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Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Yogurt masquerades as pasta sauce in the role it was born to play.

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Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52

It's almost too obvious: Take one thing you like, put it on the other thing you like. This explains why we put cheese on our apple pie, pineapple on our pizza, pizza on our bagels. It doesn't always work, but we'd be fools if we didn't try, right?

So when I tell you that you not only can but should put straight yogurt on your pasta, I understand why you're looking at me like I just told you ketchup was a perfectly good marinara sauce. It couldn't -- shouldn't -- be that easy, right? 

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Diane Kochilas on Food52

Well, until recently, it wasn't. Diane Kochilas, author of 18 books on Greek cooking, first developed this recipe as a variation on a theme she saw repeatedly in her travels in Greece. As she told me, this was an "adaptation of a very classic Greek island dish that calls for a very obscure cheese, which I reworked with yogurt." This was a genius move.

Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52

But at the time, in order for the yogurt to thicken enough to coat the pasta -- and not slip off into a puddle at the bottom of the plate -- you had to remember to strain it for two hours. This is hardly something to grumble about, but it did keep this dish in the realm of dinners you have to think about before you're hungry. 

Now, with the widespread availability of thick, Greek-style (i.e. already strained) yogurts, this is an almost embarrassingly ready-to-eat food.

Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52  Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52

Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52  Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52

The only step that takes any time at all is caramelizing the onions, which you'll want to do right. They should look like stained glass when you're done, and taste like honey.

More: 1 Batch of Caramelized Onions, 5 Dinners.

Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52

Then all that's left is to boil your pasta, stirring a little of its starchy, salty water into the yogurt to complete your sauce. Yes, now it is officially no longer yogurt, but "sauce". 

Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52  Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52

Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52

There are endless ways you could add a little something to fancy up the meal -- like spinach. Blend it with peas and mint. Or tahini.

Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52

But Kochilas goes simple enough to stay within our reach (and our pantry's), indulgent enough to balance out the fact that this is essentially a cream sauce imposter.

Layer on those onions and long scrapes of pecorino, and you have a five-ingredient powerhouse to get you through anything: last-minute dinner parties, date nights, family affairs, vegetarian friendsgivings, and all the cold nights in between.

Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions on Food52.

Diane Kochilas' Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions

Adapted slightly from The Glorious Foods of Greece (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2001) 

Serves 4 to 6

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 cups coarsely chopped onions
Sea salt
1 pound tagliatelle or other fresh pasta
2 cups thick, strained Greek-style yogurt

1 cup coarsely grated kefalotyri cheese, or pecorino Romano

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Ryan Dausch

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] 

The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites -- all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order your copy now.

Tags: pasta, yogurt, greek food, genius, Diane Kochilas, everyday cooking, special diets, vegetarian, how-to & diy, pantry