Pasta

This 10-Minute Bare-Pantry Pasta is Your New Instant Comfort Food

January 24, 2018

This is a dinner you can fish out of your bare kitchen and cook in 10 minutes that will make you feel whole, with nothing more than modestly proportioned dry pasta, butter, chicken stock, pepper, and lemon. As writer Emily Nunn said when she posted the recipe on Instagram last year, “Sounds bleh. It's ridiculously good.”

She found the recipe in an out-of-print cookbook from 1986 by Sue Kreitzman* called simply Comfort Food—a family friend had sent it to Nunn after she’d signed her own book contract for her recent memoir The Comfort Food Diaries, about her search for consoling foods and friendship after a series of heart-breaking events. (That's all I'll tell you—you must read it!)

In the little Comfort Food cookbook, however, Nunn never made it past the Lemon Butter Angel Hair. “I could not believe how good it was,” she wrote to me recently. “And it became the dish I made when I got home too late to cook for myself or when I was out of fresh ingredients or when I was feeling lazy or, frankly, when I needed something that made me cozy.”

The recipe is perfect for all of these situations, because that 10 minutes really is all it takes. You’re not waiting for a pot of salty water to boil, and the only prep you’re doing is crushing spindly dry noodles in your hands. After toasting the pasta bits quickly in butter (as you would a rice pilaf or risotto), you dump in your cup of chicken broth and black pepper and the noodles drink it all up.

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The pasta ends up richly seasoned inside and out and, with one last squeeze of lemon, you’ve completed the mission. “People have said to me: all it needs is a little Parm Reggiano,” Nunn wrote to me. “But it does not need any cheese at all because it is made like a risotto, meaning it makes its own creamy sauce.”

Of course, this absorption pasta technique—cooking pasta in a small amount of liquid to concentrate the flavors and starches to make it extra-creamy—is nothing new. It made a splash most recently in the Martha Stewart One-Pan Pasta that took over the internet in 2014, but it goes back much further than that. As Clotilde Dusoulier wrote in 2006, “According to Virka—who read it in the Italian paper La Reppublica so it simply must be true—this cooking technique dates back from the early 13th century, and was in fact the only one that was used before it was displaced by the now-classic boiling method.”

But what is unusual here is how utterly pared back it is, and how much you can eke out from so little. And in using skinny pasta with such minimalism, how fast. In certain moments, it's the best of all absorption pastas, in the way that elemental foods are always the most comforting.

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Top Comment:
“Tastes really good all things considered (meaning that is not a homemade stock!); way better than most stock-in-a-box that we have come across....”
— Lynnie
Comment

This simplicity allows you to taste everything more resolutely, without distraction: savory broth**, lemon juice, black pepper, butter, toasted wheat. These are flavors that deserve full attention. When you’re not feeling shipshape, you don’t want complex frills on your buttered toast or porridge, or getting between you and your matzo balls, do you? Nor would it do any good here.

*Sue Kreitzman, a fabulously colorful and prolific artist since 1998, now lives by a manifesto that includes: "Don’t wear beige—it might kill you." and "Avoid minimalism like the plague."

**Nunn's favorite version is now made using Better than Bouillon, "chicken flavor of course because it is so chickeny." She adds: "I don't end up adding salt because that Better than Bouillon stuff is like plutonium, but without the killing you part."

Photos by Julia Gartland

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to comfort food professional Emily Nunn and Instagram sleuth Sarah Jampel for this one!

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16 Comments

Peter January 28, 2018
As one of my sons is allergic to dairy (allergic, not lactose intolerant) do you think roasting in olive oil would be a decent substitute?
 
Laurie B. January 27, 2018
I love angel hair pasta, but I have never been able to find it to make a dish like this :(
 
nutcakes January 28, 2018
Where do you live? It is in every single grocer near me, even Target has it. No internet order delivery? Don't mean any snark, but it is also called Capellini.<br />https://www.target.com/p/garofalo-capellini-angel-hair-pasta-16oz/-/A-50026927
 
Hussain A. January 27, 2018
2 tablespoons of butter for one serving seems like a lot.
 
m January 25, 2018
anyone try this with a gluten free pasta, and by GF pasta i mean bionaturae, not that quinoa/brown rice stuff that disintegrates. thanks!<br />
 
caroline0ne January 24, 2018
Isn't this ramen with lemon instead of a flavoring packet?
 
Lynnie January 24, 2018
Not really. Instant ramen has a very different texture than good quality angel hair pasta, typically cooks in broth that is eaten as a soup instead of being fully-absorbed into the pasta, doesn't necessarily use butter unless you are making butter ramen, and will often feature garnishes such as sliced scallion or add-ons like sliced cha-siu pork or a fried/poached egg, and seasoned w/shoyu or shichimi pepper blend. To me it is a whole different thing entirely.
 
Lynnie January 24, 2018
Yikes, my bad: Costco sell the Better Than Bouillon in a 16oz jar for about $5.99 and it is organic/low sodium; most groceries sell if for slightly less as noted in my comment below, but in a MUCH smaller jar. <br />
 
Lynnie January 24, 2018
Addendum: an for vegetarians who want to make this recipe and use the recommended "broth/stock alternative" of Better Than Bouillon, BTB also comes in Vegetarian. And that is also available at Costco in a large jar in Organic, Low-Sodium version at a great price. And by great price, I mean that if you go to a regular grocery store to buy this, you will get a rather small jar, 3.5 oz for upwards from $4.50ish; at Costco, a nice fat 8 oz jar is a about $5.99. And it lasts a seriously long time. If you don't use it all up and run out for more, that is....
 
nutcakes January 28, 2018
If you have any Smart & Final, they have a good price on it too. I like the low sodium.
 
Lynnie January 24, 2018
Pretty sure she means Better Than Bouillon. The Chicken BTB is pretty amazing and good, and recommended by a number of chefs and ATK all all that, and a big plus: it is available in an organic, low(er)-sodium version that is conveniently available at Costco in a nice large jar at a fab price. Tastes really good all things considered (meaning that is not a homemade stock!); way better than most stock-in-a-box that we have come across....
 
coffeefoodwrite January 24, 2018
Yum! Looks delicious! Can’t wait to try....
 
Birdfeeder January 24, 2018
Does she mean Better than Bouillon? Or is there a Better than Broth that I never heard of?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 24, 2018
Yes, I think you're right! I've updated the article.
 
derekp January 24, 2018
Looks tasty, but isn't this just the Spanish pasta dish fideos?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 24, 2018
Great point—definitely similar. This is just a very, very pared back version compared to fideos I've seen, but I'd love to hear if others like to cook fideos this simply.