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Recipe: The love language of butter

May I present three ways to remind someone why they love you: the general concept of cupboard love, the very specific qualities of butter and the particularly special advantages of brown butter.

Cupboard love is not always held up as a very pure form of love. At its heart is the relationship between the feeder and the fed. It is, in short, why your dog appears to love you and only you. It’s not, sadly, that your pet is the only one who truly understands your soul, but simply the fact that you fill its bowl with food once a day.

I’m someone whose “love language” is often wrapped up with food, so cupboard love does not strike a particularly false note with me. If I want to show someone love, a meal is generally made. I, in turn, love my cupboard when I open it and see my staples at the ready: my jars of butter beans, my anchovies, my silky olive oil, my chile flakes. If really big hugs are needed, though, I often reach for butter.

The link between butter and love was recently crystallized for me when I was reading a recipe for butter chicken by Sho Spaeth of the website Serious Eats. His description was for a “mother’s love’s worth of butter and cream,” added at the end. This matched perfectly with dishes I cook for my kids, so many of which have butter at their heart: grilled cobs of corn, buttery mashed potatoes, my very wet scrambled eggs, baked aromatic rice and a whole range of spongecakes.

It’s not just a language between parents and their children, though. Watch grown adults take their first bite of sole meuniere, and the pure joy of this French classic will become immediately evident on their faces. The magic of the dish does not derive just from butter, balanced perfectly by tangy lemon, but from heating the butter to the point of becoming beurre noisette — a nutty, frothy, caramelized brown butter.

Making brown butter is easy. It’s butter, plus heat, plus time: The butter is heated in the pan, then the water evaporates and the solids left behind start to caramelize and smell nutty. If butter is an everyday love, then brown butter is the candlelit moment: simple to achieve (so long as you keep a close eye on the pan) and makes everything feel sort of wondrous.

Brown butter can be paired with — so as to elevate — the most basic of ingredients. Here, it’s a jar of butter beans (also called limas) that have been roasted in the oven, but it also works well drizzled over wilted greens, baked eggs, mashed carrots, rice pudding or plain tagliatelle. Everyday dishes, each and every one, made utterly lovable by the simple addition of butter.

YOU’LL NEED about 3 lemons to produce the juice and zest for this dish. The juice comes to about 1/3 cup total.

BROWN-BUTTER BUTTER BEANS WITH LEMON AND PESTO

  • 6 cups (drained) home-cooked, canned or jarred butter beans, also called lima beans (about 2-1/4 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • >> Pesto:
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) roughly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup (15 grams) packed, roughly chopped parsley
  • 3 scallions, trimmed and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • >> Brown butter:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 8 oil-packed anchovies, drained and roughly chopped (about 2 packed tablespoons or 30 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Dry beans very well, then spread out on 2 large parchment-lined baking sheets.

Add oil, salt and plenty of pepper to each baking sheet, toss gently to combine, then spread beans in an even layer. Roast 15 minutes, then carefully turn beans over.

Return to the oven, swapping positions of the baking sheets. Roast until nicely browned and crispy, another 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t worry if some beans break or split; this lends plenty of crisp texture.

Meanwhile, make pesto: Combine Parmesan, parsley, scallions, lemon zest, a good pinch of salt and a generous amount of pepper to a food processor, and pulse a few times to finely chop. Add oil and blitz until combined. Transfer to a bowl, stir in lemon juice; set aside.

Make brown butter: Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook 4 to 5 minutes, swirling pan occasionally, until beginning to brown and smell nutty.

Add garlic (it will bubble vigorously) and cook 1 minute. Stir in anchovies and cook 30 to 60 seconds more, until garlic is very lightly golden. Stir in red pepper flakes, then remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice.

Using parchment as a sling, transfer roasted beans to a platter. Pour brown butter mixture on top. Dot with pesto, and serve right away, passing the remaining pesto in a bowl alongside. Serves 4.

AND TO DRINK

Beans in general go with different wines, so the flavorings matter most. In this recipe, the flavors of lemon, parsley pesto, anchovies, garlic, butter and Parmesan scream out for a dry white wine. Italian whites are the top choice. Verdicchio, Etna Bianco, Gavi, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo ­— these wines were created for dishes like this, as were wines from the grape varietals fiano, pecorino or grillo. A French Chablis or Sancerre would fit right in, too, or an albarino from Spain. You could even open a fino or manzanilla sherry.

— Eric Asimov, New York Times

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