Wednesday 15 January 2014

Alchemy - Pasta Bianco

I have a very addictive personality, which is why I don't let myself do certain things.  And in my case, 'addictive personality' is totally a euphemism for 'complete lack of willpower'.  Things that I like, I really, really like - I'm the ultimate page-turner, leaving the carpets shamefully un-vacuumed and the shelves woefully un-dusted until I have torn through the latest book I'm reading.  If I find a new tv programme that hooks me in, I want to race through the entire series until it ends and I come to my senses, room darkened, not certain if I'm looking out at twilight or dawn.

That's why I give a wide berth to those things like Candy Crush Saga that I keep getting invitations to.  Not going to go there.  Farmville?  Not for me.  I know, with an unshakeable certainty, that I would lose weeks I could barely afford to those things.  I'm filled with admiration for people who can play the odd game or two and walk away, but for me, it would go the way of my ill-advised Sims adventures, and end with the point where it starts to invade my dreams.

There is one exception to this rule, and it's something I love but can happily walk away from.  Called Little Alchemy, it's one of those ingeniously simple (or simply ingenious?) ideas that's a great way to while away a few minutes here and there, without desending into addiction.  It's based on the idea that you combine two elements to make other elements, and is much more fun than I've managed to make it sound.

I've recently discovered the food equivalent of Alchemy.  It consists of four ingredients - well, five, if you count the pasta water (and believe me, this is where the magic happens).  It is the absolute definition of being greater than the sum of its parts.  The ingredients, I'd be willing to guess, you have in your house right now, and if that's the case - well, what are you waiting for?  So simple, but please, don't let that fool you.  They combine into something unctuous and startling, and nothing short of magical.  This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver, but I've seen it cropping up all over the place, sometimes with the garlic, usually called something along the lines of Pasta with Butter and Cheese (does what it says on the tin!).  I like the name Pasta Bianco though, White Pasta, deceptive, like the dish itself in its simplicity.

I've had it twice this week already, and I'm trying to work out when I can next get my fix.  Can you spot my new addiction?

Pasta Bianco
Adapted from Jamie Oliver, Jamie's Dinners

100g spaghetti or linguine
30g butter, preferably unsalted but don't let only having salted put you off making this
20g parmesan, finely grated.  You don't really need to weigh this, just estimate as big as your thumb, and count yourself lucky if you've got big thumbs.
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper

That tiny pile of ingredients?  All you need to make magic happen.

Put a large pan of water on to boil, and salt very generously.  When it is at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions - my linguine took 11 minutes.

While it is cooking, take a small pan and, over a low heat, melt your butter.  Crush the garlic, or grate it using a fine grater, and add it to the butter.   Cook gently, without browning, for a few minutes.  Remove from the heat.

When the pasta is cooked how you like it, and this is the important bit, before you drain it dip a cup into the water and remove a scoop of the starchy water.

Drain the pasta.  Put the garlic and butter into the pan that you cooked the pasta in.  Add the pasta back, and give it a good stir.  Add about half the parmesan, stir it round, then follow by a tablespoon or so of the water.  See how the consistency changes?  The water combines with the butter and cheese to make a creamy sauce.  Add the rest of the parmesan, save a small spoonful, and another spoonful or so of the water, until it is a glossy-looking sauce that coats the pasta easily.  Season well with salt and pepper.

Turn into a bowl and top with the small amount of remaining parmesan.

Eat, and marvel at the wonder of alchemy.  Ours is not to reason why.

Serves 1


  1. Even though this looks too good to be true, I'm going to try this tonight. It looks and sounds delicious.

    Mum xx

    1. Let me know how you get on! It's really magic x