Simply Butter

9 May

Tonight, I called my mom and asked her, at that moment which would she prefer: butter or a diamond.

“Ooooo.  They’re both good things.  I do love butter.”

Who doesn’t?  Is there anything better than butter?  Ok, don’t answer that, as I imagine creative minds are fashioning up many things that are better than butter.  Including me.

But as an ingredient for cooking, the versatility, flexibility, and simplicity of butter is unsurpassed.  It’s no wonder every classical French technique cookbook involves the careful use of butter in many recipes.  Notice the word “careful,” though.  There’s a reason why delicate care should be associated with butter.  First off, it “breaks” at too high or too low heats, or without enough emulsification (elbow-grease whisking) in sauces.  Secondly, too much or too little can affect the taste, texture, and presentation of a dish drastically.  Third, well, butter = FAT.  Personally, I love buttery fatty goodness, but I don’t think many would happily read a post titled “I Heart Fat.”

So what’s with my obsession with butter?  Lately, it’s simply been its own simplicity.  A spread on good bread.  A small pat turning sauces silky.  The physical chemical creamy change that occurs once beaten to death with warm egg yolks.  It’s all simply amazing.

My parents instilled in me a sense of simplicity from a young age – now I know that doesn’t sound flattering, but it is!  In looking at art, admiring nature, even experiencing a good “red, juicy meat” (a simply grilled steak), it just is.  Simple.  Elegant.  Fantastic.

When Rob and I got engaged (a not so simple story involving a white lie, a dog, and a bench called ‘Helen Stanley’), he presented me with a ring – which he designed – of what my dad called “elegant in its simplicity.”  Again, don’t take simple down the wrong path to negative town because seriously, Rob knocked it out of the park as this ring is one of the most beautiful rings I’ve ever seen.  My dad was right – what makes it so beautiful and special is how elegantly simple it is.

Now, here’s where I compare my gorgeous engagement ring to – you guessed it – butter.  An odd challenge, I know, but a challenge nonetheless!  Like my ring, butter is simple, but also extravagant.  Like my ring, butter must be handled with care.  And like my ring, butter stands the test of time.

Last Saturday, Rob was pretty ill.  I think he contracted one of the kiddie germs I inevitably bring home everyday, and I just happened to be immune to that particular germy invasion.  Around dinnertime, he was feeling well enough to eat, but I knew I needed to keep the meal on the lighter side while still remaining flavorful.  Thinking of our almost bare fridge and pantry (the Costco run came later in the weekend), I remembered the Herb Butter I made last weekend to top Rob’s birthday Ribeye.  Whisked together with a good acid (I was thinking lime juice), that butter would created a fantastic sauce for everyone’s favorite comfort food: pasta.

So in a quick 10-minute prep (not including prior butter chilling time), dinner was served: Spaghetti with an Herbed Butter & Lime Sauce and fresh tomatoes.  It was fresh, easy, and delicious.  The butter sauce was not heavy or greasy, and added just a touch of creaminess to the pasta.  The dish was elegant and more than simple to make, which is the perfect combination for a fancy weeknight meal, to impress guests, or aid a husband with the dreaded “man-cold” (I’d like to think the dinner is what made Rob feel so much better – it had nothing to do with the NyQuil, fluids, and sleep. 🙂 ).

So, between diamonds and butter, the choice is a hard one.  But seeming as one is so much more easily accessible and conveniently priced, make your own elegance… eat your butter.

Herbed Butter (makes about 4 tbsp)  Note: this is technically called a “compound butter.”  This basically means any mixable ingredient incorporated into butter.

  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 scallion, white and light green parts, thinly sliced 
  • 1/2 tsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary 
  • 1/4 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Thoroughly mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a spatula.  Pour butter onto a sheet of plastic wrap.  Using the plastic wrap, quickly form into a log shape, twisting the ends in opposite directions to tightly seal.  Put butter into the fridge to chill and harden, about 2-3 hours.  

Spaghetti with Herbed Butter & Lime Sauce and fresh Tomatoes (serves 2) 

  • 2 nickel-sized amounts of dried spaghetti pasta
  • 3 tbsp Herbed Butter 
  • juice 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan regiano cheese (plus more for garnish, if desired) 
  • 1 on-the-vine tomato, seeded and diced 
  • basil, julienned for garnish 
  • s&p 

Heat a pot of water to boiling, and add a small handful of salt.  Put in the pasta, and cook until al dente (“slightly toothsome”).  

While pasta is cooking, put the Herbed Butter in a saute pan with the lime juice and heat over med-high heat.  Continually whisk, emulsifying the lime juice and butter.  The sauce should look shiny, smooth and almost creamy.  If the sauce is not coming together, then the butter is melting too quickly; pull off the heat and continue whisking for about 30 seconds, and then continue on heat, lowered to medium.  

When pasta is done, use tongs take the pasta straight from the water to the sauce – it’s ok if pasta water mixes in with the sauce – it’s actually a good thing (adds more thickening starch).  Season with pepper, add the parmesan regiano cheese, and mix.  Plate into pasta bowls, and top with tomatoes, basil, and any extra cheese.  

Enjoy!   

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2 Responses to “Simply Butter”

  1. Sharon Henry August 12, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    I stumbled upon your blog while doing research on a bench that sits above the beach at Corona del Mar, Ca. The bench has a plaque that says “Helen Stanley”. I was wondering if this is the same bench mentioned in your blog?

    • 42potatoes August 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

      Hi Sharon, Yes that is exactly the same bench. Rob proposed to me there. 🙂

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