This pasta is inspired by Jen’s garden in late spring and early summer. She loves to grow edible flowers, tons of herbs, and leafy greens and uses them daily in the kitchen during that time of the year. Orach is one of her favorite leaves to eat, and since it is hard to find in stores, she always grows it so she has some on hand. It is a tall, handsome plant with triangular leaves ranging in color from light green to deep purple. It has a briny, delicate flavor and is a nutrient powerhouse—full of calcium, minerals, and anthocyanins. Nasturtium grows rampant in Northern California and has a lovely, peppery, delicately bitter flavor. The preserved lemons for this recipe can be purchased at grocery stores that sell foods from North Africa, where they are a staple. They are also easy to prepare at home and make a piquant garnish for salads, grain bowls, and pasta and seafood dishes. Use Eureka lemons or another sour, thick-skinned variety; sweeter, thinner-skinned Meyer lemons are not ideal for preserving.
Try this recipe with Robertson’s sourdough rye orecchiette.
- To make the preserved lemons: Cut each lemon lengthwise into quarters. Pack one layer of lemon quarters onto the bottom of a 1-qt canning or other glass jar. Sprinkle generously with some of the salt and press down on the fruit to compact it. Pack another layer of lemon quarters on top of the first one. Salt this layer and again press down. Repeat the layering process until all of the lemon quarters are in the jar, are well salted, and are packed very tightly. Cover the jar with its lid and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes. During this time, the salt will draw out juice from the lemons and there will be enough juice in the jar to cover the fruit completely. Every so often, invert the jar and gently shake it to dissolve all the salt.
- Place the jar in a cool, dark place until the lemons become soft and translucent, about 3 weeks. They are then ready to use. The lemons will keep in the jar in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
- When ready to use preserved lemon in a recipe, remove a lemon piece from the jar and mince or very thinly slice it. (Some people prefer to rinse the lemon before cutting it, but I really like the saltiness and flavor in all its intensity.)
- Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set it near the stove. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. It should taste briny like the sea. Add the broccoli rabe to the boiling water and cook until bright green, about 30 seconds. Using tongs, transfer the broccoli rabe to the ice water to halt the cooking. Keep the pot of boiling water on the stove top. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, warm the oil. Thinly slice one or two quarters of preserved lemon.
- Add the lemon, nasturtium leaves, nasturtium flowers, and orach and cook, stirring, until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Drain the broccoli rabe, stir it into the nasturtium and orach, and remove the pan from the heat.
- Bring the cooking water to a rapid boil again. Add the orecchiette, give them a good stir, and cook until tender but not at all mushy, 3 to 5 minutes. Test for doneness by removing one from the water, letting it cool for a moment, and then biting into it. It should be yielding but firm. Drain the pasta.
- Return the skillet to medium heat and stir in the orecchiette. Garnish with the cheese and serve immediately straight from the skillet.