Sometimes I think I should have been Italian. Pasta has always been one of my favorite meals - even when I was a little thing downing huge plates of "skapetti". In recent years, I don't think I've ever gone more than a week without eating pasta, and I'd often be happy eating it every day. When it's too warm for soup, pasta is my favorite way to use up leftover vegetables - nearly everything goes well cooked up with onions and garlic (and often tomatoes) and tossed with pasta. However, ever since last December I have rejected my typical tomato-based sauces and have instead found a new go-to dish: Spaghetti al Mascarpone.
Creamy sauces may not be very summery, but living near the beach, we get cool breezes even on the warmest summer evenings, and it is a rare day that I wouldn't be happy to make this my dinner. This dish is as simple as they come - everything can be prepared in the amount of time it takes the water to boil, leaving time to make a green salad to go alongside. Mascarpone, Parmigiano, and an egg yolk are mixed with a little of the pasta cooking water to make a smooth, velvety sauce, which is then tossed with the hot pasta to cook the egg and thicken into a creamy sauce.
Spaghetti is the traditional pasta for this sort of sauce, but linguine or any other long stringy pasta works fine as well. This time I used fettuccine because, well, it was the only long pasta in my house. (We won't discuss whether that was due to a rapid consumption of pasta al marscarpone.) Whatever shape you use, just make sure it's good quality pasta and cooked al dente, because the flavor will really come through the light sauce.
I tend to keep it simple and unadorned, like a grown-up mac and cheese, but try adding halved cherry tomatoes (they will wilt a little bit under the hot pasta much like Checca), or toss in a couple ounces of prosciutto, thinly sliced, to the cheese mixture like the original recipe instructs. I can imagine it would be great with barely cooked green peas, too.
Spaghetti al Mascarpone
Adapted from Giuliano Hazan's "Thirty Minute Pasta"
8 oz spaghetti - or, in this case, fettuccine
4 T mascarpone
3 T grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1/2 oz), plus additional
1 egg yolk*
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, stir together the mascarpone, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and egg yolk in a large bowl. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and set aside.
When the water is boiling, salt liberally and add the pasta. When the pasta is almost cooked, add about 1 T cooking water to the cheese mixture and mix well. Drain the pasta when just al dente, reserving a bit of cooking water.
Toss the hot pasta with the cheese mixture to coat. If the sauce is very thick, add a little more of the water.
Top the pasta with additional Parmigiano-Reggiano and freshly ground pepper, if desired
*I've been a raw egg eater since I was a little kid and have never had any problems with sickness, from mayonnaise to cookie dough to homemade egg nog in Egypt. The yolks will cook in the hot pasta, but probably not to USDA standards, so if you're squeamish about yolks or immunocompromised, you may want to use pasteurized eggs or try using the yolk of a soft-boiled egg or something.
Serves 2 as a main course, 3-4 as a light primo or side dish