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Asparagus and Brown Butter Pasta Recipe

One of the best things I ever learned to make in the kitchen was brown butter. Truly, mastering this extra step will elevate even the most humble home cook's desserts and dishes to restaurant-quality cuisine — and all it takes is a few extra minutes and a watchful eye.

Understanding the science behind brown butter

As is the case with most delicious things, the Maillard reaction is the key to the wondrous transformation of regular butter into beurre noisette, a gorgeously nutty sauce resplendent with complex caramel tones. When butter is heated, the Maillard reaction causes the milk solids to brown and introduce more nuanced flavours into the mix.

The result is a decadent brown butter that is as welcome an additive to most baking recipes as it is to a bowl of fresh handmade pasta. As long as your fridge is frequently stocked with butter, parmesan, and at least one seasonal vegetable, you can whip up a very impressive meal in almost no time at all — like I did with this asparagus and brown butter pasta recipe.

Asparagus and brown butter pasta recipe

Asparagus is in season at the moment, but you can sub it in for whatever else is in your fridge: green beans, sugar snap peas, petit pois, steamed Tenderstem broccoli. I tend to go for fresh, green vegetables that require little to no cooking. It ups the nutritional content of the meal and cuts down on prep time.

What you'll need from the shops:

  • Green vegetable of your choice

  • Pasta

  • Butter

  • Parmesan

  • Flaky salt

  • A garnish (I used dill leaves)

Here's how to make it.

Step One: Prep your kak

Once the butter has been browned, this dish is simply a matter of assembly. So, any prep work is just about making that happen as quickly as possible.

However, if you do want to elevate this dish to the next step, I'd recommend shocking your greens. This simply means boiling them in salted water briefly before dunking them in an ice bath, a process which lightly seasons your veg while also preserving an intensely vibrant green colour that pops on the plate.

(Pssst: shocking your greens also helps revive limp vegetables that have been lurking in the back of the fridge for some time. Your guests will be none the wiser!)

Once they're properly shocked, simply chop your asparagus into suitably sized spears, grate some parmesan, and put your pasta on the boil.

(Remember, if you are using fresh pasta, this will only take two minutes — time accordingly).

Step Two: How to brown butter

We've already posted a recipe for beurre noisette on the site, but we're doing it again with pictures this time. First, put your desired amount of butter (about 60g of solid butter per person) into a pot and put it on medium-high heat.

Let it melt.

Fairly soon, your melted butter should start sputtering and bubbling rapidly. The bubbles should be fairly large and dissipate quickly. Begin stirring and do not stop. This is not the time to check the rugby score.

At this stage, you'll want to turn the heat down a notch. Your melted butter will stop producing such large bubbles and begin to foam. It will begin to change to a light golden colour, and you may notice brown solids at the bottom and the sides of the pan — this is a good thing.

Keep stirring!

Eventually, the foam will subside and the clarified butter will have deepened to a golden-brown colour. Your kitchen should smell like a mixture of buttered popcorn and caramelised nuts.

Now, pour the brown butter into a heatproof bowl to slow any further cooking. If the butter is browner than you would like, put the heatproof bowl into an ice bath without submerging it to stop the cooking process altogether. You should end up with something that looks like this:

Step Three: Assemble your pasta

With that done, all that remains is decanting the cooked pasta and shocked vegetables into a bowl, spooning generously with browned butter, and topping it all off with parmesan shavings, flaky salt, and a herb garnish of your choice.

There you have it! A dead simple, devilishly delicious, and relatively healthy meal. Enjoy!


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