Browned Butter Makes It Better

Use recklessly

A bit of a mantra for me,  I  really do believe that “butter makes it better.”  Anything.  Making fried potatoes?  Move aside oil, bring on the butter.  Having a slice of toast with strawberry jam?  Spread on a healthy dose before that  jam and you’ll thank me. 

Other mantras have come from my friends at Seinfeld.  While I was less than thrilled at the comparison to George after realizing my work pants were the source of  the quiet “swish” with each step,  there are times when the comparison is appropriate.   For example, I have a tendency to over eat. On occasion, I have found myself rescuing the last piece of  pizza from the trash after I’ve had my share and disposed of the excess. In this situation,  “It was on top!” provides just the rationalization I need.  On other occasions,  I remember the frozen yogurt incident.  If anything claims to be low-fat despite groan-inducing richness, I summon Kramer’s skepticism.  Let’s admit it folks, fat-free feta just doesn’t compare. As is the case with butter.  Bring on the pudge.

Inspired by Jenna over at EatLiveRun.com, I decided to try my hand at some homemade gnocchi last night.  A serial dough-seeker for quite some time now, I have always found gnocchi’s chewy al dente texture to be just divine.  Despite months of working with an Argentinian who insisted incessantly that homemade was “superrrrrrrr simple,” I had yet to give it a whirl.

A logical substitute

Since pumpkin is the closest thing to butternut squash in these parts, I decided to use her recipe and make the substitution.  The sage I could do without, but the butter would not be compromised. Surely butter trumps sage anyway, so we wouldn’t miss our absent friend.  After subbing the pumpkin and bypassing the sage, I followed the recipe exactly and the results were insane.  Subtly sweet, strikingly delicate–little pillows of love. 

At first glance, I hadn’t thought much about the browned butter.  Butter, heat…brown–right? Well, after selecting only the finest salted butter for the job (and paying the comparative price), I cut off a chunk and threw it in the pan.  I turned on the heat and moved away to continue cutting my little pumpkin pillows.  Suddenly overwhelmed by a rich scent, I turned to behold my efforts.  I wasn’t far off in my estimates – – it WAS most certainly brown.  I was not quite sure, however, if the deep brown color and gritty texture were in fact strong attributes.  After a taste test (and an excuse to dive into the freshly cooked batch) I assessed that I had indeed surpassed the “nutty” threshold.  While teetering still between brown and black, I think we wanted more of a sun-kissed glow. 

I summoned my smart phone, let the air out of my ego, and found a few tips that I’d like to share with you.  First off, it’s best if you begin by slicing the butter into uniform pats rather than chucking a whole stick in the pan.  This allows the butter to melt at a more uniform rate and cook evenly.  Second, while you may have a glass of Mint Chocolate Bailey’s waiting on the other side of the room, RESIST!! Do not walk away from that pan! The butter tends to reach its browning point rather quickly, and when it does, you need to keep whisking to avoid it burning.  When perfectly cooked, the butter has a golden brown color and a nicely ripened nutty flavor to it.   Lesson learned.

Find Jenna’s recipe for butternut squash gnocchi with browned butter and (a teaser of) fried sage here.

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