“I love butter. I come from a family of butter-fiends. My mother eats it in chunks from the pat, with a spoon, and my father spreads it as thick as cheese on his toast,” explains food writer Letitia Clark. “Italian butter is very different to the kind readily available in England. Maybe (probably) I’m just getting old, but I’m sure lots of butter in England doesn’t taste of anything anymore.

“In my last months before moving to Sardinia, I got into a habit of smelling the butter in shops. I would unfold some of the paper and have a good sniff of the pat inside. It drew some strange looks from other shoppers, but it’s a sound method of judging the quality,” she adds. “A good butter has an unmistakable smell. It should smell of thick, cold, cream: ever-so-slightly cheesy, faintly sweet.


“I urge you to start smelling your butters. The butter out here smells very strongly, as butter should. It is purest white, always unsalted, and comes in enormous 500g blocks, wrapped in white waxed paper, like the butter of old. It is a beautiful thing to look at, and to eat.”

In Sardinia, where Clark now lives, butter is “very rarely” used in cooking. “When butter is used, it is as an essential flavour in the finished dish, rather than just a means of cooking,” she explains – which this simple pasta dish demonstrates perfectly.

“Glamorous it may not be, but I could happily eat this dish every day for the rest of my life. It also demonstrates perfectly the essential (and often overlooked) skill in making pasta sauces, and the first thing everyone learns when they start cooking pasta in Italy; that the pasta cooking water must be added to the finished dish, to both emulsify the sauce and melt the grated cheese into a creamy consistency. Once you have learnt how to do this, you will never look back. The earthiness of the sage is what really grounds this recipe, so don’t be tempted to leave it out. The echo of a ‘salve’, seems fitting too, as this dish is deepest comfort.”

Pasta with butter recipe (Matt Russell/PA)
Pasta with butter recipe (Matt Russell/PA)
Pasta with butter recipe (Matt Russell/PA)
Print Recipe
Nutrition Facts
Pasta with butter and sage
Amount Per Serving
Calories 768 Calories from Fat 531
% Daily Value*
Fat 59g91%
Saturated Fat 37g231%
Cholesterol 153mg51%
Sodium 996mg43%
Potassium 278mg8%
Carbohydrates 83g28%
Fiber 4g17%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 27g54%
Vitamin A 1773IU35%
Calcium 452mg45%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Pasta with butter and sage

The simplest of pasta dishes
Cook Time12 minutes
Total Time12 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 2
Calories: 768kcal
Author: Letitia Clark


  • Large saucepan
  • Wide, shallow pan


  • 220 g dried pasta your choice (I like risoni or any ‘short’ pasta best)
  • 120 g butter
  • 10 small sage leaves
  • 70 g Parmesan grated, plus extra to serve
  • sea salt


  • Bring a large saucepan of well-salted water to the boil. Drop in the pasta.
  • Place the butter in a wide, shallow pan and put on the lowest heat. Add the sage and cook for a moment or so to gently to release the aromas. Drain the pasta when it is at your perfect al dente, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid.
  • Add half the cooking water and the pasta to the pan with the butter and sage and turn up the heat. Stir and toss well for a minute or so, then add the cheese and toss again and again, until an emulsified and silky sauce forms. If it looks too dry, add more of the cooking water, too wet, carry on cooking. Serve with more cheese.


Calories: 768kcal | Carbohydrates: 83g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 59g | Saturated Fat: 37g | Cholesterol: 153mg | Sodium: 996mg | Potassium: 278mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 1773IU | Calcium: 452mg | Iron: 2mg

Bitter Honey by Letitia Clark, photography by Matt Russell, is published by Hardie Grant.

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