Monday, April 12, 2010

Browned butter makes everything better.

A few weeks ago, when Louisa was in town, I had a superlative meal at Frankie's Spuntino down on Clinton Street. You may remember my desperate attempt to recreate their roasted beet and avocado salad; this post is about my imitation version of their (justly) famous cavatelli with browned butter and hot sausage.

This pasta is, in a word, too-licious. While sage and browned butter are a well-known and time-honored pair, the addition of a pinch of garlic and some porky, spicy sausage really make the dish sing. The sauce, nothing more than butter and pasta cooking water, is silky and spare, and the sausage's snap plays beautifully with the chewiness of the al dente pasta.

Some versions I found online called for a bit more sage; I find it's better with about half a cup between two people. It's enough to lend a good dose of piney flavor without making every bit overwhelmingly herbal. And, as is my wont, I added a bit more garlic than most versions because, well, I like garlic. You might want to adjust your seasonings depending on the sausage you use (if it's heavy on the fennel, for example, you might want less sage), but this is a remarkably forgiving meal.

Finally, the question of what sort of pasta to use. I searched high and low for cavatelli this weekend, but to no avail. Instead, I went for orecchiette. I've used penne in earlier variations, but I think the orecchiette is more suited to the dish - but, if you can find cavatelli, please use it! It's even more delightfully chewy than orecchiette.

Oh, and, for my veggie friends - leave out the sausage, and sub in a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. All of the heat, none of the meat! (Look, Mom, I made a rhyme!)

Frankie's [Orecchiette] with Browned Butter and Hot Sausage

1/2 lb. orecchiette or cavatelli
1 tbs. canola oil
2 links hot pork sausage
4 tbs. butter
1/2 cup sage leaves, whole
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until just al dente. Set aside, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet set over moderately high heat, brown the sausage links until dark brown on all sides. The sausages should be just barely cooked through.

Wipe out the skillet and turn the heat to medium. Add the butter and melt it and then continue to cook until the milk solids begin to turn brown and smell nutty. Add the sage and garlic and cook for a minute to release the flavors. Slice the sausages crosswise into rounds and add back to the pan. Add the cooked pasta to the pan, along with a bit of the cooking water. Cook over medium heat until the the pasta has absorbed a good bit of the sauce and everything is well-combined.

Transfer the pasta and sauce to two bowls or plates, sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and parmesan, and serve immediately.

Serves 2.

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