Thursday, May 10, 2012

Roasted Acorn Squash Brown Butter and Sage Pasta

Brown butter is alchemy as far as I am concerned. It takes something that is already good-butter-and turns it into something glorious, nearly unrecognizable. When I served dinner my friend L said "What's in this sauce?" and I said "Butter"and she said "Yeah, butter and what?" and I said "Butter". We went on like this for a while. The transformation from butter, creamy, slightly sweet and mild, and brown butter, deep, nutty and salty is a little unbelievable; she couldn't believe that there was only butter in the sauce. 
Some recipes call for brown butter to be strained and remove the milk solids, the little brown, crunchy, salty wonderful crumbs. I think this is crazy. Those caramelized milk solids are what make brown butter nutty, complex and a little magical. I cannot endorse straining brown butter. 

Roasted Acorn Squash Brown Butter and Sage Pasta

-Acorn or similar squash
-1/2 cup plus 2-3 tbs salted butter
-1 bunch sage leaves 
-pasta, any kind you like
-salt and pepper

Halve an acorn squash and scoop out the seeds. Brush the inside with olive oil  and sprinkle with salt and coarse pepper. Roast in a 400° oven for about 40 minutes. 

While the squash is roasting, melt the butter over medium high heat. Pay attention to the butter, it can burn quickly and it turns into disgusting black char. I have field tested tested this myself. After the butter melts it should boil and spit as the water in the butter evaporates. Then it should settle down and get foamy and frothy. Swirl the butter in the pan, watching for the colour to develop. The goal to get the milk solids in butter to turn a nice toasty brown. The milk solids hang out at the bottom of the pan, so check on their development by taking the pan off the heat every so often and letting the foam subside to check out the colour. Scrape them off the bottom of the pan occasionally so they don't burn. When the butter is a deep nutty brown pour it into a small bowl and set aside.

Add a couple more tablespoons of butter to the pan and melt on quite high heat. Fry the sage leaves for a minute or two. Test them for crispness pretty quickly after you start to cook them; let one cool for a moment on a paper towel to see if it is crispy once it cools. As soon as they are crisp remove them from the butter with a slotted spoon, drain on a paper towel. If the butter is brown you can add it to your sauce, if it got a little too burnt, toss it out. 

Set a large pot of salted water to boil; once it is boiling vigorously cook the pasta. When the squash is roasted let it cool until it isn't too hot to handle. Cube and peel the squash and set aside. 

Toss the steaming hot pasta with squash cubes, brown butter and a generous pinch of flaky salt and pepper. Smoked salt is particularly good but any nice sea salt is great. Plate the pasta and top with a crispy sage leaves. This pasta wants a leafy green little salad to take some of the edge of the richness and the edge off of my guilt for eating quite that so much butter. Because everyone knows salad cancels butter. That's science. 

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