This warm and nutty apple sage brown butter pasta is one of those looks-fancy-super-simple dishes that you're definitely going to want to keep in your back pocket.
Serve it with your favorite boxed pasta on a lazy weeknight or go the extra mile and make homemade pumpkin spice pasta to serve it with for special dinner guests.
I like to make this apple sage brown butter pasta right around that time of year when farmers markets are overflowing with bushels of shiny apples in a million varieties. You can have a lot of fun playing with different apple flavors here!
The toasty brown butter flavors, the aromatic sage, the crisp apple, and the nutty walnuts are all just so perfect for fall. It's got a similar flavor profile to my apple, walnut, and gorgonzola ravioli but is much, much faster to make.
Here's what you'll need to make this apple sage brown butter pasta!
- Butter - Unsalted preferred. If you only have salted butter, just hold back on adding salt to the recipe until you can taste it. I walk you through browning the butter in the recipe itself, but if you want to make the brown butter in advance, check out my post on how to make brown butter.
- Fresh sage - You'll want to cut it into thin ribbons, aka a chiffonade. Sage leaves are tough and chewy, so the more delicately you can cut them the butter.
- Heavy cream - This helps thicken the sauce. It's optional, but I always try to add it if I have it. You'll have plenty of heavy cream left over which you can use to make this easy stand mixer butter*.
- Honeycrisp apple - Honeycrisp is my preferred apple for this because it's crisp and slightly sweet and doesn't soften too much during the cooking process. You can use any other crisp, bright apple like a Jazz, Gala, Envy, or CosmicCrisp instead. Avoid mealy apples like McIntosh and Red Delicious, and tart apples like Granny Smith.
- Walnuts - I often use them chopped straight out of the bag, but you can also toast them beforehand for a more intensely nutty flavor.
- Pasta - I recommend using homemade pumpkin spice pasta dough cut into a wide, flat shape like fettuccini. If you don't want to make your own homemade pasta, your favorite pasta shape is just fine. I don't usually go out of my way to recommend whole wheat pasta, but in this case I think the flavor and texture of whole wheat pasta pairs really well with the nutty flavors in the sauce.
- Whole nutmeg - Freshly grated nutmeg > ground nutmeg. This small tin from Spicewalla will last you for at least a year if not more. If you're using the pumpkin spice pasta, you can skip the nutmeg in the sauce.
- Salt and pepper - Adjust to taste!
See recipe card for quantities.
*Bonus tip! Measure out the amount of heavy cream you need for the recipe and set it aside. Then use the rest of the heavy cream to make butter and use that butter as the brown butter in the recipe! This requires a bit of planning ahead, but means you won't end up with leftover heavy cream.
Start by bringing a pot of water to a boil for your pasta. You don't need to add the pasta before you start making the sauce, but you want to have the water at a boil when you start the sauce so that you can aim to have the pasta and sauce done around the same time.
Once the water is boiling, begin browning the butter in a wide, high sided skillet. (Remember, always heat stainless steel pans before adding butter or oil!)
When you brown butter, two things happen. One, the water content boils away, which causes all the bubbles you see on the surface of the pan.
Two, the browning itself, which is caused by the Maillard reaction (the same thing that happens when you toast bread or get a crust on a steak). This is when the milk fat particles start to turn brown in the pan.
Browning butter can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes, and you'll want to be stirring frequently, especially as the bubbles cover the surface of the pan and can make it hard to see the milk fat particles underneath.
Browning the butter the longest step of making this apple sage brown butter pasta, btw. Once the butter browns, it's GO TIME for the rest of it.
As soon as the butter is browned, reduce the heat and stir in the sage, salt, and pepper. I like to switch to a whisk at this point, and then whisk in the heavy cream.
The cream and butter might resist combining at first, but as you keep whisking they will get there (and don't worry if they don't).
Add the pasta directly from the pasta water into the skillet and stir and toss to coat it in the sauce. The starchy pasta water will help the sauce combine if it has separated at all.
Then add half the apples and walnuts and stir to combine. I like to give it a few minutes on low heat so the apples start to cook slightly, but you do you.
Divide the pasta up into bowls, top with the remaining apples and walnuts, and garnish with additional fresh sage if you're feeling fancy.
Hint: If your pasta is taking longer to cook than anticipated, turn off the heat under the sauce until the pasta is ready so the brown butter doesn't burn. If the pasta is ready before the sauce, reserve about ½ cup of pasta water before you strain it. Use that water to help adjust the consistency of the sauce after adding the pasta.
📖 Substitutions and variations
If you know how to make the recipe fit a certain diet, let the reader know here. Don't fake it - only provide guidance on topics you have actual experience with.
- Heavy cream - instead of heavy cream, you can use coconut cream or whole milk, or even ¼ cup finely shredded parmesan cheese.
- Walnuts - use pecans or hazelnuts instead.
- Add meat - sausage crumbles or chopped bacon go great in this dish.
- Apple - you clicked on a recipe for apple sage brown butter pasta so not sure why you're looking to swap the apple, but an Asian pear will also work here if you really want to make the swap.
💭 Recipe notes and expert tips
- Remember to heat your stainless steel pan before adding the butter to prevent sticking and make your pan easier to clean.
- You'll want a nice sharp knife to get a good chiffonade cut on the sage and to get your apple minced quite small. Sharp knives = safer knives!
- I photographed this pasta in my 9.25" Maze white pasta bowls from the Gordon Ramsay by Royal Doulton collection. They're my fave pasta and stew bowls — wide and flat on the bottom but with just the right amount of slope on the sides to keep the pasta contained.
- To toast walnuts before adding: Preheat oven to 350F, arrange whole walnuts on a sheet pan and bake, shaking the pan every 5-7 minutes, until the walnuts are lightly browned and aromatic. Remove from the oven, then chop.
👩🏻🍳 Recipe FAQ
This is such a fast dish to make, that I really don't recommend trying to make it ahead and hang on to it. The apples will begin browning, the sage will oxidize and turn brown, and the butter will begin solidifying as it cools.
If you do want to save some cooking time, you can make the brown butter in advance. This will shave about 7-8 minutes off the total cook time!
Unfortunately this apple sage brown butter pasta doesn't hold up well as leftovers. You can store it in an airtight container in the fridge for maybe a day or two.
To reheat, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over low heat, then add the pasta back to the pan and stir it as it warms up and the sauce loosens.
Use it to make a compound herb butter!
💭 Top tip
Don't burn the brown butter! Use a medium-low heat while browning, then reduce heat to low to finish the sauce and add the pasta. You don't want to boil the heavy cream.
Apple Sage Brown Butter Pasta with Walnuts
- 8-10 ounces pasta (wide, flat pasta works best)
- ½ cup unsalted butter (8 tablespoon / 113g, cut into 1" pieces)
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage (chopped)
- ⅛ cup heavy cream (optional)
- ½ teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt (use ¼ teaspoon of another brand)
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon whole nutmeg (freshly grated)
- ½ cup Honeycrisp apple (small diced)
- ⅛ cup chopped walnuts
- Cook pasta according to package directions. As soon as the pasta goes into the water, begin making the sauce.
- Heat large, high sided skillet over medium heat.
- Add to butter to skillet and let melt, stirring occasionally. Continue stirring as the butter begins to fizzle and bubble as the water content boils away
- When milk fat particles in the butter begin to take on color, stir in chopped sage leaves, salt, and pepper.
- Whisk in heavy cream until well combined. When the mixture is cohesive with no separation, add the pasta directly from the pasta pot and stir to coat.(And if the sauce separates, don't worry — it'll come together when you add the pasta coated in starchy pasta water!)
- Stir in half the apples and walnuts, and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally to soften and brown the apples. Divide into bowls and serve immediately. Top with remaining minced apple, chopped walnuts, and additional chopped sage if desired.
- If the pasta is done before the sauce, reserve ½ cup pasta water and strain the pasta. Use the pasta water if needed to adjust the sauce consistency once you add the pasta to the skillet.
♨️ Food safety
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove