Lemon noodles to eat in a flood

The floodwaters are rising, the dogs are howling, the power might go out at any time, and you don't want to eat like a barbarian? This 15-minute dish is delicious, easy, and civilized.

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NATCHITOCHES, La., March 13, 2016 — Torrential rains hit Western and Northern Louisiana on Tuesday. By Wednesday, rains totaling over 20 inches in some areas produced extensive floods in an area stretching from Alexandria in the West-central part of the state, to Monroe in the Northeast.

As the flood waters rise, you don’t have time to waste cooking dinner, and I realized my heart wasn’t in it anyway. You’ve got sandbags to fill and animals to take care of, with one eye on the news to see if you need to evacuate.

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And your power is about to go off.

But you still have to eat, and even in a flood, we aren’t barbarians. That’s what I told my kids as the floodwaters rose. As I watched the boathouse disappear into the lake and the only road out vanish beneath the waves (so much for evacuating, but our house is above the flood plane, so by staying we only endangered our comfort, not our lives).

Being flooded isn't a reason to eat badly. / Image: James Picht
Being flooded isn’t a reason to eat badly. / Image: James Picht

I resolved that we wouldn’t be reduced to brownbagging it in our own home.

Lemon noodles in a flood

Total time from “I’m hungry” to “dinner’s ready”: 15 minutes.


1 12-oz. package of pasta or noodles (we used bowtie pasta)

½ bunch asparagus, washed, trimmed, and cut into one-inch pieces

¼ to 1/3 cup lemon juice (I used Meyer lemons, which are mild, so opted for 1/3 cup)

strips of lemon zest (no white pith!) from your juiced lemons

½ to 1 cup chopped—1-inch pieces—prosciutto (I really don’t know how much I used, I just chopped it and piled it on my cutting board)

three or four cloves garlic (or six or seven or eight)

1 tbsp. butter

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. (Okay, the lake is rising, we can be a little barbaric here; use pre-ground black pepper from a bottle if you must.)

Half a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese (yes, the bagged stuff works just fine), or more if you like.

To cook:

Put a large pot of water over high heat to boil.

Clean and slice the asparagus and prosciutto and set aside.

Remove strips of zest and then juice your lemon(s).

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, and while it’s melting,

Peel and crush your garlic, then toss it into the hot butter.

By now your water should be boiling. Toss in the pasta and set the timer for 6-7 minutes. You want the pasta cooked, but firm, not soft.

While the pasta is cooking, go back to the garlic. Let it brown slightly, then add the lemon zest, pepper and cream. Stir and let it come to a simmer or gentle boil—two or three minutes—then remove it from the heat.

When your pasta is cooked, drain it, return it to the pot, and put it back over the heat, now reduced to medium. Add the cream and stir briefly, then stir in the prosciutto and asparagus, and then the lemon juice. Don’t add the lemon juice and cream at the same time or the cream will curdle. Stir the pasta gently until the liquid is mostly absorbed, then remove from heat. Stir in the grated parmesan, or serve it on the side.

It took just 15 minutes to get this on the table from the minute I decided to make it. I dirtied one pot, one saucepan and some utensils, leaving us with very little cleanup and time to evacuate, if we had to. This served four as a main course with bread and a sliced-tomato salad. It would go nicely with roast chicken as a side, and serve more. If you don’t have asparagus, you can use snow peas, steamed broccoli or chopped spinach; if you don’t have prosciutto, you can use medium, peeled shrimp. If the shrimp are larger than small-medium, you’ll need to add them to the pasta while it’s still cooking.

Because prosciutto is salty and because the dish is nicely acid, I didn’t add salt, but if you don’t add prosciutto, a little salt wouldn’t hurt.

If you want to simplify the dish, leave out the garlic, asparagus and prosciutto. It will still be good. Or add what you like. In Italy, cooks often whisk a raw egg into the hot cream just before adding it to the noodles. Making pasta with a sauce is more like making a salad than baking a cake.

Proportions aren’t critical, and it’s easy to add new ingredients to make the dish your own. When you’re surrounded by floodwaters is a good time to improvise.

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James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.