George and Rachel Murray with their new daughter, Lenore. Photo courtesy of George Murray

One night I make spaghetti with a tea kettle. My wife, Rachel, famished by the waning days of pregnancy, scrutinizes the bowl I lay before her: wrinkled cherry tomatoes and aromatic herbs are embedded like bird’s eggs in a spaghetti nest, speckled by a heavy dust of Parmesan. It’s a fancier-looking pasta than any I’ve made in my life, a spaghetti for people who own matching silverware and read novels about suburban malaise.

I see her look and shrug. “Tea kettle,” I say.

She eats, intrigued and alarmed that the taste surprises as much as the appearance – savory, robust, subtly saucy. What did you do? she asks, referring to both the how of the meal, and the why of my making it.

“I’ll show you.”

The next time I cook she watches in shock, fear even, as I boil water in the kettle, pour it over the pasta before tossing it with tongs – evoking at once British teatime and Italian dinner and American barbecue. I cook the tomatoes in the pasta water, bursting them with the tongs, let their juices seep in as the spaghetti relaxes. Rachel pulls aside the drapes and peers into the chirping dark of Oxford County. This is too unsettling, too aberrant. Surely someone will come and stop me.

But nobody does. Nobody can. My wife is eight months pregnant and I’m making spaghetti with a tea kettle – I have nothing to lose.


For the remaining summer the whistle of the kettle heralds the arrival once more of what is now called Marriage Spaghetti. It becomes a staple dinner as the baby countdown gets closer and closer to zero. And when Lenore finally arrives in August I fret for her, envision her growing up an outcast, derided by unenlightened classmates who eat spaghetti from a pot.

Like anyone who shares a house with me, Lenore is rife with anxiety. Cheryl, my mother-in-law, drives up most weekends to assist us. One night I make her the Marriage Spaghetti and she’s enamored. On subsequent trips she brings the ingredients with her, packing spaghetti in her suitcase the way one might pack a toothbrush. She asks why we call it the Marriage Spaghetti. I tell her it’s the single recipe most responsible for keeping our marriage together. This isn’t strictly true – my chocolate chip cookies do a lot of heavy lifting as well – but when I bring the kettle out for a weeknight dinner, I like to hope my wife feels it’s worth dealing with my neuroses for one more week.

Marriage Spaghetti. Photo by George Murray

Marriage Spaghetti

This is essentially the New York Times’ One Pot Cherry Tomato Spaghetti recipe, with slight variations on technique, and a few suggested items deemed mandatory. The spaghetti is cooked in a conservative amount of simmering water alongside a pile of cherry tomatoes, which gradually burst and reduce, cooking the pasta in its own sauce. Strategic addition of herbs and anchovies rounds out the flavor, creating a surprising and satisfying weeknight meal.

Murray adds the anchovies whole, but says if he is serving squeamish eaters, he may chop them up first. Also, while the dish calls for a lot of salt, he finds it provides a nice counterpoint to the tomatoes. Use less if you like, of course.

1 lb. spaghetti
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt
1 bunch spinach, chopped
Red pepper flakes, to taste
5 or 6 anchovy filets
Fresh herbs (we prefer basil, but parsley or oregano works too)
Parmesan, to taste


Lay the spaghetti flat in a large pan, along with the tomatoes, oil, lemon juice and salt. Heat a little over a quart of water in a tea kettle, then pour it over the spaghetti. Cover and bring to a simmer. When the water is simmering, remove the lid and begin gently nudging the spaghetti with tongs to prevent sticking. As you do so, the tomatoes will start to wrinkle a bit – use your tongs to squeeze the tomatoes and burst them, letting the juices mingle with the simmering water.

After about 6 minutes, add the spinach, red pepper flakes and anchovies. Continue to toss, more vigorously now, until spaghetti is cooked, bursting any remaining tomatoes as they soften. Remove from heat when done, and pile the fresh herbs on top, tossing some more, before adding a generous dusting of parmesan.


“I originally taught myself how to cook when my now-wife was in medical school, hoping to give her an occasional reprieve from boxed and frozen meals in between her studies. I still cook for her, but with the recent addition of my baby daughter to our household (we live in Oxford), I am looking up new foods to share with her as well. We eat a pescatarian/vegetarian diet, however I do cook meat occasionally for myself when my wife is away and if I’ve found a new recipe to try. My favorite tool in the kitchen is my ThermoPop (digital thermometer) – I don’t like using arcane rituals to divine the doneness of my fish when I can just ask it directly. I’d say my style in the kitchen is ‘experimental, then apologetic.’ ”


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