The Best (and Surprising!) Cheese to Transform Any Quick Pasta Dish

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

We all have our go-to pasta-for-dinner recipe. It’s the one you make without thinking twice: you probably have the ingredients in your cupboard right now, at the ready. Ready to punch up that pasta? Read on for the best cheese to boost any back pocket pasta recipes.

This came about because I was just talking to my Greek friend about what he makes for dinner. He hailed the simplicity of pasta olio with feta. The dish is exactly that: pasta and oil. With feta. And I realized that feta — though not my favorite cheese for snacking, salads, and cheese plates — is one of my secrets for any application when it might be melted. In pasta dishes, it adds a layer of cheesy complexity, brought on mainly from its melty state.

When feta melts, it retains its sharp, salty bite but becomes luxuriously creamy, thereby imparting a super rich quality to whatever it accompanies. So while feta isn’t the typical topper for pasta, like a parmesan or pecorino, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. What I love most is that while a parm or pec adds cheesiness without changing much of the actual base flavor the dish, feta will change it entirely. And for the better.

Imagine a carbonara topped with feta, the richness of the eggs tempered by the brininess of the cheese. Or a simple tomato sauce, spiked with an edgy stir-in of feta. Putanesca, cacio e pepe, pesto, amatriciana, bolognese or primavera. All made better — and more to the point, different — with some feta.

It’s like a quicky trick that’ll double your repertoire of pasta dishes, just like that. It’s almost like making any sauce into a cream sauce, but instead of a milky coating, the result is more dynamic. More cheesy.

And the best part is that feta lasts forever. Truly. Forever. It’s held in a brine, so imagine the shelf life of a pickle or a caper. Almost infinite. So keep feta in the back of your fridge for any moment when a bit of pasta calls your name. Or for that matter, any sauce.

Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray’s Cheese Shop. Until recently she was a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show. She is currently a freelance food stylist and recipe developer in New York.

(Image: Faith Durand)