My 1-Ingredient Upgrade for Better Butter Pasta (It's a Pantry Staple)


I wish someone—perhaps the older kids—had warned me about this stage of parenting. My once-eyed children who ate pretty much anything I cooked and had no problem with textures or food colors have entered the age of independence. What they're willing to eat for dinner has become a power play and a way for them to exercise their autonomy — we've had plenty of nights when at least one child goes to bed hungry.

You're not here for parenting advice—though if you have any to kindly share with me, I welcome it. What I can offer you is a kid-approved recipe for buttery pasta that I can whip up in 10 minutes. My kids will eat it in silence and it's luxurious enough to serve to adult guests. My trick to making next-level buttery pasta is to use one key ingredient I keep in my pantry: Nutritional yeast.

What is nutritional yeast?

Nutritional yeast is sold as dried golden flakes and is beloved for its pleasant, nutty flavor that is packed with umami and health benefits. It is a passive yeast grown on sugarcane and beet molasses.

I used to make it to be hippie food for vegetarians, but since senior editor Laurel Randolph introduced me to it last year, I always add a bag of Trader Joe's nutritional yeast to my salt and pepper. I keep

Whenever a recipe calls for Parmesan, as buttery pasta often does, I add a tablespoon of nutritional yeast. It melts beautifully into butter and adds that same funky cheese flavor with the added benefit of being shelf stable and a fraction of the price.

Just Recipes / Mika Seva

How do I make Butter Pasta with Nutritional Yeast?

If you have a buttery pasta recipe that you like, add a tablespoon of nutritional yeast to the melted butter. that's it! Even if you don't use any cheese, you'll get a big boost of cheese flavor.

Here is my 10 minute butter pasta recipe:

Cover and boil eight cups of water and two teaspoons of salt. This is half the amount of water normally required to cook dry pasta, but I do it for two reasons. First, the water will boil quickly. Second, after the pasta is cooked, the water will become highly concentrated with the pasta starch and can be used to thicken the butter sauce.

When the water comes to a boil, add a pound of dry pasta to cook, stirring occasionally so they don't stick together.

Fastest cooking pasta

Every minute counts when you're a parent who needs to get food on the table as quickly as possible. I long ago let go of my trained chef ego and the illusion that there was an ideal pasta shape for every sauce. Instead, I know by heart the pasta shapes that take less than 10 minutes to cook:

  • Angel Hair: 4 minutes
  • Thin spaghetti: 6 minutes
  • Elbow Macaroni: 7 minutes
  • Small balls: 7 minutes
  • Mini Farfall: 7 minutes
  • Routine: 7 minutes

Meanwhile, melt a stick of unsalted butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Keep whisking for four to five minutes until the butter turns a light golden color, called brown butter.

Remove the pan from the heat so that the butter stops browning and does not burn. Stir in a tablespoon of nutritional yeast and a few cracks of black pepper.

Remove the cooked pasta with tongs or a strainer and add to the skillet. Stir to coat the pasta with the butter. Drain about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and stir into the pasta until luxuriously silky. You can taste and add more salt if you like, but I rarely do because the pasta water is quite salty.


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