[Photographs and video: J. Kenji López-Alt]
Brown butter-based pasta sauces are some of the simplest things around. They’re emulsions made with a flavorful fat and pasta cooking water that coats the pasta in a thin, creamy sheen of flavor. Throw in some sautéed squash and some sage and you’ve got yourself a great 30-minute meal. It’s a classic fall and winter dish that can be made right on the stovetop.
Why It Works
- Lemon juice adds flavor and halts the butter from over-browning when forming the sauce.
- Concentrating the pasta starch by using a small amount of cooking water helps the sauce emulsify into a creamy coating.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (30ml)
- 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (450g; about 1/2 large squash)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (30g)
- 1 small shallot, finely minced (about 1 ounce; 30g)
- 1 handful fresh sage leaves, finely minced (about 1/2 ounce; 15g)
- 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon (15ml)
- 1 pound small cupped, tubular, or ridged pasta such as orecchiette, penne, farfalle, or rotini (450g)
- 1 ounce grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (30g)
Heat olive oil in a large stainless steel or cast-iron skillet over high heat until very lightly smoking. Immediately add squash, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, until well-browned and squash is tender, about 5 minutes. Add butter and shallots and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until butter is lightly browned and smells nutty, about 1 minute longer. Add sage and stir to combine (sage should crackle and let off a great aroma). Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine pasta with enough room temperature or hot water to cover by about 2 inches. Season with salt. Set over high heat and bring to a boil while stirring frequently. Cook, stirring frequently, until pasta is just shy of al dente, about 2 minutes less than the package directions. Drain pasta, reserving a couple cups of the starchy cooking liquid.
Add pasta to skillet with squash along with a splash of pasta water. Bring to a simmer over high heat and cook until the pasta is perfectly al dente, stirring and tossing constantly and adding a splash of water as needed to keep the sauce loose and shiny. Off heat, stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and texture with more pasta water as needed. Serve immediately, topped with more cheese at the table.
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