memories of love: tortellini in brown butter sage sauce

My paternal grandfather was one of the great loves of my life. He introduced me to the concept of unconditional love, though neither of us ever used those words. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I never heard him use the word love and he wasn’t particularly demonstrative either.  But I knew he loved me – long before I knew much of anything at all.

My grandfather lived in the north of England, in Yorkshire. When I was very little, he lived in an ancient stone house on the banks of a river. His backyard garden was a steeply terraced walkway down to the water. In the garden along either side of the path, he grew a huge variety of roses along with peas and lettuce. He probably grew other things too but my memory is of beautiful pink roses spilling out everywhere and of being allowed free rein to pick and eat all the fresh peas I wanted.

For my fourth birthday, he invited my only cousin, Jackie, to dinner and procured a fruit cake decorated with royal icing. On the top of the cake there were tiny marzipan fruits. Every time I eat fruit cake – I think of my fourth birthday. Of my beautiful, sophisticated cake. 

In the kitchen, there was an old wooden door, which led down four or five stone steps into the larder. Being sent to the larder was one of my favourite tasks. On the open shelves were baskets of brown eggs straight from the farm, loaves of bread, jars of marmalade, jam and honey, blocks of cheese, a bowl of pears or plums, often a large leg of ham, or a joint of beef.  Sometimes there was a Victoria sponge cake dredged with sugar and filled with whipped cream and raspberry jam.  There were tea and sugar and flour in tin canisters. There was always chocolate – usually from Terry’s of York. And Fox’s glacier mints. Sometimes there were tarts or Yorkshire Parkin or thick fingers of shortbread. And always gingernuts. And Jacob’s cream crackers. And a huge glass dish of butter. Milk was delivered daily in pint jars. We poured the cream off the top and used it on top of baked puddings. On the pantry floor there were baskets of potatoes and carrots and onions.

My grandfather who wore a suit and crisp white shirt with silver cufflinks every day, often donned an apron and cooked. He baked bread, cooked roasts, and made cakes. He often let me help him – standing me on a small stool while I kneaded a piece of dough or spooned jam into tart shells or shelled peas. Before I went to bed each night, he made me a cup of hot cocoa and served it alongside cream crackers slathered in butter.

This is how I came to know love.

The intersection of food, longing, and love is one of my favourite subjects. Food is at the heart of everything that matters. At the most basic level – food is about life and about our survival as a species. It’s how we all begin our lives and the thing that sustains us until the end.

At some point along our evolutionary path, our human brains became wired to remember food and those who provided it for us. We eat in order to live but we have also developed powerful emotional connections to food. In other words, food, nurture, and love are inextricably linked in our minds.

I know my grandfather would have loved this dish even though I don’t ever remember him eating pasta. The tortellini merely serves as the backdrop for the beautiful smooth flavours of sage, butter and cheese. This is comfort food. It’s also fast, easy, inexpensive, and incredibly delicious. Think of it as grown-up Mac & cheese. It’s sophisticated enough for company – so you can share the love. You can use packaged tortellini or make your own if you are so inclined – in which case strike out the words “fast” and “easy.” Serve it with a side salad.

Tortellini in Brown Butter Sage Sauce (for 4)

1 lb (454 grams) fresh cheese or pumpkin tortellini
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves, washed and chopped roughly
1 cup of shredded Pecorino cheese (or substitute freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese or a blend of these and old white cheddar)
Black pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to a full boil and cook the tortellini as per the instructions (usually about 6-8 minutes).

While you are waiting for the tortellini to cook, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted and just starting to turn golden, add the sage and cook for about three minutes or until the mixture has browned. The sage will become almost crispy. Reduce heat to low.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the browned butter sauce in the skillet. Add some freshly ground pepper and toss the pasta to coat. Sprinkle with cheese and serve immediately.




34 thoughts on “memories of love: tortellini in brown butter sage sauce

  1. I love your story and could completely visualize your dear Grandfathers larder. It is magical not just the larder but his entire house. What wonderful memories and I venture to guess that he would have loved your delicious tortellini dish, it’s comforting and sounds completely delicious.

    1. Thank you Suzanne – when I was writing about the larder it was almost as though I was back there myself but I didn’t think it would mean anything to anyone else – so I am very appreciative of your comments. And you’re right the house was magical. He had these heavy velvet curtains and I could climb onto the huge stone windowsills and pull the curtains around me and disappear. Sometimes he would sneak chocolates in behind the curtains for me. I carry his heart with me everyday.

  2. Our senses are so strong and so amazing that something long forgotten can be triggered so easily that they evoke forgotten emotions. Taste and smell are such powerful senses that can awaken the deepest of memories in the strangest of ways. Beautiful post Lindy.

  3. I am upstairs reading your post and thinking of my maternal grandfather while the delicious aroma of Anne making Tortellini In Brown Butter Sage Sauce drifts up to me.

  4. Your BEST post yet, Lindy… and I have not even tried the recipe…. LOVE the grandfather story, he would be so proud to see you today. That I know.
    Must go smoke a joint….(beef, of course!)
    Thank you for making me smile…

  5. Beautifully written post. I guess we all have indelible memories surrounding food. I know I have. Not in association with Grandparents as I never knew them. Mostly with growing up surrounded by nature that seemed amazing – larger than life. Which I used to feel kept people grounded. Not so sure about that anymore 🙂

    1. Thanks Johnny – you are probably right. With most of the global population living in big cities, our contact with the natural world is shrinking. Still I have to tell you – even at risk of being found out for being a nutter – I hug trees every day. I really do. And on that note I’m often to walk my gorgeous dog Lola and hug a tree. 😉

  6. What a beautiful story and a beautiful dish. I know what it’s like to learn love from food and actions rather than demonstration and what it’s like to experience something that you know someone you love would love. Thanks for sharing. I feel like that about my grandpa too.

  7. Lindy, you always have the most lovely posts to go along with your recipes. It always makes me smile how much food intersects with memories and with love. Honestly, it is why I do what I do with GDH. My favorite way to show my friends and family I love them is through food. 🙂

    1. Thank you Kenley. I think so many of us feel this way but for me, it took time to figure out the intersection of love and longing and pleasure and food and cooking. They were all wrapped up together in a way that I had not untangled. Almost every one of my memories of my beloved grandfather is food-related!

  8. What a wonderful and happy story. I totally felt the love that your grandfather had for you, and that you have for your grandfather. Just lovely.
    I have so many happy memories that are centered around food….and gain so much comfort as I prepare them, and then share them with my family with the hope that they might have such happy memories too. I lovely cycle…
    The dish is beautiful, and I will definitely prepare it someday soon. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post.. ❤

    1. Thank you – what a perfect comment. We are so fortunate that food is not just a necessity but one of the huge pleasures of life and the source of so many of our memories. And I love that you are creating the same happy memories for your family too. ❤ back!

  9. This sounds delicious! This post has made me very hungry and very nostalgic. I wish I had met your grandpa. But you know who he reminds me of? – Grandma Mechefske.
    Loved reading this – thanks mumma. xoxoxoxox

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