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Pasta with Butter & Parmesan

PREP TIME 5 mins | TOTAL TIME 15 mins | SERVES 2

I’ve often said that the recipe for garlic spaghetti inspired my first book. For most of my life, it was the simplest dish I could imagine (it’s just butter, garlic, chilies and pasta) and the epitome of my uncomplicated cooking philosophy: fast, easy, satisfying, affordable and incredibly delicious. But my son Thomas changed everything. He doesn’t like the garlicky, chili-spiked pasta that my partner Michael and I so love. Instead, I make him pasta with just butter and Parmesan.

I never thought of it as a recipe—it’s too simple for that—until I saw pasta al burro on the menu of one of the finest Italian restaurants in Toronto. Through research and testing, I stumbled upon this method, in which the cheese and butter are mashed together, thinned out with a spoonful of hot cooking water and then tossed vigorously with the pasta until the two meld into something I can only describe as magic.

It’s the most delicious bowl of pasta I can imagine. It’s also consistently the most popular recipe on my website. We have it about once a week, on those nights when we’re cramming dinner in between school, hockey, piano and bedtime. And I’m definitely not opposed to a bowl as a late-night snack.

This recipe is from Dinner, Uncomplicated: Fixing a Delicious Meal Every Night of the Week. Photography by Suech & Beck.

Pasta with Butter & Parmesan


  • 250 g spaghetti (about half a box)

  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature


  1. Boil a large pot of water. Salt it generously. Cook the pasta accord- ing to package directions.

  2. Meanwhile, mash the Parmesan and butter together in a wide serving bowl. About 1 minute before the pasta is done, ladle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the hot cooking water into the serving bowl and whisk it vigorously to combine. Use tongs to transfer the pasta directly out of the cooking water and into the serving bowl. Toss to combine well (about 30 seconds, but use your judgment) and until the sauce looks like it has been absorbed by the pasta. Serve immediately with fresh black pepper and more Parmesan.

TIP: Generously salting the pasta water is critical here; without it, the whole dish is flat. I use about 1 tablespoon of salt for 4 L of water. It’s worth mentioning (because this surprises many of my students) that a single portion of this pasta contains about 14 g of protein, so don’t shy away from this recipe out of worry that it’s not hearty enough.

Click below for a printable version of this recipe.

Pasta Butter Parm_Claire Tansey
Download PDF • 88KB

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