Lemon, olive oil and garlic are the foundation of so many pantry meals, a harmonious trio I use to flavor pretty much everything — fish, chicken, vegetables, grains — stopping only at dessert because, well, garlic. Often spiked with chile flakes and Parmesan, the combination makes any dish taste deep and complex, without your having to do much to get there. It’s a no-brainer, easy alchemy that never fails.
Yet, as rock-solid as this grouping may be, there are times when a person gets the itch to shake things up. This is especially true in early January, when new ideas hold the promise of bold tomorrows, and dependable old habits suddenly need a refresh.
And so recently, while cooking up one of my go-to pastas, I reached right past my trusty bottle of extra-virgin and grabbed some butter from the fridge instead. I heated it in a skillet until it melted and browned, filling the kitchen with a sweet, nutty scent.
Then, in place of sizzling thin slivers of garlic in the fat as is my wont, I threw in sliced almonds, which resemble garlic but taste mellow, not pungent. I let them toast and turn golden, so they could accentuate the flavors of the brown butter and add crunch.
As for the lemon — the only part of the original trinity I kept — I stirred in both juice and zest. And then I zipped it all up with a shower of chile flakes and Parmesan.
Finally, to turn this into a one-pot meal, I threw in handfuls of arugula, watching it melt on the hot linguine, turning silky but keeping its peppery kick.
The final pasta tasted nothing like its olive oily, garlicky predecessor, but was bright and tangy, warm and buttery in its own delicious way — a brand-new take on a dish with venerable old roots.
Typically for this type of minimalist recipe, I’d urge you to seek out the very best ingredients: the finest Parmigiano-Reggiano, small-batch pasta extruded through some sort of heirloom bronze die, fancy high-fat cultured butter and the like.
But after testing this multiple times with a wide spectrum of ingredients, I can vouch that the batches made with supermarket staples were nearly as good as the ones made from more expensive products. So use whatever you have. Your dinner will be delightful — which, after all, is what a pantry meal is all about.