ike some of the greatest discoveries in history, I found out that goat cheese melts with hot pasta into a creamy, tangy sauce by mistake. I was cooking for roommates last year but didn’t have the time to go to the grocery store beforehand. I had one red onion, weeks-old frozen Italian sausage, pasta, and some goat cheese left over from the previous week. I decided to follow in the philosophy of the great pasta makers before me, mixing whatever tasted good in the same bowl and finishing it with cheese. But when I stirred in the crumbles of goat cheese (it can dry out a little in the fridge), they melted from the steam of the freshly-strained pasta and turned into the softest, most sophisticated cream sauce I had accidentally ever made. After that evening, and after unanimous affirmations from my roommates, I ventured to see what would happen if I did it on purpose.
And so, goat cheese pasta was born. The key to this dish is mixing the goat cheese with the pasta as soon as it gets out of the water. The steam adds moisture to the goat cheese and together they melt into something that tastes like it’s been layered with flavors by a restaurant chef—but it’s just goat cheese.
Because the dish has such simple ingredients, it’s important to maximize the flavor of each component. When sautéing the onions, get the pan nice and hot (not smoking) first, then drop them and the garlic in and listen to the sweet sizzling chaos. After a couple of minutes, lower the heat and let them soften. This will take the longest—15 to 20 minutes. If you’d like some more heat, extra cracked black pepper and red pepper flakes add a warmth that wraps up the sweet goat cheese like a plaid blanket on an autumn day.
When it comes to choosing a pasta shape, you can go in any direction. I like farfalle (a fancy name for bow ties) because the goat cheese gets in all the ridges, but you could use whatever box or bag you have sitting around. For an extra edge, try making it with gnocchi or ravioli from Trader Joe’s, or with another favorite leafy vegetable like broccoli rabe.
Start to finish: 45 minutes
2 red onions
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
1 pound of bow tie pasta
1 ½ cups fresh spinach
1 8-ounce sleeve goat cheese
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a cast-iron skillet, sauté onions, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.
- As onions begin to soften and release their moisture, add sugar and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.
- Stir the onions until soft and sweet. Then remove them from the pan and set them off to the side.
- Remove the sausage meat from its casing and add to the pan. Mash it up with a wooden spoon into bite-size chunks (if you want to make this vegetarian, you could skip the sausage all together and it would still be delicious).
- Bring a pot of salted water to boil and add the bow ties. Stir the bottom of the pan so they don’t stick.
- When the sausage is almost finished, add your onions back into the pan and combine.
- When the pasta is nearly done boiling, add the spinach to the onion-sausage mixture and sauté it quickly until it wilts—about one to two minutes. Remove it from the heat once it’s cooked to preserve the bright green color of the spinach.
- Strain the pasta and pour it directly into a big bowl without straining all the water off it.
- Break up the goat cheese into spoon-sized pieces and stir throughout the pasta. Continue stirring until the goat cheese melts and the pasta looks like mac and cheese.
- Stir in the sausage, spinach, and onion mixture.
- Finish with salt and lots of black pepper.
Featured Image by Meegan Minahan / Heights Editor