Gemelli Pasta with Chèvre, Arugula, and Walnuts
“Creamy pasta sauces pose two problems: they are finicky to make and they quickly decompose into a stringy or grainy mess. So when we came across a recipe from Nigel Slater that suggested using fresh goat cheese instead of the Parmesean called for in classic Alfredo and carbonara, we were intruiged. The notion was simple. The heat of freshly cooked pasta and a splash of its cooking water would dissolve the soft chèvre, making a rich, smooth sauce in no time. Except it didn’t work. The ingredients quickly broke down into a chalky mess. Then we discovered a technique by Marcella Hazan in which you first mix the cheese with olive oil. It worked and wonderfully, but why? Turns out, goat’s milk has more fat than cow’s milk, so turning it into cheese requires the addition of acid. The acid forms the cheese curds but also creates strong water-insoluble bonds between the proteins. Hence our chalky mess. But add oil to the chèvre and those bonds slip apart and the cheese melts easily. The same trick works for any acid-set cheese, such as ricotta, cottage, and feta. We like to salt our pasta water liberally, since it seasons not only the pasta but also the finished dish; 2 generous teaspoons of kosher salt for 4 quarts of water was best.” —Christopher Kimball in his 2018 Beard Award–nominated Milk Street: The New Home Cooking
- Kosher salt
- 3/4 pound gemelli or casarecce pasta
- 4 ounces chèvre (fresh goat cheese)
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Red pepper flakes
- 4 ounces (about 4 cups) baby arugula
- 3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 1/3 cup finely chopped chives
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the pot and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the cheese, oil, and 3/4 teaspoon each of salt and red pepper flakes, stirring and mashing with a fork until smooth. Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water, then return the pasta to the pot.
Add the arugula, goat cheese mixture, and reserved pasta cooking water to the pot, then toss until the cheese mixture is evenly distributed and the arugula begins to wilt.
Stir in the walnuts and chives, reserving a tablespoon of each for garnish, if desired, then season with salt and red pepper flakes. Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl, then garnish with the remaining walnuts and chives.
Adapted from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street: The New Home Cooking (Little, Brown and Company 2017). Get more from Milk Street.