Butter, browned

I like to think I can work hard on some things, but for the most part, I’ll take the lazy route if you let me. So lately my cooking has consisted of an arsenal of 10 dinners or so and just cycling through them, week after week. Finding a new recipe takes time and then having to go find and buy new ingredients takes even more time, not to mention disproportionate anxiety. Instead I could keep rewatching Battlestar Galactica or read one of the seven books I just bought. Cooking is work.

But I started to get sick of those recipes. We always keep a few packages of shelf-stable gnocchi in the cupboard to make gnocchi with chard and white beans, but when I went to make it last week, I realized I was groaning about the idea of eating it again. That recipe makes a TON of leftovers that don’t taste as good as the fresh stuff, and I just did not want to be eating that shit for the next week. Not to mention the sort of middle-aged sadness of doing the same thing over and over again and aren’t I supposed to be young and doing new things and OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME. Eventually the fear of monotony won out over my lazy ass, and I decided to break out of the rut and find something new.

None of that changes the fact that I already had gnocchi in my cupboard and that gnocchi is delicious. Lately I’ve been sidelined from working out by a fucking TOE injury, so I’ve been trying to eat more vegetables to keep myself from losing all the health. I normally sauté some zucchini in olive oil when I make honey-soy broiled salmon, but otherwise I have no idea what to do with it. I found this recipe for gnocchi with zucchini ribbons (?) and parley brown butter from eatingwell.com. I had no idea what zucchini ribbons were or how butter got brown, but it sounded pretty so I went with it.

I wanted to get out of the rut but I’m still lazy, so I also chose this recipe because it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients: zucchini, tomatoes, gnocchi, parsley, butter, parmesan cheese, some spices, and I swapped out the shallots for garlic because ew shallots. To make the zucchini ribbony, the recipe said to use a mandoline slicer. I have no idea what that is, so I just used a potato peeler. I sliced off the ends of the zucchini first so I could stand it up, and cut thin slices downward until I got to the seeds. I didn’t expect mine to look as good as the picture, but they did look pretty cute, if sort of unsettlingly fish-like.  I chopped everything else up while I boiled the gnocchi.

Next, I had to brown the butter. The recipe said to cook it for about two minutes until it starts to brown. That sounded straightforward until I actually started doing it, and then I got worried that “brown” was too close to burn and that I wouldn’t know the difference and then EVERYTHING would be RUINED. While the butter started to melt, I furiously started googling “what does browned butter look like please help” and found something of Alton Brown’s. Most people on the internet, including Alton, seemed to be browning huge pots of butter for some nefarious purpose, whereas I was only doing a tiny slice.


After a few minutes of running between my computer and the stove, I decided to wing it. I waited until after the butter was foamy, when it looked maybe a little bit golden, and decided that was good enough for me. Anything cooked in butter is going to taste fine, anyhow. I added in the cute zucchini:


From then on, the rest of the recipe moved super quickly, only cooking each ingredient for a minute or two before adding the next. The strangest thing about this recipe was that it wanted me to add nutmeg. NUTMEG. Isn’t that like, for coffee and hot cider and desserts? But I figured the people at Eating Well probably know what they’re doing, so I stirred it in along with a few red pepper flakes, like some of the commenters suggested.

LADIES AND GENTS — I cannot tell you how effing tasty this is. I don’t know whether it was the nutmeg or if browning the butter makes it extra delicious, but it was so good I made it again the next night. The recipe is supposed to be 4 servings but Charlie and I ate the entire panful in one sitting. The zucchini hardly tastes like a vegetable at all; it was almost like a sort of noodle. Even the picky 8-year-old version of me could probably have been tricked into eating this. I might use a little bit less parsley next time, but even that is barely worth mentioning. Instead of being my usual modest self I could not shut up about how good this was and how awesome I am. I was happy to be out of my rut, but I’ll gladly climb into a new, butter-filled one.

Jill Kolongowski is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. When she’s not cooking, running, or reading, she sometimes blogs at jillkolongowski.com. Follow her on Twitter at @jillkolongowski.

6 Responses to “Butter, browned”
  1. Well, you convinced me. Tuesday night dinner it is.

  2. Deepa says:

    I am so trying this! Rohan might actually eat it!

  3. cd says:

    Look at you…trying new veggies and living so dangerously. It sounds fabulous. When will you make it for Moi?

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