Today: Yogurt masquerades as pasta sauce in the role it was born to play.
It's almost too obvious: Take one thing you like, put it on the other thing you like. This explains why we put cheese on our apple pie, pineapple on our pizza, pizza on our bagels. It doesn't always work, but we'd be fools if we didn't try, right?
So when I tell you that you not only can but should put straight yogurt on your pasta, I understand why you're looking at me like I just told you ketchup was a perfectly good marinara sauce. It couldn't -- shouldn't -- be that easy, right?
Well, until recently, it wasn't. Diane Kochilas author of 18 books on Greek cooking, first developed this recipe as a variation on a theme she saw repeatedly in her travels in Greece. As she told me, this was an "adaptation of a very classic Greek island dish that calls for a very obscure cheese, which I reworked with yogurt." This was a genius move.
But at the time, in order for the yogurt to thicken enough to coat the pasta -- and not slip off into a puddle at the bottom of the plate -- you had to remember to strain it for two hours. This is hardly something to grumble about, but it did keep this dish in the realm of dinners you have to think about before you're hungry.
Now, with the widespread availability of thick, Greek-style (i.e. already strained) yogurts, this is an almost embarrassingly ready-to-eat food.
The only step that takes any time at all is caramelizing the onions, which you'll want to do right. They should look like stained glass when you're done, and taste like honey.
Then all that's left is to boil your pasta, stirring a little of its starchy, salty water into the yogurt to complete your sauce. Yes, now it is officially no longer yogurt, but "sauce".
There are endless ways you could add a little something to fancy up the meal -- like spinach. Blend it with peas and mint. Or tahini.
But Kochilas goes simple enough to stay within our reach (and our pantry's), indulgent enough to balance out the fact that this is essentially a cream sauce imposter.
Layer on those onions and long scrapes of pecorino, and you have a five-ingredient powerhouse to get you through anything: last-minute dinner parties, date nights, family affairs, vegetarian friendsgivings, and all the cold nights in between.
Adapted slightly from The Glorious Foods of Greece (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2001)
Serves 4 to 6
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 cups coarsely chopped onions
1 pound tagliatelle or other fresh pasta
2 cups thick, strained Greek-style yogurt
1 cup coarsely grated kefalotyri cheese, or pecorino Romano
1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onions. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently and seasoning with salt to taste as you go, until the onions are soft and golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. As the water heats, add enough salt so that you can taste it. Add the pasta and cook until soft, not al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water. Combine the yogurt with 1/4 cup cooking water and mix well. Add more of the reserved past water as needed to get the sauce to your thickness. Drain the pasta and toss with the yogurt mixture.
3. Serve the pasta immediately, sprinkled generously with cheese and topped with caramelized onions and their juices.
4. Note: If not using thick, Greek yogurt, line a colander with cheesecloth and set over a bowl or in the sink. Add the yogurt and let drain for 2 hours before proceeding with step 1. For a treat, seek out sheep's milk yogurt for this.
Photos by Ryan Dausch
This article originally appeared on Food52.com: Diane Kochila's Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions