When a select group of ingredients intermingle in such a way that pleases the palate and comforts the soul, it’s best to follow restraint and not mess with what works. I present to you a trio that knows a few matches: butter, lemon and parmigiano reggiano. When melded into a sauce and paired with spaghetti (or any pasta of your choice), it creates my ultimate comfort food. This dish is a staple at Frank Prisinzano’s trio of Italian American restaurants in Manhattan — to the point that he charges north of $20 for a bowl. I recommend playing with the ratios here and there — maybe you’ll want less acidity, more butter, less pasta water. It’s up to you. However, I do recommend using grass-fed butter as the difference in taste is surprisingly noticeable. Other forms of cheese are fine too, but I recommend parmigiano reggiano.
- At least 2 tablespoons salt
- ½ pound spaghetti
- 1 lemon
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- At least 1 cup reserved cooking liquid
- Finely grated parmigiano reggiano, to your preference
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously, using about 2 tablespoons per quart of water. However, it doesn’t have to be exact.
- While the water is heating, slice the butter into four equally sized pieces, slice and juice your lemon (make sure the seeds are all removed, and place the butter and lemon juice in small cups or bowls for easy access).
- Once the pasta water is at a boil, add your pasta to the pot and stir it around a bit to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Follow the package instructions for cooking time.
- While the pasta is cooking grate parmigiano reggiano on the finest grating setting you have. The more like dust, the better.
- When the pasta is nearly done, grab a mug or measuring cup and reserve at least a cup of our cooking liquid. This is essential for making a creamy sauce.
- Try your pasta a minute or so before you think it is done. If you are happy with the “bite,” strain and immediately put back into the still warm pot that you just used (the heat should be off at this point).
- Now, the magic happens. Toss in the cubes of unsalted butter, pour in at least ¼ a cup of pasta water and the lemon juice and then stir with a wooden utensil or plastic tongs for at least 30 seconds. As the butter melts, a creamy sauce should start to form.
- If your sauce is looking a little dry, you can add more butter or pasta water, but ultimately it is a personal preference.
- Try the pasta to make sure it is salty enough — usually I find that the noodles are seasoned plenty by the cooking liquid.
- Make sure that all of the butter is melted and fully emulsified into a sauce and plate your pasta into warm bowls. I do this by pouring some pasta water into my bowl and then quickly swirling it around.
- Dust the top of your bowl with a generous layer of finely grated parmigiano. As you twirl with a fork, the parmigiano dust will gradually mix into the sauce and form an even creamier bite.
This dish is comforting, but also uses lots of cheese and butter. Nothing to feel bad about there, but I like to serve it with an arugula salad — the spicy and bitter flavor of arugula offers a nice contrast to the pasta. Enjoy!