Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On Fettuccine with Browned Butter and Pistachios

There's really nothing worse for a cooking-obsessed and high-strung person than being sick. We don't like to sit still. We don't care to rest and take fluids (unless they're alcoholic, of course). And we certainly don't take kindly to not being able to smell. If you can't smell, you can't taste. If you can't taste, how can you adjust seasoning?

I spent most of my childhood in bed, and that's just the sort of crazymaking that will ruin all future recoveries. I only see the doctor because I don't want Matty to also get sick, and come Day Two of antibiotics, I start to indulge the delusion that "fake it 'till you make it" also applies to illness. So, antsy and jittery, I go to work even though I shouldn't. I shop, wandering the aisles in a daze, trying to calculate price per ounce and buying all the wrong things. Pretending to be well, I spend hours in the kitchen on huge, ambitious dishes that I unfortunately will try to wing. With no sense of taste. But at least I try.

This last week, I haven't had the will to try. After a week of antibiotics, I still felt awful. Back to the doctor for different--and expensive--prescriptions. A whole week of cereal, chain-store pizzas, and boxed chicken noodle soup, and no appetite. Yesterday was the first day in eleven that I've really felt hunger. And that feeling is not one that somebody like me takes lightly. (Of course, it also was Day Two of the new medicine, so maybe my call to action wasn't that legitimate after all.)

The dish that I've been thinking about since last weekend is Dorie Greenspan's Beggar's Linguine. Of course my pantry is not well stocked with anything interesting, but I did have an almost empty box of fettuccine and a bag of roasted, salted pistachios for snacking. And by some measure of serendipity, I do have unsalted butter. In fact, I have more unsalted butter than salted butter right now due to my "buying all the wrong things" while shopping sick. Morning toast will not be the same.

Fettuccine with Browned Butter and Pistachios

4 ounces of fettuccine
2 T unsalted butter plus a small slice or olive oil
handful of shelled, roasted pistachios (salted is fine; just rinse before chopping)
grated Parmesan cheese
black pepper

1. Cook fettuccine according to package directions. Make certain not to overcook it! Set out your strainer.

2. Chop your pistachios into small pieces. This is a very rustic dish, so don't stress out too much. Large chunks are nice, but small bits stick to the pasta easier. Regardless of size of nut piece, you will be scraping up the delicious bits with your fork after all the pasta is sadly gone.

Yes, I drank a beer while cooking. It's what I usually do, therefore I thought I ought to.
 3. Place the butter in a skillet large enough to hold all of your pasta and have tongs at the ready.

4. When the pasta is al dente, strain, and return to the pot with a tiny slice of butter or a turn of olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking to itself while you prepare the sauce. Mix, then cover.

5. Turn the heat to medium on your skillet. If the butter is cold, you will need to melt it over lower heat before you begin cooking it. Once the butter is melted and stops foaming, swirl the pan gently and occasionally until the bits in the bottom of the pan start to turn golden brown.

6. Turn off the heat. Add your chopped pistachios to the hot butter, then add the pasta and mix with tongs. Pepper liberally, grate some fresh nutmeg and Parmesan cheese over top. Stir, then taste. Salt if needed.

7. Serve on warm plates with a grating of fresh Parmesan.

This weekend we prepared a big batch of green salad and boxed it up for easy-to-grab lunches (brown-bag lunches: another thing that has fallen out of habit during The Illness). So I served this pasta with some salad. As Matty and I tucked in, it tasted like relief. Mouthful after satisfying mouthful of homemade food.

Afterward, my Day Two of antibiotics high-strung, fake-it-'till-you-make-it self browsed the new Bon Appetit magazine and decided that the bittersweet chocolate souffle with orange blossom cream sounded like just the ticket and would we like that tonight?

And then wisely, I listened to my not-yet-well body and went to bed around 8, full.


  1. Glad to hear you're feeling better! And what a great dish to steer you further towards recovery. Sounds wonderful. I love nutty brown butter, which could only be enhanced by pistachios.

  2. Thank you! I know I brought The Illness upon myself by always saying, "I never get sick." This pasta really was the perfect back-from-the-dead dish. I hadn't done much with browned butter before, but the meal turned out very nice and was not only filling, but a bit of an ego boost after so many nights out of the kitchen. Thank you for reading :)


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