English Pasta – Spaghetti Burro e Parmigiano

By the time our son had reached four years of age, he had developed a strong, nay hidebound, preference for minimalist pasta, bereft of even the faintest hint of tomato sauce, and one that he presumed to call “white pasta”.  When we happened to be at a restaurant in Spoleto, Umbria, one day, and in full respect of his narrow menu range, I remember orderìng for him: “My son will have pasta with butter and parmesan, please”.  This translates into Italian as “pasta burro e parmigiano” and it is THE most common, default,  “hurry-up” pasta recipe to resort to in cases of emergency or straitened time frames.  Easily a favourite with I don’t know how many people, it’s not the sort of pasta one would order at a restaurant however — why bother eating out?  

This said, its ingredients have much in common with the artful invention of the “Fettuccine Alfredo”, a pasta recipe that is famous in the US but unheard of in Rome (or Italy for that matter) except for at the Alfredo establishments (there are two restaurants who lay claim to having invented the recipe : http://www.alfredoallascrofa.com/en/ and http://www.alfredo-roma.it/).

The ingredients are only three: dry pasta, butter and parmesan.  You really can’t go wrong with this recipe … you boil the pasta and drain it, add as much butter as you presume necessary, and then freshly grated parmesan.  There is a variation that prefers olive oil to butter and is aptly if unsurprisingly called “pasta olio e parmigiano”.

But back to Spoleto and the restaurant we were in.  The waiter responded to my order with a remarkable, “Oh, vuol dire Pasta all’inglese?” … which translates as “Oh, do you mean Pasta English style?”.  To which my retort must have gone something like …”I don’t care much about style, as long as it is made up of butter and parmesan.”

“E allora” answered the waiter, looking at me as though having to deal with a wayward stubborn child, “it’s pasta all’inglese, then, that’s what I said wasn’t it?”.

Goodness knows why this pasta should be associated with anything English.  It is not inconceivable that it might have all started out with a poorly English customer, eager to eat something “light” that would remind him of home but in keeping with his consumptive frame.  And what can be more “home” than butter for an Englishman?  Or maybe it had something to do with an English Nanny, the kind who were afraid of nasty “foreign” food.  The reader may  not realise that there is a widespread tendency in Italy to serve “white” food (“in bianco”) when one is ailing.  This is an heirloom piece of advice brought to us by the Scuola Medica Salernitana, the first medical school in Europe for those who might be interested in knowing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schola_Medica_Salernitana).  It was they who approvingly advised the eating of plain rice (“riso in bianco”) as a treatment for many a malady.

So there you go, a double whammy.  Not only is this pasta easy to prepare and delicious, it is also very good for you!

IMG_4551 IMG_4552 I was preparing lunch for three people.  Thus, 3 nobs of butter in the pan.IMG_4553 Add three tablespoons of greshly grated parmesan to the butter in the pan.IMG_4554 Put the pasta to boil ….IMG_4555 And then, when the pasta is almost ready to be drained, take 1 ladleful of the cooking water and add it to the pan.IMG_4556 Start stirring.  The heat of the cooking water will dissolve the butter and create a creamy sauce.IMG_4557 Stir until the butter has completed melted.IMG_4559 Now add the drained spaghetti.

IMG_4560 Toss the pasta, mix, combine etc … until it’s all nicely coated.IMG_4561 Add more parmesan to the spaghetti once they’re on the plate.  It’s a good idea, also, to heat the plates before you serve the pasta.  This never happens in my family, I hasten to add, because we’re always in a hurry and too famished to bother.IMG_4562 IMG_4563Someone in the family decided to add a dribble of balsamic vinegar. Ooooo innovation!  And jolly good it tasted too.  Even so, all I like to add to my pasta burro e parmigiano is a twist of white pepper.


About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
This entry was posted in Basic Techniques, Primi (first courses - usually a pasta or risotto), Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to English Pasta – Spaghetti Burro e Parmigiano

  1. Gramps says:

    I love your blog. I will be making this pasta tonight!!

    By the way, I usually just throw a whole bag of pasta in the pot—sometimes 12 oz. sometimes 18 oz. Any guesses as the the oz per serving?

    • Hello and thank you for your appreciation! If I understand your query correctly, you’d like me to provide some proportions and numbers, correct? Ooops! It all depends on how hungry you are! Let us say that 100g of pasta per person (which should be about 9 oz) is considered a “correct” amount if you are going to be eating a main course after the pasta. If it’s mainly pasta that you’ll be eating, with say a side dish of salad or other veggie afterwards, you might want to increase the serving to 150g per person. But that is a big serving! Who cares, enjoy!

  2. Jo, Your pasta is so simple and yet so yummy! I know what I am going to make for dinner tomorrow! Hugs, 😀

  3. Interesting! I had never heard this dish referred to as English pasta. I guess it has to do with the plain approach. But simple as it is, it’s still one of my favorite ways to make pasta!

    • I hadn’t heart of it either until then Frank … I wouldn’t go so far as to maintain that I am losing sleep over this but even so .. I really would love to know what it was that prompted the Englishness. In the meantime, we can but enjoy the simpicity of this yummy pasta!

  4. Francesca says:

    These spaghetti are amazing, Jo! I don’t think I have ever made something so simple yet so delicious. I’m so going to make this tonight! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Happy Spaghetti Day! – Chewettes

  6. nice post + excellent way of having pasta. I use it often as a template and then add other ingredients: sliced leeks/shredded cabbage, thrown into the boiling water towards the end, so that they remain crunchy, a little grated bottarga or snippets of anchovies preserved in oil, a few capers, slivers of sun dried tomatoes, a little lemon zest; but the butter & parmesan only remains my favorite and perhaps the best. Now that I think of it, I seem to remember that in old Italian cookery terms, “…something all’inglese” meant “—something with butter..” (piselli all’inglese, carote all’inglese)… yes, I have just checked a very old edition of Il Talismano della Felicità and Ada Boni does talk of piselli all’inglese, that is peas with butter….
    ps Pasta cavalieri: excellent, I agree+ here in London it has become difficult to find the wholemeal version of Pasta cavalieri, which is one of the best pasta I have ever tasted

    • Thank you, Stefano, e piacere di conoscerti! I only found out about you earlier this morning via Frank Fariello’s post (he is super, Frank is) … I am so glad there is someone like you teaching Italian cookery in London. Thanks for the heads-up on the term ‘all’inglese’, I didn’t know that. I also like pasta Verrigni, do you knowo it?

  7. Andrew says:

    I don’t know how old the term Pasta all’inglese is, but it may come from the English dish of macaroni and cheese, whose original 14th century recipe was simply pasta, butter, and cheese.

    • I was doing some research on pasta a couple of years ago and was surprised to find an English recipe for something very similar to lasagne dating back to (I think) the early 1500s ! It could definitely be that “macaroni and cheese” or “Mac N Cheese” as they call it in the States are a spin-off of an ancient way of cooking sheets of dough and seasoning them with butter and cheese. I do happen to know that Henry VIII loved his parmigiano: “In 1511 the Pope made a gift to Henry VIII of one hundred Parmesan cheeses, and in 1556 the Pope made gifts of “eight great Parmesan cheeses” to Queen Mary of England”. See the following link: https://historyhouse.co.uk/articles/parmesan_cheese.html

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