Linguine with Arugula and Black Pepper

You know what? I used to be addicted to those super-quick pasta packages you find at the supermarket – you know, the Kraft mac-n-cheeses and the Pasta Ronis in assorted flavors. When I was in college, my roommates and I had a little hot plate in our dorm room, to which we would resort when the food at the dining hall was especially terrible that day. When all you have is a single hot plate and a little saucepan (and a whole night of homework ahead of you), those instant pasta things came in pretty handy. When I graduated from college, I would still turn to those pasta packages when I didn’t have time to really cook. When I moved to Berkeley and decided to eat healthier and more organic, I started buying Annie’s mac-n-cheese instead.

Today, I’m proud to say I’ve been Kraft-free (and Pasta-Roni-free and Annie-free) for about 2 years. How did I kick the habit? By discovering some awesome pasta dishes that literally take as little time to prepare as those pasta packages but taste ten times better. My favorite one to turn to is still this linguine dish I learned from the lovely Giada De Laurentiis, back when I still watched Food Network. Cheesy, buttery, and peppery (both from the black pepper and arugula), pasta doesn’t get simpler or tastier than this.

With a grand total of six ingredients (three of which you should have already lying around your kitchen) and a preparation time clocking in at 10-15 min, you too can kick your instant pasta habit. The first step, of course, is to admit you have a problem in the first place.

This recipe serves 4, but can be easily halved or even quartered, depending on how many you’re cooking for. I usually use more arugula than this recipe calls for, so add in extra handfuls if you like extra greens.

1 pound linguine (or any long pasta shape)
1/2 stick of butter (that’s 1 tbsp per serving of pasta)
1 1/4 cups very finely grated Pecorino Romano
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely chopped arugula

Cut up the butter into little cubes and put in a large bowl to let it soften. You’ll use this bowl to toss the pasta later, so make sure it’s big enough.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once it comes to a boil, add in a couple pinches of salt (they say the water should be as salty as the sea). Add the linguine and cook until al dente, stirring every so often to keep from sticking to the bottom.

(If you haven’t already, you can actually grate the Pecorino, grind the black pepper, and chop the arugula while the pasta’s boiling. Actually, when I don’t feel like busting out a knife, I even just tear the arugula by hand!)

Once pasta’s done, scoop out a few ladles of pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta.

Immediately put the hot pasta into the bowl with the butter, throw in the arugula, and toss to coat. While tossing, gradually add cheese and pepper. If the pasta seems too dry, add in some reserved pasta water.

Taste the pasta and add salt, if needed.

(Makes about 4 servings)