sauce as well as about 1/2 cup of pasta water. Stir pasta over low heat.
7) Stir in spinach and continue stirring until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes.
8) Sauce should thicken as it cooks, if it is too thick than add more pasta water by the tablespoon.
9) Serve pasta immediately garnished with toasted nuts.
Recipe slightly adapted from a Kitchn recipe.
This Recipe is Nuts
I think one of the most important steps for this recipe is the topping for the pasta: toasted hazelnuts. It gives the pasta some great texture and complexity so leave them out at your own peril.
Toast the nuts before you even start thinking about the pasta though because the rest of the dish cooks very quickly.
Just roughly chop them and toast them in a dry skillet until they are fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.
Again, because this recipe takes no time, prep all your other ingredients as well.
That includes washing your spinach really well. I use a salad spinner to make sure mine is nice and clean. I used a full bunch of adult spinach, but you could use baby spinach if you wanted.
As far as the pasta sauce goes, it doesn’t get much easier. Just stir together the lemon juice with the mascarpone cheese, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt.
The original recipe used a Meyer lemon for this which I think would be best, but I couldn’t find one so I just used a normal lemon… still delicious.
The Pasta and Water
I would just use plain old spaghetti for this recipe. No reason to get fancy!
Cook your pasta in salted water (about 1 tablespoon kosher salt per gallon of water) until it’s al dente. Then comes the most important part of this recipe: Save some of the pasta water before you drain the pasta!
I just scoop out a few cups of the water when the pasta is almost done. You won’t need more than a cup probably but it’s easiest to just scoop out a bunch.
The pasta water is important because it’s salty and starchy so it will make your sauce really smooth and also give it some seasoning.
Then just drain your pasta and then pour it back into the same pot that you cooked it in. Then pour in your mascarpone mixture and about 1/2 cup of pasta water. Stir this all together. It might look a bit watery at first, but it’ll thicken up so don’t worry about it.
Then just pour all of your spinach into the pot. Keep the pot over low heat and the spinach will quickly wilt and fold into the pasta. The sauce will also continue to thicken as you stir it together.
After a minute or two, you’ll have a lovely pasta!
Serve this up as soon as possible garnished with a big handful of toasted hazelnuts.
Honestly, if I ate this without seeing it made, I would think that someone worked way harder on the sauce. It’s the perfect amount of creaminess and the lemon balances the flavors perfectly.
It’s possible that it’s cheating, but I’m not above it.