I am usually no fan of Microplane (specifically Microplane rasp-ed) parmesan. I find it fluffy and weightless. I prefer my parmesan with more bite, gravitas. But here, it’s the very best way to go, rendering parmesan so fine that merely a whisk will turn it into a sauce. Plus, you’ll already be using it for the lemon zest, right? If you don’t have one, use the tiniest holes on a box grater. You can also use the food processor method we do in the cacio e pepe, blending it to a as-smooth-as-possible paste in the machine before returning it to the bowl where the pasta will go.
If you can find an unsprayed/unwaxed lemon, it’s all the better here. If you can’t, give your lemon a light scrub (not removing zest, of course) and dry it thoroughly before zesting it here.
- Coarse salt
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces or 225 grams) dried spaghetti
- 1 lemon
- 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) parmesan cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) olive oil
- Fresh basil leaves, torn
Boil the spaghetti in well-salted water according to package directions. While it boils, finely grate (with a rasp-style grater; here’s the most common one but I prefer this size) the zest of half your lemon into the large bowl you’ll use to serve your dish. Add the juice of the whole lemon (about 4 tablespoons). Use the same rasp to grate the parmesan on top. Add olive oil, about 1/2 teaspoon salt (and more to taste), and several grinds of black pepper and combine them with a whisk until very well mixed and as smooth as possible. When the pasta reaches the ideal texture, scoop out 1 cup of cooking water, set it aside, and drain the rest. Quickly turn piping hot spaghetti to lemon-parmesan mixture in bowl and use tongs or spoons to toss it until all of the strands are coated. Don’t worry if the mixture seems too thick or sticky — first get the strands as evenly coated as possible. Add reserved pasta water, a tiny splash (about 1 to 2 tablespoons) at a time, tossing the whole time, only until the spaghetti looks glossy and lightly sauced, but no so much that you “wash” the sauce off the pasta. You might only need a single splash to achieve this. Add basil leaves and toss to combine, then serve. If you finish each serving with a little extra olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan, you’ll be glad you did.
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