When it’s Monday night and your fridge is empty, your first instinct might be to make buttered noodles and swear you’ll go grocery shopping tomorrow. Butter and pasta are a respectable, scrumptious combination, but what if we told you that you could turn the kid’s menu classic into a real adult dinner in less than 20 minutes and with ingredients you already have? Enter this cheesy, garlicky, and slightly spicy weeknight pasta.

Spaghetti, when twirled in golden-brown garlic and hot olive oil, becomes perfectly coated in a simple mixture of spicy red pepper flakes, tangy lemon juice, and salty Parmesan cheese. Top your bowl with parsley and extra Parm, and you have dinner on the table (or the couch). This meal is in no way a nutritional powerhouse, but it is extremely satisfying when you want something comforting but not overly indulgent, flavorful but not difficult to make.

It’s a foolproof recipe, as long as you follow two important steps: Stick to the timing, and don’t forget to reserve plenty of pasta cooking water — the secret to a glossy, not clumpy, sauce.

Cheesy, garlicky weeknight pasta

(Serves ~6)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • about 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • a few pinches chopped parsley, for serving

Directions:

  1. Bring 4 quarts (16 cups) water to a rolling boil. Add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt.
  2. Add spaghetti, and cook for roughly 8 minutes. (This is likely shorter than package instructions but will ensure that the pasta is al dente. The pasta will continue to cook in the sauce.)
  3. When pasta is about halfway done, heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add garlic, and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Lower heat, add red pepper flakes, and stir.
  4. Once pasta cooks to al dente, transfer pasta directly from water to garlic mixture using tongs. (It’s OK if water gets into garlic mixture; this will help loosen the sauce.) Stir thoroughly to coat pasta.
  5. Add butter and lemon juice, stirring vigorously with tongs until butter is melted.
  6. Add cheese and pasta cooking water, stirring aggressively until the cheese evenly coats the pasta in a smooth, glossy sauce. Add more water if needed. Salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Divide pasta into bowls, top with parsley and more cheese, and serve.

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(Recipe and photos via Sara Cagle / Brit + Co)