EXCLUSIVE: TikTok chef ‘Pasta Queen’ shares tasty recipes you can prepare on a low budget

Pasta Queen Nadia Caterina Munno is a celebrity chef for the modern age.

Rather than training in a Michelin-starred restaurant or winning a TV cooking competition, she learned her craft from her Italian mother and grandmother – and found fame on TikTok.

Horrified by a video of someone making a “lasagna from hell” on the social media site in 2020, Nadia posted a mocking response.

Since then the Rome-born extrovert mum of four has “dominated the pasta space”, with more than two million followers.

Claiming the title, “Pasta Queen of TikTok,” Nadia, 39, has now released her first book: The Pasta Queen: A Just Gorgeous Cookbook.

And despite the soaring price of shop-bought pasta, she swears many of the 100-plus recipes are perfect on a tight budget.

Pasta itself, as shown in the book and on her TikTok, can be made with flour, egg and water – or just flour and water. She says: “You can buy a bag of flour for a few quid and a couple of eggs and you’ve got your pasta, which you can freeze for up to three months.”

Recalling the terrible TikTok lasagna that launched her cooking celebrity, she says: “It was gross. I made a video with my cousin Fabrizio reacting to this blasphemous lasagna and it went to a million views in a couple of days.”

Growing up in Italy, the fifth generation of a pasta making family, and helping on her grandparents’ farm, Nadia could make pasta by the age of four.

At 18 she moved to London to pursue a career in marketing. After meeting husband Brook, 40, in a pub in 2003, her pasta skills helped to cement their love and they married three months later.

“Pasta is my love language,” she laughs. “I think my cooking made him fall in love with me even more.”

Returning to Rome before the birth of their first child in 2007, she made jars of pasta for her baby.

Her kids Eleanora, 14, Gabriel, 13, Desiree, 10, and Penelope, four, can all cook.

She says: “I feel blessed passing on my passion for pasta.”

Moving to Florida in 2015, where she ran an online security business with Brook, she was delighted when she became a TikTok star.

She says: “You can make so many different types of pasta and none of the recipes I am sharing here use prime meat or prime fish, so they don’t cost much.

Recommending aglio olio e peperoncino as the best pasta dish on a budget, she adds: “All you need is some fresh cherry tomatoes, a couple of basil leaves, garlic, olive oil and spaghetti. It tastes gorgeous but is really cheap.”

Here Nadia shares some other recipes from her book.

Vegan lady of the night

  • 400 grams cubed (1.5cm) aubergine (about 1 large aubergine)
  • Sea salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 120 millilitres extra-virgin olive oil
  • 450 grams baby plum tomatoes, halved
  • 90 grams olives (I like Gaeta or Kalamata)
  • 2 tablespoons capers (rinsed and soaked if salt-packed, drained if in brine)
  • 250 grams tinned peeled plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 450 grams gluten-free farfalle
  • Fresh basil leaves, for garnish

1 Place the aubergine in a colander and sprinkle all over with an abundant amount of salt. Set aside to drain, weighted down, for 1 hour. Rinse, then pat dry with kitchen paper.

2 Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat.

3 Meanwhile, in a large deep sauté pan, sizzle the garlic in the olive oil over low heat until bubbles form around it, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the aubergine, increase the heat to medium, and shower it with some salt. Stir, adding water as needed to cook the aubergine until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the baby plum tomatoes, increase the heat to medium-high, season with salt and cook until the tomatoes soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the olives and capers. Pour in the tinned tomatoes, season with salt and cook until the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes have lost their raw flavour, about 8 minutes.

4 Once the water has reached a rolling boil, season with salt until the water tastes like a seasoned soup. Drop in the pasta and cook until al dente.

5 Add the pasta to the sauté pan with a few spoonfuls of the tears of the gods (pasta water). Simmer briefly to bring the flavours together and thicken the sauce. Serve garnished with basil leaves.

Spaghetti al limone

  • Sea salt
  • 450 grams spaghetti
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons (about 2 tablespoons), plus more for garnish
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 480 millilitres double cream

1 Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Season with salt until the water tastes like a seasoned soup. Drop in the pasta and cook until very al dente (a little more than half the recommended cooking time).

2 Meanwhile, in a large deep sauté pan, heat the butter and garlic over medium-low heat and cook until the garlic starts sizzling with little bubbles around it, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the olive oil, then the lemon zest and lemon juice, and let the flavours mingle.

3 Pour in the cream and season with a heavy pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the cream sauce begins to thicken, about 5 minutes longer.

4 Transfer the pasta to the sauté pan along with a ladleful (120ml) of pasta cooking water. Cook the pasta until al dente. Check frequently to see when the pasta is done and add more pasta cooking water as needed to finish cooking the pasta and keep the sauce loose. Serve with lemon zest sprinkled on top.

Tonnarelli cacio e pepe

  • 300 grams finely ground Pecorino Romano
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
  • Sea salt
  • 450 grams homemade Tonnarelli or store-bought fresh spaghetti alla chitarra

1 Fill a large pot halfway with water. Bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. While the water is coming to the boil, in a medium bowl, combine the Pecorino Romano and 240ml water and stir passionately, adding more water a little at a time as needed to make a luscious cream.

2 In a large frying pan, heat the ground pepper over low heat, swirling to lightly toast it and bring out its gorgeous aromas, about 30 seconds. Add a splash of water and swirl to infuse it with the pepper’s spicy and smoky aromatics. Remove the pan from the heat.

3 Once the water has reached a rolling boil, season lightly with salt. Drop in the tonnarelli and cook until the pasta is tender. Transfer the pasta directly to the pan with the pepper.

4 Pour in the Pecorino Romano sauce and toss vigorously until the pasta is drenched in peppery sauce and the sauce is silky and smooth. Add the tears of the gods (pasta water) a spoonful at a time if the sauce is clumpy and stir passionately until smooth. Serve drizzled with any remaining sauce in the pan and garnish with a scrunch of pepper.

Mac ‘n’ cheese bake

  • Softened butter, for the baking dish
  • Sea salt
  • 450 grams radiatori or any pasta shape you have
  • 350 millilitres Béchamel (milk, flour and nutmeg)
  • 450 grams Fontina cheese, cut into 1.5cm pieces
  • 115 grams smoked provolone, cut into 1cm pieces
  • 100 grams finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • Freshly made breadcrumbs

1 Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Grease a 33 × 23cm baking dish with butter.

2 Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Season with salt until the water tastes like a seasoned soup. Drop in the pasta and cook until al dente.

3 Transfer the pasta to the baking dish and stir in the béchamel, Fontina, provolone, three-quarters of the Parmigiano Reggiano and a scrunch of black pepper. Dot the top of the pasta with the butter cubes, then dust with the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano.

4 Bake until the Fontina melts and the Parmigiano Reggiano starts to form a crust, about 20 minutes. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The assassin’s spaghetti

  • 60 grams tomato paste
  • Sea salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Calabrian chilli flakes
  • 60 grams extra-virgin olive oil
  • 400 gram tin peeled plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 450 grams spaghetti
  • Whole fresh long red chillies

1 In a medium pot, bring 1.4 litres water to a rolling boil. Stir in the tomato paste until it dissolves to create a broth. If necessary, add salt until it tastes like a seasoned soup and keep the broth warm over a very low heat.

2 Meanwhile, sizzle garlic and chilli flakes in the oil in a sauté pan over low heat. Add tomatoes and a heavy pinch of salt.

3 Increase heat to medium high and add the spaghetti. Ladle in the tomato broth to keep the spaghetti just barely submerged, adding more as needed.

4 Let the pasta cook until it sticks to the bottom of the pan and starts to burn slightly. Toss briefly and add a splash (60ml) of tomato broth to the pasta.

5 Cook until al dente, allowing the pasta to absorb the liquid. Add 60ml tomato broth at a time as needed to finish cooking the pasta. Garnish with fresh chillies.