I’ve Been Making This Spaghetti Dinner Since I First Learned How to Cook

published Jan 7, 2023
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Spaghetti with Mizithra Cheese and Browned Butter

In this Olde Spaghetti Factory copycat recipe, spaghetti tossed in garlic browned butter and mizithra cheese

Serves4 to 6

Prep10 minutes

Cook20 minutes

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a bowl of pasta
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman, Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero

It may have been the first time I experienced browned butter. As a person who believes browned butter to be a transformational ingredient in cooking, the moment you discover it, you are forever changed. 

My family and I ate at the Italian American restaurant chain The Old Spaghetti Factory pretty regularly in the ’90s. With locations all over the country, it was easy to do. If my family and I were spending the day in San Diego, most times we would end up having dinner at the downtown location. If I landed in Seattle, my dad and I would swing by the Tacoma location for dinner on the way home.

Old Spaghetti Factories were usually housed in old, large converted warehouses or buildings and held many sections and tables. It was a great place to bring a crowd. You could get a reasonably priced meal, and the decor featured early 1900’s antique furniture including reupholstered chairs, refinished tables, and wood paneling. Each restaurant had a signature train car inside. I remember being obsessed with only wanting to be seated inside one of the train’s tables. I loved this place so much that it was one of my first restaurant jobs. I opened the San Marcos location as a hostess in the late ’90s.

On the menu was an Italian American hit list: spaghetti with marinara, meat sauce, mushroom sauce, and clam sauce. It was the first place I ever tasted chicken Marsala. But the one dish that stole my heart, the one I ordered time and time again, was the spaghetti with Mizithra cheese and browned butter.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman, Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero

It was a simple dish: spaghetti noodles are coated with ample browned butter and tossed with a salty Greek dry cheese called Mizithra. I had never had anything like it and rarely ordered anything else after that. 

At “Spag,” as my dad and I called it, you could order the “potpourri.” It was a combination of four sauce varieties, or you could get the “manager’s special,” which was a choice of two. When I was young, I could never choose. But as I got older, I always ordered the manager’s special with half mushroom marinara and the other half Mizithra cheese and browned butter. I would eat some of each pasta, then roll the Mizithra pasta in the leftover red sauce on the plate, creating what was, for me, the perfect bite.

Making Mizithra Cheese Pasta at Home

When I first moved out on my own, I recreated the dish often. It was simple enough for an extremely novice cook, and was the first dish to inspire me to make browned butter. Cook the pasta, brown the butter, add garlic, toss the pasta in the browned butter, then top with grated Mizithra cheese and serve. In the time it takes to cook the spaghetti, you can make this recipe.

Recently, as I was doing more research about the dish, I found I’m not the only person who loves it. This dish was so popular that OSF began manufacturing their Mizithra cheese blend, which is now sold in grocery stores all over the country. I also learned that they actually use a blend of Mizithra and Pecorino Romano to create their delicious pasta, so I included both in my recipe here as well. You can find Mizithra at your local cheesemonger or specialty Greek market, but if you need, you can use all Pecorino Romano, which is similar in texture and saltiness.

Sometimes, to really bring the nostalgia home, I’ll add a small amount of marinara to the plate just to mimic the manager’s special. I don’t include that part in the recipe below, but I recommend you try it!

Spaghetti with Mizithra Cheese and Browned Butter

In this Olde Spaghetti Factory copycat recipe, spaghetti tossed in garlic browned butter and mizithra cheese

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2

    large cloves garlic

  • 12 tablespoons

    (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water

  • 2 ounces

    mizithra cheese

  • 2 ounces

    Pecorino Romano cheese

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    fresh ground black pepper

  • 1

    small bunch fresh parsley leaves

  • 1 pound

    dried spaghetti

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

  2. Meanwhile, finely chop 2 large garlic cloves. Cut 12 tablespoons unsalted butter into 6 pieces. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Continue to cook until the butter is medium golden brown and nutty smelling, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Immediately add the garlic and 1 teaspoon kosher salt and stir to combine. (The garlic will cook as the pan cools.) Remove 1/4 cup of garlic butter and set aside in a small bowl or measure out in a heatproof cup. Leave the remaining butter in the skillet to cool but not harden.

  3. Grate 2 ounces mizithra cheese and 2 ounces of Pecorino Romano cheese (about 3/4 cup each) on the small holes of a box grater. Transfer the cheeses to a medium bowl and stir to combine. Remove 1/2 cup of the cheese mixture for garnish. Finely chop a small handful of fresh parsley leaves until you have about 3 tablespoons.

  4. When the water is boiling, add 1 pound dried spaghetti and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain the pasta, then transfer to the reserved skillet. Toss with tongs over medium-low heat until the noodles are coated with the browned butter. Add the cheese mixture, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and toss to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

  5. Transfer the pasta to a serving plate and drizzle with the reserved garlic butter. Garnish with the reserved cheese, parsley, and pepper as desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

This post was originally published on Kitchn. Read it there: Spaghetti with Mizithra Cheese and Browned Butter