Olive oil, salt, pepper and pasta.
Despite the simplicity of the combination, it's an Italian classic that can pack killer flavor with little effort. The key is to use only the very best, very freshest ingredients.
And of course there are all sorts of avenues for improvisation.
Different varieties of pasta are a gimme. But the oil also could be swapped out. Walnut oil would have a pleasantly rich, nutty flavor. Peanut oil (and maybe a hit of hot sauce) would offer an Asian accent.
Gourmet salts, including those blended with herbs, would be nice. A coarse grain or flaked salt added just at the table would offer a satisfying crunch. Likewise, single varietal peppercorns would be a fun way to experiment with flavors.In this riff on that classic, the salt is provided by the cheese. The olive oil gives way to browned butter, which is rich and smooth. And the peppery bite comes from the unorthodox but wonderfully savory combination of nutmeg and turmeric.
BROWN BUTTER PASTA
Start to finish: 20 minutes
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) salted butter
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
3 ounces aged Gouda cheese, cut into small chunks
1/2 cup coarse unseasoned bread crumbs (such as panko)
1/4 cup pine nuts
Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil.
While the water heats, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the butter, nutmeg and turmeric. Heat, stirring frequently, until the butter has melted and browned slightly, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, use a food processor to finely grate the cheese. Add the bread crumbs and pine nuts, then pulse several times, or until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Set aside.
Once the water has boiled, add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and return to the pot.
Pour the butter mixture over the pasta and toss to coat. Transfer the pasta, along with any butter in the pan, to a large serving bowl. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the pasta.Nutrition information per serving: 533 calories; 235 calories from fat; 26 g fat (13 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 106 mg cholesterol; 57 g carbohydrate; 19 g protein; 3 g fiber; 374 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: J.M. Hirsch can be e-mailed at jhirsch(at)ap.org.