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Dreamy, Creamy Peanut Butter Pasta

Nigella's Dreamy, Creamy Peanut Butter Pasta

Brought to you by: Nigella
    4 serving
3.6 8 ratings Review this recipe

Prep time:

Cook time:

Serves: 4

I can’t deny that the idea of making a sauce for spaghetti with peanut butter might sound alarming – not least for Italians! – but I can promise you it has an appeal that goes beyond peanut butter fans. For what hits you most is not its peanuttiness but its voluptuous creaminess. Here, I propose cooking the pasta largely off the heat (and leaving tender spinach leaves in the colander, to be effortlessly wilted as the spaghetti is drained over it). This energy-saving and much calmer way of cooking pasta was taught to me by Anna del Conte 30 years ago, and written about in her 1991 book Entertaining all’Italiana, so I smiled wryly when I read recently of this breaking-news method, as authorised by the Nobel prize-winning Italian physicist, Giorgio Parisi. This store-cupboard stalwart, a favourite in my home, will, I hope, become as regular a fixture in yours.
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  • 1 240g pack baby spinach
  • 1 tbsp fine salt, plus ¼ tsp for the sauce
  • 320g spaghetti
  • 75g smooth peanut butter
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes
  • ½ unwaxed lemon, juiced, plus wedges to serve
  • 1 large pinch of paprika, for dusting (optional)


Step 1

Get out a large pan that comes with a tightly fitting lid, and fill it with 2.5L water from a just-boiled kettle. Clamp on the lid, and bring the water back to the boil on a large burner on your hob. Sit a large colander in the sink, break open your bag of baby spinach leaves with gusto and tip the contents into the waiting colander.

Step 2

Get out a clean tea towel (not a terry towelling or waffle one, just a smooth, thin one) and take it over to the stove. Once the water’s boiling vigorously, add 1tbsp fine salt, which will make the water rise up fizzingly. Wait for it to subside, then give it a good stir and, once the water’s boiling again, add the pasta, and stir with a pasta fork to help it submerge. Once the water has come back to the boil, cook for 2 mins, stirring often to detangle and declump the spaghetti. Once the 2 mins are up, take the pan off the heat – though just to a neighbouring burner – cover with your tea towel and clamp on the lid for 8 mins, during which you can prepare your remaining ingredients.

Step 3

Remove the lid and tea towel, give the spaghetti a good old stir, then scoop out 500ml of the starchy pasta cooking liquid with a jug or mug: it’s this that makes the sauce so luxuriously creamy. If you taste a strand of pasta, you should find it’s almost properly cooked, but still has a tiny bit of bite to it.

Step 4

Drain the pasta into the spinach-filled colander – thereby wilting the leaves – and take the pan back to the hob, leaving the colander in the sink for now. Quickly spoon the peanut butter into the warm pan and add about 125ml of the reserved pasta cooking water and stir well. It will look grainy and alarming at first, and when you look at the curdled clumps, you’ll think something’s gone wrong. It hasn’t! Just carry on stirring, adding the minced garlic, dried thyme, chilli flakes, 2 tsp lemon juice and ¼ tsp salt, and you will swiftly see a pale, herb-flecked emulsion come into being. Slowly stir in another 125ml of the pasta water until that too has been smoothly incorporated.

Step 5

Add the spag‘n’spinach and stir and toss in the pan (I use a couple of forks) to mix everything together as evenly as possible. You’ll need to keep adding more of the reserved pasta water, as the pasta will keep drinking it up, so keep adding a little at a time, stirring vigorously but carefully; you shouldn’t have more than 50ml left, though you might well use it all. Taste for seasoning – you may need more salt or lemon juice – then serve, making sure you give everyone an even amount of spinach. If wished, lightly dust the top of each bowl with paprika. And if you have half a lemon left over, you could slice it into thin wedges and give one to each person to squeeze as they eat.

Tips or serving suggestions

While I find it unlikely that it won’t all be gobbled, any leftovers make for a wonderful cold noodly lunch the next day, when I like to spritz it with a little extra lemon juice and sprinkle over a few more chilli flakes.

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