The Lemon Pasta That Made Me Feel Cared for as a New Mom

Illustration by Dror Cohen

In The Fourth Trimester, we ask parents: What meal nourished you after welcoming your baby? This month, it’s a slurpable lemon pasta from San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic MacKenzie Chung Fegan.

Not to get all deep on this website devoted to cooking, but birth is a lot like death. They’re the twins bookending the human condition, transitional processes that are messy and inescapable and, at least in the US, expensive. Also, newborns look like old people.

Another commonality: It can be challenging to know how to support someone who is grieving a death or celebrating a birth unless you yourself have experienced it. When my father died, I realized that, despite my good intentions, I had certainly been all thumbs in the past. I earnestly whispered “How are you?” and “Let me know what I can do” to bereaved friends, instead of just showing up and sharing stories while cleaning the bathroom.

I fielded a lot of “How are yous” when I became a parent. I gave birth to my first child last August, and to all my friends without kids who came over to meet him, bringing sweet gifts, smelling his objectively delicious head, and lying about his baby acne not being “that bad,” I am incredibly grateful. Anyone would be lucky to be born into such a doting community of aunties and uncles.

But my friends who do have children? None of them met my baby for months. Instead they dropped off hearty soups and lactation cookies after he was asleep—no need to schedule, obviously we were home—or they left the magic swaddles we didn’t know we needed on our doorstep while we were napping. My friends who hadn’t been through childbirth took care of the baby. My friends who had took care of me.

There were exceptions to this rule—friends without kids who are instinctive caregivers in addition to being excellent cooks. Jessie arrived the night we came home from the hospital with quart containers full of nourishing zuo yue zi foods like salmon congee and purple sticky rice with black sesame and coconut cream. Peter showed up a few days later with enough Burmese chicken noodle soup to keep us fortified for days. There was no hosting. Jessie popped their head into the bedroom to say hi and snap a pic of the sleeping baby before letting themselves out. Peter I did not even see.

And then there was Jess. Every week, she would come over around six and quietly slip into the house using the key in the lockbox. If the timing was right, I would pad downstairs with the kid to say hello, but seeing my son wasn’t the point of her visits. While my spouse Mars and I put the baby to bed, Jess would ensconce herself in the kitchen and make dinner, using ingredients we had on hand supplemented by one or two things she had brought. One night it was Priya Krishna’s saag paneer. Another, a Southeast Asian inflected ground beef stir-fry from Carla Lalli Music. And on an evening when we were especially in need of creamy comfort, linguine with Meyer lemon from the Franny’s cookbook.

Early in our friendship, Jess was a host and then a server at Franny’s, the beloved Italian institution that lured Manhattanites over the bridge, back when Brooklyn was an outer borough and not a center of gravity in its own right. The Neapolitan pizzas were the main draw, but regulars knew to keep an eye out for the farm-to-table specials. Think puntarelle salads, fried squash blossoms, and especially Meyer lemon pasta, which had a following so rabid that the head chef was required to notify its fans whenever it reappeared on the menu.

While Bon Appétit’s perennially popular in-house recipe for pasta al limone relies on heavy cream for its body, Franny’s Meyer lemon version takes a different path. Like carbonara or cacio e pepe or classic Alfredo, the creaminess of the sauce comes from the emulsification of starchy pasta water and butter, beefed up with grated aged cheese. With no actual cream to coat the tongue, the delicately floral brightness of Meyer lemon announces itself with each slurp of long noodle.

The baby finally asleep, Mars and I would stumble into the dining room to find the table set for three, candles lit, wine poured. Jess would bring us news of the outside world while piling ribbons of pasta on our plate, topped with flurries of parm. And when we’d eaten our fill and our blinks grew longer, she would send us to bed, clean up the kitchen, and deposit the key back in the lockbox.

My kid is just starting on solids (his favorite food so far? Priya’s saag), and maybe next winter his Uncle Jess will make him Meyer lemon pasta. I imagine he’ll love it. Who can resist mellow lemon and salty cheese, each noodle so tender and full of care?

Linguine With Meyer Lemon

Andrew Feinberg
Francine Stephens
Melissa Clark

Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian

Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit

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