Dessert pasta is the craving you didn't know you had. All the comfort and creaminess of pasta but for dessert! What's not to love?
Sometimes we get very firm ideas in our minds about what foods should be savoury and what foods should be sweet. Take for example chocolate. Chocolate is usually seen as sweet in our collective imagination, that is until it’s put into a Mexican mole sauce and served (savoury) alongside steak or beans or chicken.
The same can be said for mozzarella, which we usually see as savoury but makes a perfect addition to the Middle Eastern dessert kunafa. Pork is savoury until there's candied bacon on our pancakes and french toast is sweet until we have savoury french toast bake. We see pears as sweet but are fine with putting them into a creamy soup with goat cheese and walnuts. We see cheddar as savoury until it’s baked into the layers of an apple tart, adding complexity and depth and a streak of daring.
Although we've come to accept certain deviations in the traditional bounds between the worlds of savoury and sweet foods, one area where we’re woefully missing out (at least in the English speaking world) is with pasta.
We’re happy with the idea of sweet rice - rice pudding is so common it's a mainstay of airlines and seniors' residences the world over. But the idea of sweet pasta hasn’t hit the mainstream yet.
In Italy there are countless ways to make pasta, both savoury and sweet. There are giant cocoa coated pasta shells filled with chocolate custard, sweet Sicilian fried pasta with candied orange peel and pistachios, and angel hair pasta pie. The trend extends out of Italy too. There’s Hungarian baked dessert noodles rakott teszta, sweet macaroni pie budinca de macaroane from my native Romania, Croatian sweet pasta pie stonska torta, and of course who can forget the kugel.
There are a ton of ways to prepare and enjoy sweet pasta. The recipe I’ve shared here is a classic taste of Romanian childhood (with a little added adult luxury in the form of the super decadent mascarpone addition). It has relatively few ingredients and it’s simple to prepare. Most often we would eat this at breakfast or as an afternoon snack or dessert.
Much like a good rice pudding, the key is to cook the pasta in the milk low and slow until the milk reduces and becomes a custard-like sauce. Basically any dry pasta will do but short shapes tend to hold the sauce better i.e. shells, orecchiette, macaroni, fusilli, or cavatappi etc. If you're making this for kiddos then farfalle ("butterflies") and mini wheels might be more fun.
Cinnamon is a must, but you could also jazz it up with orange zest, crushed pistachios, cocoa powder, speculaas spice, or anything else you can think of…maybe even something that shifts that savory/sweet divide further toward the new and unexpected.
Sweet Cinnamon & Brown Sugar Dessert Pasta
- 250 grams dry pasta
- 1 liter milk maybe more if it reduces before the pasta is cooked and creamy
- 5 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 big spoonful mascarpone optional
- pinch salt
- Add the milk, pasta, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and salt to a pot and simmer on medium-low stirring often since the pasta is prone to sticking to itself and the pot.
- Continue cooking for 15-18 minutes, stirring frequently so the pasta doesn't stick. Slow cooking pasta may need a bit longer. If the pasta isn't cooked, add 3-5 minutes at a time (maybe 0.25 cup milk if needed) until it's cooked and the milk sauce is thickened.
- The dish is ready once the milk has thickened into a sauce and the pasta is fully cooked.
- If you want to go the extra mile, swirl in a big spoonful of mascarpone to make it extra creamy.
- The secret to this dish is cooking it low and slow so the milk has time to reduce into a custard-like sauce.
- If the liquid has reduced but the pasta still isn't cooked, add another ¼ cup of milk and continue cooking or repeat as necessary until pasta is cooked and swimming in a beautiful thick sauce.
- If you use a pasta that cooks very fast (less than 10 minutes) then the milk won't have time to thicken into a sauce. Either use a pasta that takes 10-13 minutes to cook, or be prepared to continue cooking low and slow past the point of al dente - it's okay soft pasta is delicious in this dish.