Umami Pasta

I was listening to ATK Radio (America’s Test Kitchen, what else?) podcast the other day.  My favorite segment is the interview.  Kris Kimball, the host, was interviewing a chef this time and he always finishes chef interviews by asking, “What advice do you have for home cooks,” or, “Say, you’re at home and you have 30 minutes to fix dinner, what do you do?”  Great answers every time.  This time, the chef, Italian I think, describes a quick pasta he makes with maybe some garlic, fresh tomato, fish sauce, wine, and hard cheese.  He defends the fish sauce saying he has always felt that it was missing in Italian food.

Fish sauce is a staple in my pantry.  My dad used to joke about one bottle being a lifetime supply, but now they make Thai basil chicken (with cilantro ‘cause it’s cheaper and we’re all cilantro addicts) often enough that they go through a few bottles of fish sauce a year.  It’s odd if we don’t fix something from Nancie McDermott’s Quick and Easy Thai cookbook at least once a week.

So when this chef says I can expand my fish sauce’s influence to Italian cuisine I’ll give it a whirl.  Actually, I made up this pasta based on his advice that evening with everything I had on hand and needed to use up.  It is now my husband’s favorite and I’ve made it at least half a dozen times.


The recipe is for two, but can easily be halved or doubled.

Gather your ingredients, this pasta is very quick.  You can get your water boiling while chopping, but you’ll need to start cooking your vegetables for the sauce as soon as your pasta goes in, especially if your pasta takes less than 10 minutes.


Use any pasta, the first time I used Cavatappi, and I’ve also used spaghetti, angel hair, and this time I’m using Gemelli.

Undercook your pasta by two minutes.  It will finish in the sauce.



In a saucepan, a little oil and butter.  First do the white parts of green onions and onion (I had a red onion so I used it), after they’re nice and tender add minced garlic for 30 seconds until fragrant.





Add mushrooms and a little salt.  Mushrooms are like sponges and love their salt.






After they soften add chopped tomatoes.

Follow this with white wine and 2 teaspoons of fish sauce.  (As I was talking these pictures, I’m actually fixing it for just my lunch, so I was halving the recipe.  I thought the card said 2 T not 2 t, so I halved it to 1 tablespoon… which is 3 times the recipe!!  It’s a good thing I have a high threshold for fish sauce. )

Cook the liquid down for 1 minute, increasing the heat if you like, then turn it to low until your pasta is two minutes shy of al dente.



Add the drained pasta right to the pan and increase the heat to medium, stirring until the liquid is mostly absorbed, about two minutes.  Some pastas have more starch then my smooth Gemelli and soak the sauce more completely.




Remove from heat and scatter your chopped parsley and grated parmesan.






Serve and enjoy!



Print the Umami Pasta recipe card.

Umami Pasta