Pasta and butter has got to be one of the all time great comfort foods. If you have them at home – and most people usually do – it’s instant supper. Boil the pasta, drain, add butter (preferably way too much than is good for you) and enjoy.
Pasta al burro is usually considered a children’s dish in Italy. It’s one of the first real dishes that kids here eat at home, and it’s always an option when going out to a restaurant in a country where there is no such thing as a kid’s menu. In fact, even though pasta al burro is not on any restaurant menu, most waiters, upon seeing a toddler, will just assume you will be asking for this. This was the first ‘real’ food that Sophie and Emma ever ate, and remains the first thing they ask for when they come home.
While delicious and almost everyone’s secret vice, it’s not really something that you would serve to guests, right? But with just a couple of tweaks this homey dish can become dinner party fare.
I started thinking about this because pasta with butter is currently enjoying quite a vogue in Rome in restaurants. But not your everyday pasta with butter. Pasta with butter and the all important additions of anchovies has become something every new restaurant is putting on its menu. In fact you’d think that there was some sort of new law that required it as a prerequisite to opening a restaurant. It’s definitely a trend, but at least an incredibly delicious one.
And beyond easy to make in the comfort of your own home, even if you’re far from the centro storico The trick, of course, is making the effort to source the right ingredients. Freshly made egg pasta to start, then the very best anchovies money can buy. Big fat filets packed in oil are my favorite, preferably from Sicily or, if I’m feeling particularly flush, imported anchovies from the Northern coast of Spain.
And butter. Lots of butter. And no one in his right mind would use Italian butter for this dish. Italians are good at lots of things, but butter is not one of them. I usually opt for imported Danish butter, but last week I happened to have a pack of French butter Sophie had received as a Christmas present from her boss (good bosses give good butter) which made all the difference.
Once you’ve got your ingredients the rest is pretty simple, but not as straightforward as you might think. I use anchovies twice: first disolved into the melted butter, and then a few thick filets added at the last minute. And to achieve the most luscious of sauces, you must make ample use of the starchy pasta cooking water. Placed in a warmed bowl and topped with a few grindings of black pepper, you can pretend you’re in one of Rome’s trendiest restaurants. Or, just call it what it is: comfort food. Your choice.
- 500 grams/ 1 pound fresh fettucine
- 115 grams/ ¼ pound good quality butter
- 12 anchovy filets
- freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
- Put ¾ of the butter into a pan large enough to hold the cooked and drained pasta and melt over medium heat. Add half of the anchovies and stir till they are dissolved.
- Once the water has been brought to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente. If it is fresh pasta it will cook very quickly, so keep your eye on it
- Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the pasta cooking water.
- Over medium heat, add the drained pasta to the pan with the butter and toss well to coat.
- Add about a quarter of a cup of the cooking water, stirring well.
- Turn off the heat and add the rest of the butter, and a bit more of the pasta water, stirring to amalgamate.
- Add the rest of the anchovies, toss, and serve immediately.