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The Easiest Pasta with Butter and Cheese

Hello and welcome! After yesterday’s easy, yet involved recipe for Chinese Pork Dumplings, let’s make something super simple. A recipe you can turn to when you want something fast, delicious and satisfying. A recipe you can customize with clean-out-the-fridge veggies or leftover cooked meat – anything goes. Pasta with Butter and Cheese is the original Fettuccine Alfredo, which never contained heavy cream. We will achieve a creamy, rich sauce with just butter, Parmesan cheese, pasta cooking water and a little elbow grease. Let’s do it!

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If you’ve ben following Djalali Cooks for a while now, you will recognize this technique of using starchy pasta water stirred with a fat like butter or bacon fat to create a smooth, glossy, creamy sauce without any heavy cream.

Cook the Pasta

I am using Fettuccine but you can use any pasta shape you like. Set 3 quarts of water to boil in a large pot over high heat. While we wait on the water to boil, grate 2 cups of Parmesan cheese. We do want to use a block of cheese and grate it ourselves for this because the pre-grated cheese is often coated with cellulose. Cellulose keeps the pre-grated cheese from clumping, but it also keeps it from melting evenly, and we are looking for a silky smooth sauce.

Cut the 5 tablespoons of butter into 4-5 pieces. And that’s it for prep! When the water is boiling, add 1.5 tablespoons of kosher salt to the water, then add the pasta. Set a timer for 8 minutes and test the pasta doneness beginning at the 8-minute mark. For almost al dente, Fettuccine will cook for about 9 minutes.

When the pasta is just about to al dente, ladle out 2 cups of pasta water into a measuring cup and set aside. Drain the pasta and without shaking off the excess water in the colander, add it back to the pot. Add the butter, cheese and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water. Turn the heat up to medium-low and use tongs in the closed position to vigorously stir the pasta.

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It will look all wrong at first. It will be super watery. But as we vigorously stir the pasta with the starchy water, butter and cheese the pasta will continue cooking and soaking up the water, creating a thick, smooth sauce. Keep adding a drizzle of pasta water as needed to keep the mixture smooth.

Keep stirring until a smooth, creamy, glossy sauce coats the pasta.

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If you have any add-ins, like leftover chicken, heat them in the microwave and add them to the pasta at this point. If you want to add a veggie like broccoli florets, you can steam them in the microwave or boil until tender and add the cooked veg to the pasta at this point. Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Let the pasta rest for 3 minutes. Then stir again (drizzle in more pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed) and serve.

Pasta with Butter and Cheese

Serve in a warmed, wide shallow bowl and top with fresh cracked black pepper and more grated Parmesan, if you like.

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Be sure to keep that reserved pasta water to reinvigorate any leftover pasta. In fact, you can ladle out and save a few cups of it and stash it in the fridge. When you want to reheat any leftover pasta, just drizzle in the pasta water and stir the pasta again over medium-low heat to reheat and loosen up the sauce, restoring its creamy, glossy texture.

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This recipe for Pasta with Butter and Cheese is an easy one to memorize and the technique is one you can apply to so many other pasta dishes. It really opens up a world of pasta preparation for dishes that will easily rival any restaurant pasta. Just try Bacon and Corn Pasta with Tomato Salad or Rigatoni with Pancetta and Spring Peas to see what I mean! Have a great week, take care and be well, xo Kelly

Key Equipment

Pasta with Butter and Cheese

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Dinner, Main Course Italian
By America's Test Kitchen Serves: 4-6
Prep Time: 15 Minutes Cooking Time: 20 Minutes Total Time: ~35 Minutes

The easiest pasta recipe has only three ingredients: Pasta, Parmesan Cheese and Butter. But the real magic is the starchy pasta water.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Fettuccine
  • 1.5 tbsp. Kosher Salt (for seasoning the pasta water)
  • 2 cups Parmesan Cheese, grated, plus extra for serving
  • 5 tbsp. Unsalted Butter, cut into 5 pieces
  • Black Pepper, optional, for serving

Instructions

1

Set 3 quarts of water to boil in a large pot over high heat.

2

When the water is boiling, add 1.5 tablespoons of kosher salt to the water, then add the pasta. Set a timer for 8 minutes and test the pasta doneness beginning at the 8-minute mark. For almost al dente, Fettuccine will cook for about 9 minutes.

3

When the pasta is just about to al dente, ladle out 2 cups of pasta water into a measuring cup and set aside.

4

Drain the pasta and without shaking off the excess water in the colander, add it back to the pot.

5

Add the butter, cheese and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water. Turn the heat up to medium-low and vigorously stir the pasta.

6

It will look all wrong at first. It will be super watery. But as we vigorously stir the pasta with the starchy water, butter and cheese the pasta will continue cooking and soaking up the water, creating a thick, smooth sauce. Keep adding a drizzle of pasta water as needed to keep the mixture smooth.

7

Keep stirring until a smooth, creamy, glossy sauce coats the pasta.

8

Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Let the pasta rest for about 3 minutes. Then stir again (add a drizzle more of pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed) and serve.

9

Serve in a warmed, wide shallow bowl and top with fresh cracked black pepper and more grated Parmesan, if you like.

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  • Mari
    August 29, 2022 at 10:11 am

    At my house, we call simple and delicious, supper. While complex and involved things have their place, and can be fun to make, simple is very often the most delicious when I am in a hurry, and need something on the table fast. Fettuccine has become my favorite go to pasta, since no one else likes the tiny shapes that I am so fond of. I invariably replace anything calling for spaghetti, with fettuccine. For some reason I can’t fathom, I don’t like spaghetti. The butter and the grated cheese on this lovely dish really caught my eye. I remember that Paula Deen once jokingly said that butter was her favorite food, and we go through a fair amount every month, so someone might think butter was our favorite food! Here, it goes into baked goods for the most part. When my husband’s condition. Took a turn for the worse, I pretty much stopped baking, and meals became simple things that he could swallow easily. I wish I had made him something like this. I’m so grateful to you for making the kitchen a fun, innovative, and happy place again. I have baked and cooked more wonderful things in the last year and a half, than I did in the ten years preceding it. Your posts always make me smile, and usually I get several recipes each week that I make. Now for the part where I start nagging again. Your recipes and kitchen philosophy would make a great cookbook, and the pictures are great too. You really should find a publisher. You already have the title! Happy overcast Monday. Somewhere a guy named Noah is collecting animals and building an ark, and dreaming of the North Pole. Happiness and smiles to my Djalalis and Terry. Stay dry and have a wonderful day. Happy Birthday to Beth and everyone else having a birthday in late August. I don’t actually believe
    in astrology, but I find that I do always love Virgos.🥰☔️🎂.

    • Kelly Djalali
      August 29, 2022 at 11:56 am

      Hi Mari, I am so happy you have branched out and made some interesting and maybe new-to-you recipes since you became a member of the Djalali Cooks Community! I am grateful for your endless support and encouragement. I think the next project will be e-books of recipe collections from the blog…Thank you again, it’s always so good to hear from you! Happy Monday, xo Kelly

  • Terry
    August 29, 2022 at 10:13 am

    I love pasta, this looks amazing and so creamy. Yes I can see having it this with a small salad another good one 🤗❤️Mom

    • Kelly Djalali
      August 29, 2022 at 11:57 am

      I am sure this will be well-loved at your house, Mom. A great dish to customize! xo Kelly

  • Pat
    August 29, 2022 at 1:51 pm

    Pasta, a must have favorite in any form. Love love the simplicity of this.
    Also need to mention, as I did not comment, Buttery Shrimp Pizza and Scallion Pancakes, so excellent.
    Thanks for keeping my cooking and taste buds active🤗

    • Kelly Djalali
      August 29, 2022 at 1:57 pm

      Hello Pat, I am so happy your took a moment to send along such a nice note! Thank you so much for being such a great supporter of Djalali Cooks; it is my sincere pleasure to share new ideas for easy-to-make recipes and it’s really wonderful to hear from folks who are trying new things they read about on the blog. Thanks again! xo Kelly

  • Susan Kelley
    August 29, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    If you don’ have one out, you need to publish! Everone else seems to do it! I have been saving your wonderful recipes for two years. HAve oi print out each time because i can’t fin the last copy!

    • Kelly Djalali
      August 30, 2022 at 7:48 am

      Hi Susan, You’re right – there are a lot of cookbooks out there! I am so happy you love the recipes, and I am sorry you have to reprint the ones you can’t find 😉 Thanks for your support! xo Kelly

  • Suzanne Smith
    August 29, 2022 at 5:12 pm

    My kind of meal. So similar to things I’ve made and I love it. Such versatility for add-ins, too. Yum

    • Kelly Djalali
      August 30, 2022 at 7:50 am

      Exactly Suzanne! I am sure you will love this simple dish! xo Kelly