January 10, 2006 1:50 AM | By Adam Roberts | 12 Comments

A Eureka Pasta Moment with Butter, Parmesan and Nutmeg

In the course of working on my book proposal, I had the privilege of interviewing a food celebrity who told me to stock my pantry with Parmesan and nutmeg (among other things). Around this time I began cooking a pantry staple: pasta with butter, parmesan and nutmeg. The thing that makes this dish wonderful is that once you buy the basic ingredients---dried pasta, butter, a big block of Parmesan (my favorite comes from Citarella) and whole nutmeg---you can make it over and over again, any night of the week. And this I have done since I spoke to the food celebrity. In fact, I'd say I've made this at least once a week every week since October. It's like a mature version of macaroni and cheese and it's really comforting as the months get colder and colder.

My process has always been very basic. I bring a large pot of water to boil and then add a bunch of kosher salt. I put in half a box of pasta and let it cook for the appropriate time, making sure the pasta's just cooked through so it's still al dente. I drain it in the sink and then melt 3 or 4 Tbs of unsalted butter in the pot. Here's where things get interesting...

Up until this point, I've always done it the same way. I add the pasta back to the butter, grate nutmeg on top and grate Parmesan on top and then stir it all through. All this happens over heat and when it comes off it's a buttery, gloppy, flavorful sinful mess.

Then Lidia Bastianich entered the picture. Watching her show, I noticed that she uses pasta water to make sauces stick. Then I read her book and she has a recipe for pasta with parmesan and butter where after you melt the butter you add pasta water and let it reduce. Which leads directly to our eureka moment.

Last night, upon my return from Florida, I made the best bowl of pasta with butter, parmesan and nutmeg I've ever had. Keep in mind I've probably made 50 bowls of this. But this was the best. Here's what you do:

- You've boiled your pasta as suggested above.
- While the pasta's cooking, grate 1 cup of parmesan into a bowl. The reason you do this is because if you do it right over the pasta like I'd been doing, you'll never add enough Parmesan. Because the energy it takes to grate 1 cup on a microplane grater is more than you're willing to do when you're eyeballing it, it's worth to do in a separate process.
- Now this is key. Take out a mug or a small glass. When draining the pasta, fill the mug or small glass with some of the pasta water and then drain the rest.
- Melt 3 Tbs of butter in the pasta pot. (This works with half a box of pasta.) Once melted, add about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup (depending on how you feel) of the pasta water. It will sizzle. Let reduce for a few seconds and grate fresh nutmeg over it. Now add the pasta, toss around, and add the cup of Parmesan. Stir and serve.

This will yield the happiest bowl of pasta you've had in a long while. It's the perfect thing to make for yourself on a cold winter's night. And as you continue to make it, you'll adjust it to your preferences. I like a lot of nutmeg, maybe you won't. But one thing's for sure. If we keep eating this at least once a week, we'll all be dead by the time we're 60. See you in the after world!


Tried this today, inspired by this post (despite having soup lurking in the fridge) - was really good!
Thanks for the tips - sometimes something that seems simple is much more complicated than you think.

The fresh nutmeg is also wonderful. Thanks for describing this simple but delicious dish. I rarely eat pasta anymore but when I do, I thoroughly enjoy it and this is the kind of recipe I love.

what does it look like? when you get a chance, please provide picture of gooey, cheesy, heart clogging goodness so that i can salivate over my keyboard

Lidia is the best! Had the wonderful opportunity to meet her at a book signing in Beverly Hills. She is just as warm and friendly in person as she is on PBS. Just finish the pasta with a good glass of wine!

I love Lidia...she's one of my faves. I watch her on PBS any chance I get. Adding pasta water to sauces is one of the best tips I got from her...and turning "the heat" (as she calls it) off before you add the cheese. I like your nutmeg idea...I'll have to give that a try.

I made this sauce last night. Delicious! I needed to eat some vegetables, so I added some chopped carrots, frozen broccoli cuts and frozen peas to the pasta water about 2-3 minutes before the pasta was done. It made a tasty primavera.

I made this sauce last night. Delicious! I needed to eat some vegetables, so I added some chopped carrots, frozen broccoli cuts and frozen peas to the pasta water about 2-3 minutes before the pasta was done. It made a tasty primavera.

Ciao from Florence.. Italy not Florida!
I use this trick all the time, but prefer Fresh grated black pepper.

I save the nutmeg for my Bechamel sauce.

The pasta water is the trick for all!

Try it for your carbonara sauce too, beat the eggs ( I use only yolks) with the hot water, pinch of salt, black pepper, then stir in the grated parmesan.

Chop and saute until crispy your pancetta, drain off the extra fat.

Drain your pasta and put back in the pan, off the heat, stir in the pancetta pieces and then your parmesan/egg mixture and stir to blend well.

Pure heaven! A great Bacon and egg pasta!

Thanks Adam, it was a great dinner last evening. My husband was out and wouldn't be needing dinner, so I was excited to make something MEATLESS just for me, and your pasta post was right here! Love the pasta water trick.

Mmmmm. . . just made this tonight, added some frozen peas to the pasta water, and it was perrrrfect. Great tip, thank you.

i eat this every day

I like the recipe but I feel obliged to add a grated piece of un-cooked garlic and some grated lemon rind.Probably killing the nutmeg flavor though.

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