Pasta with Veggies and Browned Butter

Finished: Pasta with Browned Butter and Vegetables.

This is one of my personal favorites. It’s fast, simple, and healthy–well, maybe except for all the butter. It took me about 45 minutes from start to finish, but only because I like to take my time while I cook; this meal could probably be on the table in under 30.

I got the inspiration for this recipe from a book called How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman. Pasta with Browned Butter and Sage can be found on page 140 (though I should note we’re using an older edition, so it might be different for you). I won’t reproduce the recipe here, but urge you to look up the book–I’ve found it to be an indispensable resource, and it covers a huge range of dishes.

This recipe is a bit different. I started with the vegetables. You can put whatever you’ve got into this dish, though asparagus, sweet peppers and mushrooms are particularly good. We also put broccoli (a staple in our home!), and often throw in some frozen peas or edamame just as it’s finishing so they’re nice and crisp.

I steamed and blanched the asparagus and broccoli–separately, because they’ll cook at different rates–and set them aside. This ensures that they’re not cooked too much, and retain their beautifully vibrant green colour. Meanwhile, I sauteed the other vegetables in some vegetable oil, salt and pepper–and a tiny bit of butter for flavour. That was set aside once finished as well. It’s best to cook/prepare your vegetables first, because the pasta doesn’t take long, and you want to keep a close eye on the butter so it doesn’t burn.

The next step is the browned butter. I used about a quarter cup, but you can use more if you like; you kind of have to go by feel, as you want enough to coat the veggies and pasta, but not so much that it’s swimming in butter. Cook it over low heat–as low as your stove will go–and just after it melts, throw in about a tablespoon of basil. (The original calls for sage, but we prefer basil; rosemary or oregano would go well too, according to taste). Normally I also add a quarter cup or so of grated Parmesan cheese at this point as well; but tonight, I decided to use some shaved Parmesan I found at Safeway.

Note: This was a bit of a mistake. I thought that, being shaved so thinly, it would melt easily–but it didn’t. I ended up with clumps of cheese coated in butter…lesson learned!

Anyway, cook the butter on low heat until it begins to foam and brown. Don’t cook too hot or too long, or it’ll burn–you’ll know it to smell it. When it gets a nice fragrant, almost nutty aroma, it’s done.
Put in all the vegetables (and add the frozen stuff if you have it), and toss until covered. You can keep this on low heat (or none at all) while the pasta cooks.

We used multigrain pasta, because it’s awesome. It has a nice rich flavour, good even by itself, and it really adds to the overall taste of the dish. Cook according to the directions on the package. I suppose most kinds of pasta could be used, but spaghetti, spaghettini¬† (which is what we used here) or penne is probably best for this recipe.

Cooking Tip #1: When you’re cooking pasta, everyone knows to add a touch of salt to the water. But as we learned from How to Cook Everything, you actually want a decent amount–up to a tablespoon. The water should be briny; this will help enhance the flavour of the pasta.

Cooking Tip #2: Does your water boil over whenever you make pasta? You should be using a lot of water, so it’s likely. One thing we learned is to place a wooden spoon across the top of the pot. The boiling water will hit the spoon, and diffuse before it boils over. (This doesn’t always work, but most of the time it does–and we read it on the internet, so you know it’s true.)

Anyway, once your pasta is ready, take it off the heat and drain it–keeping a couple tablespoons of the water. Put the pasta back in the pot with the leftover water, then toss with the butter/vegetable mixture. Sprinkle some cheese on top, and you’re done!

The Pasta and Browned Butter with Sage recipe is great because it’s so versatile. Start with just the browned butter and some pasta, and go crazy from there. Here’s some ideas to try out:

  • Chop strips of fresh basil to sprinkle over the pasta when it’s done.
  • Add toasted pine nuts or almond slivers to the butter and vegetables.
  • Throw in a sliced jalapeno or Serrano pepper for a nice kick.
  • Toss with baby shrimp or small chunks of crab or pollock.
  • Add even more Parmesan and some cream to make an alfredo sauce.

Be sure to visit Mark Bittman’s website at How to Cook