It's an ingredient that's probably in your refrigerator right now.

Sometimes the best cooking discoveries come from a moment of desperation. It was the end of the work week and I was making a slapped together, raid-the-refrigerator pasta for dinner. As I sauteed garlic and mushrooms in a skillet, I realized that this pasta could go from so-so to hey-this-is-actually good if I added a little cream. I checked the fridge, and of course, we had none.

But I did have a container of buttermilk, leftover from some cornbread I made earlier in the week. Here goes nothing, I thought, as I poured some into the skillet along with a little pasta cooking water (the other secret ingredient for great pasta). I tasted the sauce, and immediately went back for seconds. It was delicious! And my family agreed.

Turns out, heavy cream isn't the only way to make a noodle-coating pasta sauce that's silky and rich. Buttermilk is a delicious stand-in. And unlike heavy cream, it is naturally lower in fat. Buttermilk's other benefit is that it is acidic, and a little acid is something most pasta sauces need. Instead of adding a squeeze of lemon juice, a teaspoon of mustard, or a splash of vinegar, tangy buttermilk adds brightness to the dish and helps balance out all of that starch. It's especially tasty in cheese sauces.

And if all that weren't reason enough to celebrate, buttermilk is one of those ingredients that can be hard to use up. A batch of biscuits or pancakes usually only requires a cup or so of buttermilk, leaving plenty left over. If you're not a fan of drinking it with cornbread, save it for your next pasta night.

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