BEGGAR’S LINGUINE: Fruits, Nuts, Pasta and a Little History
Along with the pistachios, Beggar’s Linguine has almonds, raisins and dried figs, Parmesan and orange zest, too. And it has a background story. Mendiant, while it does mean ‘beggar’, is used more often these days in France to refer to a delicious chocolate candy, a disk of chocolate topped with dried fruit, nuts and sometimes candied orange peel. And while the combination of fruits and nuts no longer seems so sacred, it once was, truly, since the four fruits and nuts on a bonbon represented the four mendicant monastic orders: dried figs for the Franciscans, raisins for the Dominicans, hazelnuts for the Augustinians and almonds for the Carmelites.
I’ve seen and loved Mendiants with apricots, dried cherries and walnuts on top. And, for sure, you can use whatever fruits and nuts you’d like for this pasta.
What I think is important in this dish is the butter. While you could just melt it, toss in the fruits and nuts and call it quits – the dish is even more interesting when you lightly brown the butter. Browned butter takes on a nutty (almost hazelnutty) flavor and that extra bit of nuttiness is really nice here.
The other night when I made this dish, I didn’t have an orange at hand, but I did have a bowl of clementines, so I grabbed one and grated its zest over the dish before bringing it to the table. So nice. And just a little brighter than orange ordinaire, I think. In fact, I thought it was so nice that I brought the bowl of clementines to the table so that friends could grate more over their pasta.
Beggar’s Linguine would make a nice first course, but on a cold, snowy night, a small bowl of it seems like nothing but a tease.
Makes 6 to 8 starter servings or 4 main-course servings
1 box (14 to 16 ounces) linguine
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter
1/3 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
8 plump dried mission figs or 3 dried kadota figs, finely diced
1/4 cup plump, moist raisins (golden raisins are nice here)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (more or less to taste)
Grated zest of 1/2 orange (or more to taste)
Minced chives and/or parsley leaves, for serving (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the linguine according to the package directions. When the pasta is cooked, drain it well, but don’t rinse it.
About 5 minutes before the pasta is ready, melt the butter over medium heat in a large high-sided skillet or casserole. (You’re going to add the pasta to this pan, so make sure it’s large enough.) When the butter is melted, hot and golden, stir in the nuts, figs and raisins. Allow the butter to bubble and boil – you want it to cook to a lovely light brown, or to turn into pan beurre noisette, butter with the color and fragrance of hazelnuts – and when it’s reached just the color you want, add the pasta to the pan. Stir the pasta around in the butter to coat it evenly and to tangle it up with the bits of fruit and nuts.
Turn the pasta into a warm serving bowl, add the grated cheese and season with salt and a generous amount of black pepper. Toss and turn the pasta to incorporate the cheese, then dust the top of the mound with orange zest and chives and/or parsley, if you’re using them.
Serving: Bring the pasta to the table and, just before you’re ready to dish out the first serving, give it one more toss to mix in the zest and herbs. The pasta is so good – and so surprising – that it should be served on its own as its own course, whether first, middle (as the Italians would have it) or main.
Storing: This is not a dish that can be reheated and it’s not a pasta that can be served cold, so eat up!