In the UK recently, I found myself in an adorable cafe with grilled cheddar and Marmite sandwiches on the menu, so I fully died and went to heaven. Marmite is like all of the things that are great about mushrooms and miso in one deep, dark place. I am not, by the way, of the "You can only appreciate Marmite if you were eating it from the womb" school of thought here. I grew up in Jersey City; I didn't even have a Cadbury bar till I was 20. But in the same love-at-first-bite manner in which I fell for stinky cheese and black olives, I was Team Marmite from the jump. If you've never tasted it, imagine if a bouillon cube was a spread. Imagine a soy sauce you could put on toast. You're getting close. People who won't shut up about anchovies, what, you think you're too good for this?
Originally developed as a resourceful use of leftover brewer's yeast, Marmite gained popularity with 20th century families for its high concentration of B12 and folic acid. So maybe it's because it's so strongly associated with English nursery food that the most people usually can muster for Marmite is a fond nostalgia. Or maybe it's because it looks like buckwheat honey or chocolate syrup, but tastes like the bottom of a pan you just burned something in, that lends to its unpleasant reputation. Or maybe it's just truly a tough taste sell. A few years ago, Marmite's U.K. manufacturer teamed up with a genetic testing service to try to discover if a preference for it comes down to an innate predisposition. But I think the bad reputation is at least in part because newcomers to Marmite don't quite know what to do with it. This stuff is powerful. As one Food 52 commenter has said, "One NEVER 'slathers' Marmite. One 'scrapes,' It's not Nutella!" This is key. Don't ask something that's more like tomato paste to behave like peanut butter.
Instead, do as Nigella suggests and make the simplest, most comforting pasta with it. Originally published in her 2010 book "Nigella's Kitchen," Marmite spaghetti was introduced a new generation when Lawson posted it as her Instagram recipe of the day. Chaos ensued. "If you're Italian, and you're about to watch this, all I can say is, I'm sorry," YouTuber Adam Garratt told his followers when he made the "bizarre" (if ultimately, "nice") dish. Good Housekeeping declared the pasta "controversial," while the Independent noted that Lawson had "divided fans" over it.
Clearly, some of the horror over the recipe was not mere Marmite disdain, but its introduction into the ostensible ream of Italian food. But Nigella notes that the origin for the recipe came from Italian writer food writer Anna del Conte. Beyond that though, I'm sorry, are we really gatekeeping thin noodles now? If you think they don't belong in salty, brothy things, you're going to lose your mind when I tell you about ramen.
Buttery, cheesy and mysteriously savory, this dish is the best form of sweatpants food you can make. I have tweaked the quantities for more standard American products and boosted the amount of Marmite, but if you're shy, dial it back. It's not difficult to find Marmite in the U.S. — my gross local supermarket carries it — but it's also extremely easy to order from Amazon and the like. Get a small jar to start. Soon enough, you'll be hungry for more.
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Savory Marmite spaghetti
- 16 ounces (1 package) of spaghetti
- 5 tablespoons of good quality butter
- 3 teaspoons of Marmite or Truffle Marmite
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
- Freshly ground pepper
Set a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta to package directions.
When the pasta is close to done, head the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the Marmite and a tablespoon or so of the starchy pasta water.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the water.
Stir in the butter and marmite, adding a little of the pasta water to loosen if need be.
Serve topped with Parmesan and black pepper.
I'm not one to gild the lily here, but you could stir in some spinach or arugula for a nice bitter boost.
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