The butteriest, lemoniest, simplest weeknight pasta sauce

Try this super-quick, über-easy way to upgrade simple pasta dishes

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published December 23, 2022 1:30PM (EST)

Cheese Ravioli in Brown Butter Sage Sauce (Getty Images/JacobVanHouten)
Cheese Ravioli in Brown Butter Sage Sauce (Getty Images/JacobVanHouten)

Abbondanza — Italian for "abundance" — is a bi-monthly column from writer Michael La Corte in which the author shares his tips for making traditional Italian-American recipes even better.

Brown butter is culinary magic.

In case you're unfamiliar with it, brown butter is essentially melted butter with caramelized milk solids, which transform melted butter from a typical popcorn topping into something more crave-able and decadent. Starring in everything from cookies and cake to popcorn and pasta, it's one of the food world's most beloved ingredients.

Like buttery, toasted nuts, brown butter has an uncanny ability to touch on nearly every foundational flavor. It not only embraces umami at its best but also elevates anything it touches in the kitchen. Even better, it comes together in no time at all — and with nothing more than a stick of butter and a pan.

Because it really is that easy to up your home cooking game with brown butter, you've likely heard me sing its praises before, so I'm not here to discuss more of the same. Today, I'm going to share something entirely new: a super-quick, über-easy way to upgrade simple pasta dishes.

Are you ready to pair that nutty, almost hazelnut-y essence with both pasta and cheese? I dare you to resist (because it may not be possible).

In this weeknight-friendly dish, I've taken the requisite pasta for kids (or kids at heart) who are tomato-averse aka pasta with cheese and butter. Anchored by brown butter, this recipe soars, taking those standard yet reliable components to new heights by not only gussying up the ingredient list but also adding a bit more time and heat.

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Lately, I've found that a simple brown butter and sage sauce is a bit loose, thin and unexciting on its own. As a result, I've bulked it up a bit with Better than Bouillon or broth, plus cream and garlic. This transforms the taste from nutty to creamy, robust and round. The elevated flavor not only ensures another bite but also morphs the browned butter into a full-fledged sauce that can stand up to any pasta.

The other cool part about this dish is that: 1) it legitimately comes together in less than 30 minutes; 2) you'd spend more than $20 on it at a restaurant (it tastes that sophisticated); 3) it requires hardly any effort, minus a little bit of patience.

Said patience comes largely in the form of observation: Brown butter can go from appetizing and fragrant to unappealing and downright burnt in the blink of an eye. Don't let your eyes wander from the stove as you continually stir the butter or swirl the pan, ensuring that those brown bits don't become burnt specks ominously floating in your "liquid gold."

Bucatini with Spinach, Brown Butter Cream and Toasted Hazelnuts
04 servings
Prep Time
05 minutes
Cook Time
25 minutes


  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound bucatini
  • 1 stick high-quality, unsalted butter
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons Better than Bouillon (See Cook's Notes)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane or finely minced
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted until fragrant (See Cook's Notes)
  • 1 to 2 lemons, juiced and zested
  • 1/2 cup spinach
  • Chives, finely chopped, for garnish
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for topping




  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once it's at a rolling boil, add salt and the bucatini and cook according to package directions. Reserve about 1/2 cup of starchy cooking water before draining. Do not rinse or cold shock.
  2. In a large pan or skillet, melt the butter. Swirl the pan or stir consistently, noting that the aroma changes from pure butter to a warm, toasted nut-type fragrance. Take the brown butter as toasty as you'd like. (Once you add the other ingredients, the butter won't brown any further, so be sure to brown it to its fullest extent now.)
  3. Add the garlic and let toast 30 seconds.
  4. Add a teaspoon or two of Better than Bouillon, plus a cup of water and the starchy cooking water. Cook until the liquid reduces by about half.
  5. Add the heavy cream and reduce by another half. Continue to stir or swirl, keeping the heat over low.
  6. Add the lemon juice and half the zest. Continue to cook (over low heat) until the sauce is perfectly nappe and coats the back of your spoon.
  7. Add the spinach and let wilt, about a minute or so.
  8. Add the drained pasta to the pan with brown butter sauce, toss well and cook for about a minute.
  9. Plate the pasta, spoon over a bit more sauce and garnish with roughly chopped hazelnuts, the remaining lemon zest, chives and grated cheese.

Cook's Notes

- If you don't have any Better than Bouillon handy, you can substitute 1 to 2 cups of broth, stock or simply water.

- Nut allergies? Opt for buttered, toasted bread crumbs instead.

- I'm not a fan of black pepper, which I use (very) sparingly, but some people find black pepper to be a necessity in a non-tomato pasta sauce. I would advise you against getting too reckless with that peppermill, though — or your creamy, buttery pasta dish might become a bit acrid or overly sharp.

- Keep the heat low: If you raise the temperature above medium or so, the sauce may "break." Specifically, the emulsification may break, turning a smooth, creamy sauce into an unappealing division of fat and acid with nothing tying it together.

- This is a sauce that would be terrific with some dry white wine as a backbone. If you're looking to incorporate extra flavor, add the wine directly to the brown butter and garlic before adding anything else, then reduce until the pan is nearly dry and add the other ingredients from there. 

- Looking to add protein? Pancetta, crumbled sausage or ground vegan protein would all be stellar options here. 

- Other potential ingredients to incorporate? Cherry, grape or sun-dried tomatoes, various toasted nuts, red pepper flakes or — of course! — sage (or any similar herb).

- If you don't have (or like) bucatini, other great pasta options would be homemade or store-bought stuffed pasta (agnolotti, ravioli, stuffed rigatoni, stuffed shells), as well as short pasta (paccheri, penne, rigatoni, ziti). You can always opt for "ribbon" pasta, too (fettuccine, pappardelle, tagliatelle). The journey is up to you — after all, it's your kitchen.

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By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Abbondanza Brown Butter Butter Food Italian Italian American Pasta