Sometimes, it just has to be pasta! As we all know, pasta is utterly versatile – it can be used in the creation of very complex dishes that draw on an endless list of, sometimes exotic, ingredients, or it can be tossed with just one or two on-hand items to provide a satisfying meal.
Here is a dish that sits somewhere in between: While it is utterly simple and quick to make, it does require a specialty item that may or may not be easy to find where you are: Green Peppercorns in brine. I find that even the smallest grocery stores in Europe carry this item, but that US grocery stores generally don't. Thus, this ingredient is best sourced online or, if you happen to live in a larger urban area, might be found at a specialty store or large-scale international market.
Now, you might be tempted to just dismiss the call for green peppercorns and try to substitute black or white or pink ones. You will, unfortunately, not be successful in your endeavor since green peppercorns possess certain qualities that cannot be found in other peppercorns. Let me explain:
Black peppercorns can be found just about anywhere and are a staple (either whole or ground) in every kitchen. Black peppercorns started out as green peppercorns but were then cooked and dried. They are sharp in taste and are hard as nails.
White peppercorns are black peppercorns that have the black skin removed. They are less pungent but are also hard as nails.
Pink peppercorns are actually not peppercorns at all. They are berries of the Brazilian pepper tree. They have a very light pepper taste and are, wouldn't you know it, hard as nails.
Green peppercorns are really just unripe peppercorns that are generally preserved in brine since they will, otherwise, simply rot. They have a much fresher taste than black peppercorns and are also fairly soft!
As you can already tell – being soft is a main requirement here. After all, we don't want your daughter-dearest or son-dearest to lose one of those precious teeth! Nor do we want anyone else in the family to lose one, either!
The ingredient list for this dish is rather short:
½ lb. Spaghetti
2 tsp. Green Peppercorns
¾ cup Cream
Pinch of Sugar
Let's get started:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
While the water is heating up, wash the lemons under hot water.
With a zester or peeler, remove the skin from both lemons.
Cut thicker strips of lemon peel so that they are rather thin.
Cut one lemon in half and express the juice from one half.
You do not need the rest of the lemons and can use them for other purposes – I tend to make a quick glass of lemonade out of them (use the remaining juice, add water and sugar to taste). You can also put the juice into a ice cube tray and freeze it so you can use it for future recipes.
Trim the top and bottom of the leek.
Lay the leek onto a cutting board and slice it in half – lengthwise.
While fanning out the layers of the leek, rinse the dirt off under running water.
Cut each of the leek half in half – crosswise. You should now have two bottom sections and two top sections.
Take each section and cut them lengthwise into very thin strips, akin to Spaghetti.
By now, your water should be boiling.
Add the Spaghetti and cook until al-dente (Or to your liking. I prefer my pasta to cook for 12 minutes, but preferences, clearly vary!). Stir occasionally so the Spaghetti don't stick to each other.
About four minutes before the Spaghetti are done, carefully add the thin leek strips.
Drain the green peppercorns and coarsely chop them with a kitchen knife.
Heat a small pan over medium heat.
Add the cream and lemon strips.
Add the chopped green peppercorns and a pinch of sugar.
Bring to a simmer.
Taste for salt and adjust both, salt and sugar, according to your preferences.
When the Spaghetti are done, drain them along with the leek strips.
Pour the lemon-peppercorn cream over the drained pasta and leek strips.