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How to Make Pasta with Brown Butter and Sage. An Easy Classic!

Updated on December 15, 2009

Making Brown Butter

The trick to making great pasta is to keep it simple – using a few good ingredients, and preparing them with a little care.

Pasta with browned butter may not sound like much, but once you taste it you’ll understand – it’s phenomenal and it’s a great, quick and easy pasta dish for nights when the cupboards are a little bare.

What Is Brown Butter?

Butter is composed of 2 things, milk fat and about 15% milk solids. If you look closely when you melt some butter in a saucepan, you will see a little bit of white above the pool of yellow fat – these are milk solids and it’s the milk solids in butter that can burn, if you’re not careful.

But, if you take melted butter halfway between just melted and burnt – you end up with browned butter, which has a lovely hazelnut-like flavor and which adds a ton of complexity to things like pastas without very much effort at all on your part.

Making browned butter is not at all hard, but you will need to watch the butter carefully as it melts, to make sure that you stop the process at brown, and not black. To make sure that you can see this transformation clearly, you will want to use a light colored (silver) in the making of this sauce (avoid black Teflon, for example).

Pasta with Brown Butter and Sage

for 4

  • 1 pound of cooked pasta (long noodles work well here, spaghetti, fettuccini, linguini etc.)
  • 1 stick of butter (8 Tbls)
  • About 2-3 Tbls of fresh sage, sliced

  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper


You may want to stop the cooking of your butter in a hurry, and so you should fill a bowl with cold water prior to starting the sauce. The bowl should be big enough so that you can dip in the base of your fry pan into the cold water to cool the sauce quickly.

  1. Cook your pasta to your liking, drain it and reserve (keep a cup or so of the pasta water handy for adding to the pasta at the end). Do not rinse the pasta…never rinse the pasta; you need the starches clinging on the pasta so that the sauce will adhere.
  2. Heat a light colored fry pan over medium. Add the butter and let it melt completely and then cook it stirring constantly, until the butter turns a light amber caramel color.
  3. Drop the sage in, let the sage fry for a few seconds and then remove the pan from the heat. (If the butter looks like it is getting too dark at any point, you can immediately dip the base of the fry pan in your bowl of water, to stop the cooking.)
  4. Pour the butter and sage over the reserved pasta and stir well to mix. Add in a little of the reserved cooking water as necessary, to give the pasta the right consistency. Grate with a generous quantity of fresh Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.

That’s it! It’s really very easy once you get the hang of it and it’s something that you can make at any time, without needing to go to the grocery store – at the drop of a hat.

*Freshly grated Parmesan will make a big difference in this recipe.

A video demo on making brown butter


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