For some reason, my Mum never took us to downtown San Jose, it seemed, unless she absolutely had to. So as a kid growing up in the area, we never went to the Old Spaghetti Factory. It's not like I was missing out on a "must do" childhood event or anything, but it's a kid friendly place (sometimes they seat you in an old railway car!) and while I was cooking tonight, I found myself wondering why she never took us there.
She probably knew we'd dine there at some point in our lives, and I finally did when I was in college and living in downtown San Jose. It's not a bad deal for a night out on a college budget. Most of their dinners come with bread, salad, an entree, and a scoop of ice cream for dessert (at the time, it was all under 10 bucks). Now, the food isn't spectacular or anything, but it is decent. I can't remember what I ordered the first time I went, but it was probably my second of third visit when I finally discovered their Spaghetti with Mizithra Cheese and Browned Butter. I had never even heard of Mizithra cheese at that point, but I was HOOKED. It's not a melty chesee, but it's not hard like parmesan either. It's mild, and a little bit creamy, and when it's over a plate of hot spaghetti and topped with some browned butter, it's downright delicious. I ordered it every time I went after that (and still do).
Many years later, when I started shopping at a store with a decent cheese selection, I found some mizithra cheese and realized I could probably recreate my favorite OSF dish at home. The hardest part of the whole thing is probably the browned butter, and even that isn't too taxing, you just need to keep an eye on it. The rest is just boiling some pasta and grating some cheese. How much easier can you get? Lately I've been mixing it up a bit because I discovered Manouri Cheese. It reminds me of a softer Mizithra (and it's delicious), and frequently make this dish with it instead. Heck, if I get really lazy, sometimes I don't even brown the butter, I just drop a pat in the bottom of the bowl, toss hot pasta on top, and then cover the whole mess in cheese. Because really, isn't it all about the cheese anyways?
Spaghetti with Mizithra/Manouri Cheese and Browned Butter
(my rough approximation of a recipe)
1 serving dry spaghetti (about 4oz-6oz? Whole wheat pasta works here too.)
1-2 TBSP Unsalted Butter
about 1/3-1/2 cup grated Mizithra or Manouri cheese
I start out putting a large pot of water on to boil and once that gets going, I add the pasta, and then heat up a small sauce pan with the butter over lowish to medium heat. I find that this timing gets the butter and pasta done about the same time. Now, I frequently walk away once I've put a pot of pasta on to boil, but never if I've got butter browning along with it. What you're basically trying to do is put a little color on the solids in the butter and this can happen INSTANTLY. If you don't pull the pan away, you'll have burned butter. So keep an eye on it, and watch for it to start to get golden and slightly brown. You should be able to tell by the smell too, it will start to get kind of toasty/nutty. Once it starts to color, it goes fast. I tend to pull the pan off the heat shortly after that, but if you're brave, keep it on for another minute to get that real browned color.
(These might not be the best directions, but if you google "how to make browned butter", one of the first articles that comes up is this one at Chow.)
So when that pasta gets done to your liking, drain it and dump it in a bowl, add the grated cheese to the top, and then top with the browned butter. You could add a little chopped parsley if you're feeling fancy, but I tend to just dig right in.