I try not to, but I often take lemons for granted. I'll buy a few more than I need for a recipe, drop the extras into a refrigerator drawer and forget them for weeks. Then one day, I'll be scrounging around trying to put a meal together with what seems like nothing, and I'll reach for one. A squeeze into a pot of just-cooked beans simultaneously lifts the flavors and pulls them together; a grating of the zest into a salad dressing takes it from dull to bright in an instant.
Every time, I think to myself, "Why don't I use lemons every day?"
Especially since I appreciate their power year-round: In the colder months, I love how they can counteract the deep, sometimes-muddy flavors of stews and soups and other long-cooked dishes. Now that the weather has warmed up, I like to move the sunny tartness of lemon (or other acidic ingredients) to the forefront of a dish's flavor profile.
Call something lemony, and I'm usually on board. That's why I gravitated to a green bean pasta salad recipe in Rebecca Lang's "The Southern Vegetable Book" (Oxmoor House, 2016). Well, that and the fact that she includes some of my other favorite flavor-packed ingredients in the mix, too: pistachios, vinegar, shallots, garlic. It's a quick dish with some nifty strategies: You cut the green beans in half lengthwise, which makes them that much faster to cook and more pleasant to eat, and you cook them in the same water with the pasta, throwing them in during the last few minutes.
But it's Lang's way with zest that really sold me on the dish: You grate a good amount off a lemon, almost 2 tablespoons, toss some of it with the drained pasta and green beans, and use the rest in a pistachio-shallot dressing. That flavor doesn't just come through; it shines. And it reminds me that I never need an excuse to reach for a lemon.
Lemony Green Bean Pasta Salad
MAKE AHEAD: The cooked pasta and green beans can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.Adapted from "The Southern Vegetable Book," by Rebecca Lang (Oxmoor House, 2016).
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
12 ounces dried penne, casarecce or other tubular pasta8 ounces green beans (preferably thin haricots verts), trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves5 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
1/4 cup finely chopped roasted salted pistachios, plus whole roasted, salted pistachios, for garnish
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (may substitute sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot (from 1 small lobe)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups loosely packed arugula
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shavings, for garnish (optional)
Bring a pot of generously salted water to boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, adding the green beans to the water during the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking time (2 minutes if the beans are thin and 3 minutes if they are thicker). Drain the pasta and beans, then rinse under cool running water. Drain again, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Add the thyme and 3 teaspoons of the lemon zest to the bowl; toss gently to incorporate.
Whisk together the chopped pistachios, vinegar, shallot, garlic, the remaining 2 teaspoons of lemon zest, the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper in a medium bowl. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until blended. Taste, and add more salt and pepper as needed. Drizzle over the pasta mixture. Add the arugula, and toss gently to coat.
To serve, transfer to a platter or divide among individual plates, garnish with the whole pistachios and the cheese, if using, and serve.
Per serving: 360 calories, 9 g protein, 48 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar