Basil seems to be the king of herbs when it comes to pasta. To be sure, it forms a beautiful trifecta with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. It adds a slightly spicy herby quality to almost any dish that incorporates it. However--and this may be shocking--other herbs are available. When I find myself stuck in a basil rut, I reach for a bouquet of fresh mint. While mint is lovely in sweet applications, such as watermelon salad with feta cubes, it is not to be overlooked as a flavorful addition to savory dishes.
I've used it here with romanesco--the incredible, edible fractal--and lemon zest. The grassy, sweet flavor of brassica is buoyed by the sweetness of red onions sautéed in olive oil until golden, the bitter brightness of lemon zest, and the fresh bite of mint. A bit of Piave or Parmigiano-Reggiano adds depth and earthiness. You can finish the dish with a drop or two of balsamic vinegar, or chili pepper flakes.
Pasta with romanesco, mint, and lemon
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 small heads romanesco, or 1 medium head
12 oz/340g pasta, cooked and drained, 1 cup cooking water reserved
3.5oz/100g Piave or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1 ball mozzarella, ripped into bite-size pieces
zest of two small lemons
handful of fresh mint leaves, ripped
salt and pepper to taste
ground white pepper to taste (optional)
Aleppo chili pepper to taste (optional)
balsamic vinegar (optional)
- Rinse, core, chop, and steam the romanesco until it soften a bit, but is still firm. It should be in bite-size pieces. Drain the vegetables.
- Dry the pot you used to make the pasta, and place it on the stove on medium heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot, plus a little extra.
- When the oil is hot, add in the onion and sauté until golden brown.
- Season with cumin and add in the romanesco and pasta. Stir.
- Sprinkle the cheese over the pasta mixture and stir, adding a little reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce.
- Mix in the mozzarella and stir. Add more cooking water if mixture is too thick or sticky.
- Stir in the lemon zest and mint, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Don't skimp on the pepper.
- Optionally season with a little ground white pepper and Aleppo chili or other chili pepper.
- Remove from heat, plate, and optionally season with a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar.