Fridge Raiding at Muriel's: Pasta with Lemon-Mascarpone Sauce

First things first.

Today, I saw a dog wearing a helmet. 
dog wearing helmet
Yes, it also had little doggie pilot goggles.
Don’t worry, it wasn't an epileptic helmet. This was actually a case of a canine motorcyclist.  

But back to yesterday's travels...

Arriving at Muriel’s (our first couchsurfing host), we first encountered her 13-year-old son and his friend. The friend, in perfect English, asked me if I spoke English? (yes) French? (no…) Spanish? (yes) Italian? (no…) He sighed, then walked away.

Had I just been curtly rejected by a 13-year-old?

Then the wonderful Muriel showed up and graciously pretended to ignore the fact that John and I smelled like trash. I made a mental note to remember to kiss both cheeks on greetings and farewells so as to avoid making my foreign interactions even more awkward. I then promptly forgot the mental note. We chatted, and then John & I banished ourselves to showers. Later, we somehow didn’t have to work hard to convince Muriel to let us raid her fridge and cook dinner for her and her sons. Working off whatever we could find, I’d say we pulled together a pretty tasty meal. Ahhh, the beauty of a lightly but efficiently stocked French kitchen!

Go ahead, imagine it: baby artichokes with a lemon-butter dipping sauce, a fresh salad with tomatoes, fresh chevre, and cucumber, julienned carrots with a disturbingly wonderful anchovy-garlic dipping sauce (made by Muriel), crusty dark country bread, and pappardelle with a mascarpone-zucchini-lemon sauce.
pasta with cream sauce recipe
Pasta with Lemon-Mascarpone Sauce
If you have mascarpone (or cream cheese), some pasta, lemon, and veggies, you can basically throw this together with whatever’s on hand. The lemon flavor is pretty clutch, and I would say that garlic and onion are essential, but I say that about most things...
pasta with mascarpone
1 lb pasta (a wider type like tagliatelle or pappardelle is best to hold the creamy mascarpone)
10-12oz mascarpone
3-4 medium zucchinis, sliced very thin with mandolin or by hand (really any vegetable will do. I would’ve liked to add a julienned red bell pepper or artichoke hearts as well)
10 oz sliced prosciutto di parma (or something similar—cooked pancetta or bacon, for example), coarsely chopped
1 large onion, julienned (we used yellow, but red would’ve been nice, too)
3-4 hefty cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs capers (optional)
1 tbs lemon zest
1 sprig rosemary, chopped
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp sage or savory
1 tsp red cayenne pepper or harissa
1/4 tsp nutmeg (a must-have for creamy sauce)
Salt & pepper to taste
EVOO, fresh lemon juice, and parmigiano-reggiano to taste

Saute onion over medium heat until soft & translucent, 10 mins. Add garlic and spices, 2 minutes. Add zucchini* and lemon zest.

Start well-salted water to boil for the pasta, and continue to sauté the veggies over medium-low heat until translucent.

Cook pasta until al-dente. Drain, reserving some of the water (we had leftover water from boiling the artichokes, so we used this instead for added flavor). Transfer pasta to serving bowl.

Immediately throw in mascarpone, capers (if using), and sautéed veggies, stirring to melt the mascarpone to a creamy consistency. Add reserved pasta water as-needed if it seems a bit dry and sticky, or throw in some milk or cream.

Most importantly, finish the dish, meaning add a few drizzles of EVOO, squeeze some lemon over the top (some zest wouldn’t hurt, either), and freshly grate some parmigiano-reggiano. Finishing, of course, is what brings all the flavors together and makes the dish pop. Then, set the dish on the table and actually finish it.

*I typically add my main veggies (not onion or garlic) in stages because I like varying levels of softness, i.e. some of the zucchini I didn’t add until I threw the pasta in the water.

I happily found that Muriel’s anchovy-garlic sauce was an amazingly good addition to the pasta. I tend to love briny flavors added to nearly any pasta sauce, so if you’re interested in making this, here’s a rough guide:

couchsurf marseille
La Muriel Fantastique
Anchovy-Garlic Sauce
This is a traditional dipping sauce found all over Europe. Ours was served with sliced carrots. Nonetheless, I ended up adding it to literally everything we ate that night (except for the, um, chocolate & biscoff cookies), and especially liked it with the pasta sauce.

Heat a small pan and then add a good dollop of EVOO. Very finely mince 2 medium cloves of garlic (here’s where a garlic press is very handy), and add once EVOO is heated. Sautee 1 min, then add about 3 salt-packed anchovies that have been rinsed of the brine and de-spined (they will break up naturally with heat). Add a couple more liberal dollops of EVOO. There should be enough oil that you can dip bread in it, but so that it’s thick enough for you to get the chunks of anchovy. Cook over low heat until all the flavors are emulsified and anchovies break up easily after prodding and stirring a bit. Voila!

As John and I had been becoming increasingly zombie-like since our arrival, we had some light conversation after dinner, descended to our room, and quickly passed out. Would you believe we had been tired if I told you we slept 12 hours? Well, I’m not going to tell you that because it would be embarrassing, but I’m not going to tell you otherwise, either...

This morning, after a wonderfully strong stove-top-brewed coffee, John and I packed up and Muriel kindly took us to the bus station where we caught a bus to another bus that took us toward our next couchsurfing host in Vienne. By the way, the Vienne hosts are AWESOME…but more on that in the next post…
couchsurf marseille
A couchsurfer's dream...


  1. I like the recipe portion. Have you done anything other than travel, stink, and steal people's rides/homes/food yet? Awesome job on the pictures. What about the vino? Don't the French drink a lot of that stuff or something?

  2. Wow, it looks like we have the exact same type of travel in mind--can't wait to see what happens!


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