A Guide to Buttery Pasta

Think: brown butter ravioli, creamy-cheesy gnocchetti, and more.

December 10, 2020
Photo by James Ransom. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Lauren LaPenna.

We teamed up with Kerrygold to highlight pasta’s favorite plus-one: butter. Here, Food52's Resident Pasta Maker—Meryl Feinstein of Pasta Social Club—shows us a few tasty ways to pair up Kerrygold’s creamy-rich Pure Irish Butter with gnocchetti, spaghetti, ravioli, and more.

Growing up in the ‘90s, butter was not a staple in my house. Low-fat, sugar-free yogurt? Sure. Velveeta? Yes. But real, delicious, creamy butter? Not so much. It wasn’t until I met my British husband that butter started to make its way into my life and onto my toast. And it was even later, in culinary school, when I realized I could hardly go a day—or a meal—without it. So here I am, 30 years old, just trying to make up for lost, butter-less time.

As a chef and pasta-maker, butter often takes center stage. It’s the cooking medium of choice in much of northern Italy, where cattle is abundant and the temperatures are cooler. And although I love a good butter sauce, I also find it’s when butter lingers in the background—the first layer of flavor in a ravioli filling or swirled into a meaty sauce at the last moment—that a dish becomes truly luxurious, satisfying, and altogether balanced.

Take this recipe’s caramelized onions, for example, which are perhaps my favorite wintertime pasta accompaniment. They’re sweet, they’re savory, they’re perfect in every way. And they're best when they start with no small amount of really good Kerrygold butter.

Here are some of my favorite ways to pair butter and pasta year-round, so you’ll never have to be without two of the world’s greatest pleasures again.

1. As a sauce, of course

Ok, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Melted butter on pasta brings our childhood dreams and adult cravings to life. But when I’m not downing late-night spaghetti with butter and Parmesan, I generally serve it with stuffed pastas so the flavors of the filling (vegetables! Proteins! All of the cheeses!) can really shine.

Whether it’s simply emulsified with starchy pasta water, cooked until nutty and golden, or infused with fresh herbs, butter is an ideal dressing for delicate tortelloni, agnolotti, and ravioli.

2. As a finishing touch

Sometimes a dish just needs a little extra something—that’s when I reach for the butter. In meat sauces (or, in my case, sauces with a meat substitute), a final touch of butter can bring a subtle layer of richness that pulls everything together.

In creamy sauces, kill the heat and whisk in a few small pieces of cold butter to keep things smooth and luscious. And my favorite: In tomato sauces, a pat—or three—of butter helps tame the acidity (so it actually tastes like tomatoes!) and imparts a velvety texture while still feeling light (thank you, Marcella Hazan!). You can even add a little butter to store-bought sauces to wake things up. It’ll make all the difference.

3. As a vehicle for your favorite flavors

Fancy compound butters aren’t just for steak. Simply mix some softened butter with a few pantry and fridge staples and you have yourself an instant pasta upgrade. Of course, fresh herbs and raw or roasted garlic are always a win, but the combinations are endless: sharp Parmesan, spicy chiles, sweet black garlic, briny anchovies, dare I say truffles…you get the point.

4. As a pasta filling hero

I first saw butter used as an ingredient in pasta filling when I was working at a restaurant in New York. Needless to say, I haven’t looked back. My favorite combinations are a generous drizzle of brown butter alongside squash in the winter and sweet corn in the summer. The best part is that it makes the filling mixture creamier and easier to work with, and transforms each bite of the finished dish into an explosion of buttery goodness.

What’s your favorite way to pair up pasta and butter? Tell us in the comments!

We’ve partnered with Kerrygold—you know and love ‘em for their butters and cheeses made with milk from Irish grass-fed cows—to share all sorts of delicious recipes to dig into this winter. Whether you’re baking up tender apple scones with brown butter-maple drizzle or whipping up this comforting gnocchetti, Kerrygold’s lineup of butters and cheeses are must-have kitchen staples.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Philip DeWalt
    Philip DeWalt
  • Martijn Scheffer
    Martijn Scheffer
  • Meryl Feinstein, Pasta Social Club
    Meryl Feinstein, Pasta Social Club
Meryl Feinstein is a chef and pastaia who left the corporate world for the food industry in 2018. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education, Meryl got her start at the renowned New York establishments Lilia and Misi, where she was part of the pasta production team. During that time, Meryl founded Pasta Social Club, a platform that brings people together over a shared love of food, learning, and making connections both on- and offline. She now lives in Austin, where she hosts virtual pasta-making workshops and develops recipes. Her dishes draw on her travels in Italy, ongoing research into the rich history of traditional pasta-making, and her Jewish heritage.


Philip D. December 11, 2020
The most delicious pasta I’ve ever made takes a goodly sized chunk of butter, an entire clove of garlic chopped, a full tablespoon of red pepper flakes sautéed, once the garlic starts to brown add about 1/3 cup of oyster sauce - yes, I’m not kidding - then toss with approx 8 oz of al dente spaghetti. It is unbelievably delicious and so easy to make.
Meryl F. December 14, 2020
I JUST spotted a similar recipe the other day, how funny!
Martijn S. December 10, 2020
great recipe, and technique, I'm also making my own pasta, I use eppicotispai pasta drying racks, a better way to dry pasta than putting them on a tray.
Meryl F. December 14, 2020
Thank you! I prefer to freeze this type of pasta, so that's why I keep it on the tray -- I find if it dries completely, it gets brittle and tough. But having a drying rack for even airflow is great!