When it comes to food, I am not to be impressed easily so I don't use the term 'ultimate' lightly.
This is the kind of dish I suggest you make when you want a promotion from your boss, want to impress your in-laws (or soon to be) or to bring someone down to his/her knees and ask you to spend the rest of your life with. This is what I am talking about. :)
If you have been to Tilikum Cafe, you probably know about the tagliatelle with butter and cheese. I have been in love with this dish from the very first bite. We actually go there for this dish. I have, for quite a while, been trying to replicate it at home. This dish is so elusive to me.
I was told by a waitress that there were only two ingredients, butter and Parmesan cheese, in this dish! But how could the pasta get creamy? Butter will turn into oil when heated. To get creaminess texture, one needs to rely on cream or egg or both (think Alfredo or Carbonara). Just butter and Parmesan cheese? This doesn't make sense to me.
My first trial was a complete failure. There was nothing wrong with pasta with tons of European butter and first rated freshly grated Parmesan cheese but it was not what I had in mind. It didn't have the mouth feel I was looking for. I suspected that there must be some other ingredients to give creaminess to the dish. Egg yolk? Maybe! I ruled out cream because it didn't feel right to me. I added one egg yolk off heat just before serving. The pasta was creamy and delicious. It's close but I also detected some egginess not present in the Tilikum version. How could they do it? ,
We went back to the restaurant and ordered that elusive pasta dish. While savoring it, I casually asked for the ingredients. A normal question, right? "Butter and some Parmesan cheese", the waitress replied. "No other ingredients in this dish?" She politely answered with a smile as she poured water into my glass, "No". My investigation just hit the wall! Either she lied to me or there was some other technique that I did not know of? HELP!!!!
What if I whip the butter until light and fluffy and add that to the cooked pasta. The heat of the pasta will gently melt the whipped butter and it will not get a chance to turn into oil. Will that work? Umm... This is promising!
First, I need to make fresh pasta. I wouldn't dream of using dried pasta in this dish. The sauce is too delicate for it. We are experiencing a shortage of our home grown eggs, unlike our experience during summer months. Now we get one egg a day if we are lucky. So I am using whole eggs instead of just egg yolks, two cups of flour with two precious eggs plus one yolk and a tablespoon or so of water. The pasta dough should be squeezable but firm. I roll out the dough into the thinnest setting and hand cut it into tagliatelle, just a little wider than fettuccini. The pasta is now ready for my experimentation. If you don't want to make your own pasta, you can buy a pound of fresh fettuccini for this dish.
With only two ingredients in the dish, one needs to use the best ingredients one can find. For butter, use European butter. My favorite is grass-fed Irish butter, Kerrigold. It's delicious and is actually good for you. For Parmesan cheese, buy a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano and grate it yourself with Microplane, one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. The grated cheese should be light, powdery, and fluffy and ready to melt away easily! Forget about the pre-shredded, pre-grated kind. They will not work here. Set a big pot of water to boil, while working on the butter mixture.
I have only salted Kerrigold butter in the fridge, no unsalted. This will have to do, I just have to be cautious with seasoning at the end. I cream 1 cup of butter, yes one cup, until light in color and fluffy in texture, then add 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, mix until combined.
Once the water comes to a rolling boil, put some salt in the water and then add fresh pasta, stir a couple of times to prevent it from sticking at the bottom of the pot. This only takes a few minutes. The pasta should be tender but still al dente. Once cooked, drain the pasta and put it in a big mixing bowl. Immediately add all of the butter mixture, yes all of it, to the hot pasta together with 1/4 cup of pasta water. Mix it quickly and thoroughly until the butter melts and becomes saucy, creamy and coats the pasta. You might have to add a few tablespoons more of water but don't overdo it. The sauce should be loosely thick and velvety, not watery. Taste for seasoning. You can add more grated Parmesan cheese, a squirt of lemon juice, or salt. Serve it immediately with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese on top as a first course. You want your guests to still be dreaming about it after finishing their last bite! One pound of pasta should serve 4-6 people. At Tillikum cafe, this dish is served as an appetizer, topped with fried sage and chopped roasted hazelnuts!
Today is my happy day! I finally cracked the code of this elusive dish. I made creamy pasta with two ingredients, butter and Parmesan cheese! Yes, there is a lot of butter in it but they put just as much at the restaurant, you just don't see it. Just savor a small portion and don't make it too often! This dish is a special occasion dish. I will definitely make this for my kids for Christmas dinner, together with the requested rack of lamb and some foie gras. I might have to double recipe! If nothing has changed, my son will be hungry soon after we finish dinner! And certainly, I don't want him to be disappointed!
Nothing says 'I love you' better than a bowl of velvety, buttery, creamy pasta! I hope you agree. :)
See creaminess? Yes, just two ingredients-butter and Parmesan! Delicious with fried sage leaves and chopped hazelnuts.