When I moved to the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago five years ago, the area had yet to be completely and totally saturated with bars and restaurants and breweries and distilleries. But it had Lula Cafe, and even after all these years, the restaurant is still as relevant (and packed) as ever. Part of that is due to the fact that it's the rare kind of place that is both funky and serious about its food, regardless of whether you want a six-course vegetarian tasting menu or a simple sandwich. One of the staples is a simple noodle dish called pasta yia yia, which features long and hollow tubes of pasta tossed with brown butter, cinnamon, and goat cheese. It's essentially spruced-up mac and cheese—creamy and comforting, with interesting spices going on.
I never thought of making it because, well, I just live around the corner from Lula. But then my mom got me a package of maccheroncelli—the same kind of pasta that Lula uses for the dish—so I thought I'd give it a whirl.
I had all kinds of ideas of how to make this recipe my own, but all the embellishments felt forced, so I stripped almost all of them away. I only had one true insight, and that was to add slivered almonds. They're toasted with the brown butter, adding a much-needed crunch to each bite. I also gave it a squeeze of lemon to help brighten things up. I, of course, forgot to add the goat cheese before taking the photo, and then ate all the pasta before I realized the mistake. I hope you'll forgive me.
- 1/2 pound maccheroncelli or bucatini
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup almonds, slivered
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon fresh juice from 1 lemon
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ounces goat cheese, torn into small bits
- Grated parmesan (for serving)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the packaging. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of cooking liquid.
While pasta cooks, melt butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium-low heat. Stir often with a wooden spoon until butter turns light brown and becomes fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add almonds and garlic, stir well, and cook until almonds are light brown and toasted, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in cinnamon and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Set aside until pasta is cooked.
Increase heat on skillet to high, add pasta, pasta water, and lemon juice. Toss well. Continue cooking until sauce reduces and coats the noodles. Season to taste with salt. Serve noodles with goat cheese and grated parmesan.