The Easiest Pasta Dinner in the World

There are certain readers of my blog–and I know they exist, I’ve met them in real life–who see the food I make as aspirational. Instead of thinking, “Oooh, that’s easy, I can make that” (as many of you think when you read my posts), they think, “Oooh, that looks tasty, I wonder if someone will make that for me?”

To those readers, then, who think these recipes are outside of your reach (and, again, I acknowledge that I’m not describing most of you) I have a recipe for you. It’s Penne with Brown Butter, Nutmeg and Parmesan and I used to write about it all the time on the blog when I was a bachelor; it’s a dinner you can whip up easily for yourself after coming home from work. All you need is a pot, a pan, a box of penne, a stick (or less) of butter, whole nutmeg (so much better than the pre-ground stuff), a hunk of Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. This is comfort food with a sophisticated flair.

Here’s how you make it….

Penne with Brown Butter, Nutmeg and Parmesan


1 pound penne pasta (preferably with ridges)

6 to 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (in stick form; use at least 6 tablespoons for one pound of pasta)

3 sage leaves, chiffonaded [optional!] (I only added this because I had them on hand and, frankly, you don’t need them)

Lots of freshly ground nutmeg (you can find whole nutmeg at Whole Foods or other high-end grocery stores) (at least 1 teaspoon)

Lots of freshly ground pepper (about 1 teaspoon)

Lots and lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (don’t buy pre-grated stuff, it won’t be worth it!) I’d say 1/2 to 1 cup’s worth

Now here’s what you do….

1. Bring a big pot of water to a RAPID boil (this happens faster if you cover it while you’re heating it.)

2. When it’s boiling like crazy, add a big pour of salt (enough to make the water salty; be brave, dip your pinky in and taste it). Add your box of penne and half-cover it with the lid to bring it back to that rapid boil. Then remove the lid so it doesn’t bubble over.

3. While all of that’s happening, add your butter to a skillet (non-stick or regular, doesn’t matter) and begin melting it on medium heat.


4. Eventually, the butter will melt and start sizzling. Here’s where you let it brown. It’s easier to see it brown if you’re using a regular metal skillet (one reason not to use non-stick) but if you’re using non-stick, just use your nose. When it browns, it’ll start to smell nutty (should take 5 minutes or so on medium heat). One thing: don’t let it burn!

5. Around the point when it starts to brown, add the sage if you’re using it (but really, you don’t need it), the nutmeg and some of the pepper.


Then ladle in one cup of the starchy, salty pasta cooking water straight from the pot with the pasta. The butter pan will sizzle and steam; look down: there’s your sauce!

6. Now you let that sauce simmer while your pasta continues cooking. If it reduces too much, add more pasta cooking water. Lower the heat. Eventually, ti’ll be time to start testing your pasta: lift out a noodle, run it under cold water and taste. Is it just al dente? Not raw but not 100% cooked-through? Then the time has come!

7. Using a spider, lift the pasta into the pan with the butter, sage, nutmeg and pepper. [Note: if you don’t have a spider, you can just strain the pasta in the sink, but whatever you do don’t rinse it! Oh and save some of that pasta cooking water.] Look at the pan with the pasta in it…

…is it wet on the bottom? There should be some liquid in there. If there’s not, add another ladleful of pasta cooking water. Then crank up the heat and toss it all around, adding salt, pepper and more and more fresh nutmeg as it goes, tasting all the while, until most of the liquid’s gone and the pasta is perfectly cooked and it tastes very delicious. Now you’re going to make it even more delicious.

Take it off the heat and add all of that Parmesan:

Whoah, daddy.

Stir that through, taste, taste, taste and see if needs more nutmeg or pepper.

Spoon into a bowl, top with more pepper and Parmesan and serve with whatever wine you have already open and fermenting in your fridge. There you go: the easiest pasta dinner in the world! You have no excuse not to make it.


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