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story.lead_photo.caption Lemon Mascarpone Pasta (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

I had a little mascarpone leftover from recent desserts (Limoncello Mascarpone Cream and Peach Tiramisu) that I didn't want to go to waste but also didn't want to use in yet another dessert.

Mascarpone is essentially Italian cream cheese, albeit richer, nuttier and butterier. In fact, it is buttery enough that you can sometimes use it in place of butter. That's because this specialty from Lombardy is, like butter, made with heavy cream.

And some of my favorite pasta sauces are simple mixtures of butter or cream and lemon, black pepper and/or parmesan, so a pasta dish seemed like a natural way to use up the bit of mascarpone I had.

After comparing several recipes online and in various cookbooks, I threw together this one, which is an amalgamation.

The resulting dish is light-tasting and fresh with a bright lemon flavor. The crunchy nuts are an unusual but delicious touch. Don't skip them.

It can easily be dressed up or down and altered with one or more of the following add-ins: green peas, diced cooked pancetta or bacon, sauteed mushrooms or grape/cherry tomatoes.

Lemon Mascarpone Pasta

Salt

8 ounces dried pasta, (I used cellentani)

½ cup mascarpone (about 4 ounces)

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Ground black pepper

Handful or two chopped hazelnuts, pistachios or walnuts

Handful or two chopped fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, chives and/or oregano

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add about a teaspoon of salt. When water returns to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Return pasta to pot; keep warm.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mascarpone, lemon zest and juice; season with salt and pepper to taste. Add to pasta, along with a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking water and stir well to make a sauce. If pasta seems a little dry, add more pasta water. Divide pasta among individual plates and top each with nuts and herbs and any other desired add-ins. Serve with parmesan.

Makes 2 servings.

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