Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Dave Beaulieu October 8th, 2010

Sage brown butter sauce is an easy, classic preparation for pasta, and one of my gotos, especially in autumn.  It goes great with stuffed pastas like ravioli or tortellini filled with fall vegetables like squash or pumpkin.  It's also really easy to make, with just a few ingredients and less than 15 minutes of cook time.


  • Unsalted Butter (at least ½ a stick), you can use salted if that’s all you have, but I prefer to control the salt content myself by adding my own
  • Sage leaves
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Recipe Overview and Keys to Success

The fact that here are just a few ingredients in this sauce really highlights the importance of using good ingredients.  Don’t use poor quality cheese or dried sage leaves – and certainly don’t try to use margarine or any type of fake butter spread-like glop.  The other key is to make sure you get a nice browning on the butter without burning it, as it can go from “nutty and delicious” to “acrid and burnt” pretty quickly

Brown the butter

  • Put a pan large enough to hold the pasta your cooking on a medium flame and let it come up to temperature
  • Add the butter to the pan, and you should immediately see it start sizzling and foaming up a bit
  • As the water content in the butter evaporates, you’ll see tiny brown specks starting to appear; this should take 2 – 3 minutes
  • Add the sage leaves, which will fry up and get nice and crispy in the butter while they release their flavor
  • Turn the heat down to low and let the butter continue to brown until it stops foaming altogether, and those brown bits run throughout; getting to the right color can take anywhere from a few minutes to up to 10 depending on the amount of heat in the pan.  I don’t mind letting the process go on the longer side, as that will give the Sage more time to infuse its flavor with the butter
  • Watch the color carefully, and if you start seeing any burning or if the process seems to be going to quickly, just take the pan off the flame to cool

Adding the pasta

  • At this point, the butter sauce is ready for the pasta; which has been cooking while you finished the sauce
  • Remove and drain the pasta and add it directly to the butter sauce in the same pan you browned the butter
  • Again you’ll hear some sizzling as the water cooks off; toss the pan to coat the pasta, and season with salt and pepper
  • Add the parmesan cheese and toss again to coat
  • As an optional final step, you may want to add a bit more fresh butter to the pasta, as the combination of fresh and browned butter can add to the complexity of dish and round out the flavors
  • Plate and serve

As I said above, this sauce is great with any pasta but I think it has a special affinity for filled pastas like ravioli (especially squash/pumpkin).  To add a bit of texture to the dish, I sometimes like to add toasted almonds as a garnish, and for color maybe some chives.  Enjoy!!

Sage Brown Butter Sauce

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