To most these words mean absolutely nothing, but if you grew up in Italy as I did, they represent every child’s initiation into culinary delight. No, this is not some weird, eclectic pasta with donkey meat – for you Spanish speaking fans – but a simple dish of spaghetti, butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. “Burro”, is the Italian word for butter.
Every Italian “mamma” makes this dish for their kids, before they try any “sugo” or “ragu”, tomato sauce or meat Bolognese – Spaghetti al Burro is the dish of preference of every six-year-old on the peninsula. It is an iconic dish; its simplicity is astonishing, its soulful flavor is inimitable. It is the foundation upon which I have based my taste in food, the definition upon which I have set my culinary point of view. It is cooking’s proof, that simplicity is paramount – and in simplicity one finds greatest satisfaction.
Foodies and food critics, and all those food show judges – will exalt the complexity of flavors. They search out “balance” and “tone” and flavor “contrasts” – balderdash! The best food is where the basic ingredients define the dish and Spaghetti al Burro is the keystone to this culinary point of view – my point of view.
Spaghetti is cooked al dente in salted water, strained and returned to the pot from which they were cooked. Sweet unsalted butter is added – it melts coating the pasta and finally a fist full of grated Parmiggiano Reggiano is added, completing this divine combination. Served piping hot, it is pure magic.
Having been weaned on this delightful pasta, I have from a very young age always appreciated the simplicity in food – where basic ingredients are used to create great recipes. A perfectly roasted chicken – Allard in Paris. Salty, garlicky Spaghetti alle Vongole – Bastianelli al Molo – Fiumicino, Italy. The best grilled Octopus – Babbo, New York City. The simplest Pizza Margherita – Da Baffetto, Rome. The ultimate Lentil salad – Chez George, Paris. A simply grilled hotdog – The hotdog guy outside REI in Santa Ana, CA. Meatloaf – Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, Napa, CA.
And on and on, simple dishes, made right, without complication without pretense, no ostentation. Every culture and every cuisine has its “Spaghetti al Burro” – keep it simple…keep it delicious.