Prepared with humble ingredients, Brown Butter Pasta with Spinach and Goat Cheese has the look and taste of elegance, but is very inexpensive and unpretentious.
This recipe was born out of the need to use up some spinach that was nearing the end of its shelf life. We are spending time at our house and since the closest grocery store is more than 30 minutes away, we stock up. We had two bags of spinach which were too expensive out in the boonies to go to waste.
I looked through my fridge and I saw that I had two packages of goat cheese. We have this rather large wooden “bowl” on the counter where we keep garlic and tomatoes, etc. I had lots of fresh garlic. Our home is never without pasta. And, it is never – I mean never! – without butter!
That was pretty much it. I threw it together and it was delicious. The photographs in the post were the result of those two bags of spinach. No recipe testing needed. It turned out perfectly the first time!
HOW TO BROWN BUTTER
Brown butter is one of the most underrated ingredients. It’s the most simple thing in the world to do. Seriously, if you can boil water, you can make brown butter. And, you only need one ingredient – butter!
When you brown butter, you are in essence ridding the butter of all of its water content. You are also caramelizing the remaining milk solids. What you’re left with is an glistening, brown sauce with a slightly salty and sweet flavour, but with a nuttiness to it as well. It’s important to note that when browning butter, I use salted butter. It just tastes better.
Browning butter is not an art form, but it might take a little practice. I promise you, if you do not leave the butter unattended, and if you are a little patient, practice is not needed. You will master it every single time.
You see, Dear Reader, you need to melt the butter on a lower heat and allow it to slowly come to a white, frothy bubble. Once that happens, it takes just a moment for the butter to go from perfectly browned to horribly burnt. Attend to it at all times is the best advice I can offer.
One other thing – browning butter relies mostly on your eyesight rather than skill. Use a light coloured pan to get the best results. I use a stainless steel frying pan. Darker pans, especially those with a non-stick coating, will interfere with how well you can see the butter browning. You need the clarity that a lighter pan can provide.
Once the butter is browned, you’ll notice that there’s little brown bits sitting on the bottom of the skillet. Those are milk solids. Some cooks like to strain the butter of those so that the butter is prettier. Really, that’s the only benefit! I keep them in. I love the brown flecks. That’s the real flavour if you ask me!
MAKE EXTRA BROWN BUTTER FOR LATER
You most certainly have the option to double up on, or even triple, the amount of butter you’re browning. I would not recommend this for your first go at making brown butter though. Real butter is not cheap!
When you make brown butter, you can do more with it than just toss pasta in it. You can use the same butter to drizzle over steamed or roasted veggies. It’s delicious on a baked potato too. One the butter has cooled and has returned to a solid, you have even more options.
You can smear that deliciousness right onto your morning toast. You know how some people place a pat of butter onto their perfectly grilled steak? Use brown butter for that! Instead of using oil or regular butter for your scrambled eggs, use brown butter and just taste how much better your eggs can be.
I have not tried this, but I read in one of my cookbooks that using brown butter on pancakes and in cookie recipes is an absolute game changer! Someday, I’ll have to give it a go.
YOU CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT BUTTER? I CAN!
Many years ago, I heard a very religious woman talking with her husband. He was complaining and being very opinionated. I knew from the look on her face, she had heard enough. She wasn’t one to raise her voice – like ever! Then, it happened; she lost it. (Well, it was losing it for her. I lose it like this every 10 minutes!)
She pulled her apron off over her head and threw it on the floor. She looked at her husband and said, “For the love of all that is sacred and holy, shut your mouth!” That was it. There was nothing else to say. It was the first and only time she ever spoke to her husband like that. He never complained again.
I’m going to steal that line, Dear Reader. Listen to me carefully now. For the love of all that is sacred and holy, use real butter! Margarine is not butter and should never be used as a butter substitute. It’s vial and nasty and evil. I know it’s cheap, but it’s like eating plastic.
My dad uses that I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter stuff. When he first met John and hosted breakfast, John asked if he had real butter. He argued that the margarine was indeed real butter. I remember it well! He said, “Look, it is real and it’s so good you won’t believe it.” I think he missed the point of that particular branding.
I promise that I will judge you silently if you use margarine in your every day life if you promise me that you’ll use real salted butter to make brown butter. Deal?
HOW TO SERVE THIS DISH
In my opinion, Brown Butter Pasta with Spinach and Goat Cheese is best served family style. In the photos, you can see that I piled the entire dish into one big serving bowl. I placed a serving spoon and fork beside the bowl so it’s a serve yourself type of meal.
I did top the pasta with some crumbled goat cheese, but I also placed a small bowl of extra cheese on the side. Some people like more cheese than others. I also added a small bowl of fried chopped bacon. This type of pasta dish works very well with bacon, but it’s not needed.
But, if you have one of those meat-eaters in your life, bacon is the way to go. You don’t need to add it to the entire dish though. Serving it on the side is just perfect. I want you to taste the brown butter and the creaminess of the goat cheese, not the bacon!
Now, let’s get to the recipe. Remember, Brown Butter Pasta with Spinach and Goat Cheese is simple, rustic, and delicious. But, to make it perfectly, do not leave the butter unattended! Enjoy!
Brown Butter Pasta with Spinach and Goat Cheese
- 450 grams pasta, cooked al dente, drained
- 1/2 cup salted butter
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 5 cups baby spinach leaves
- 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (more if serving on the side)
- Prepare the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside. (I used tripoline pasta, but fettucine, spaghetti, or bucatini would work well.)
- Next, place the butter into a stainless steel frying pan. Turn the heat to medium low. Allow the butter to melt. Once the butter starts to bubble, use a whisk to keep the butter moving. Continuously stirring until the butter has turned a deep amber colour.
- Don't walk away from the bubbling butter. It will burn very easily. The butter will bubble and will form a thick, white foamy/frothy top. Keep whisking slowly. This is normal and will soon evaporate.
- Next, add the garlic and stir into the butter. The garlic will sizzle and pop. The butter is quite hot, so it's important to move quickly.
- Once the garlic has browned slightly, add the spinach, salt, and ground black pepper. Toss the spinach in the butter until wilted.
- Add the cooked pasta into the skillet and toss well with the butter and spinach mixture.
- Once the pasta is heated through, remove from heat and plate. Top with goat cheese and serve immediately.