Brown Butter Za’atar Pasta

published Jun 4, 2023
Pantry Pasta
Brown Butter Za’atar Pasta Recipe

Strands of spaghetti or bucatini tossed with brown butter that’s infused with za’atar, lemon juice, Parmesan, and a mix of fresh herbs.

ServesServes 4

Prep10 minutes

Cook15 minutes

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Brown butter za'atar pasta
Credit: Kristina Vanni

The spice cabinet is always a good place to start when you’re looking for dinner inspiration. When it comes to pasta, you might automatically turn to Italian-leaning spices like oregano and red pepper flakes, but why limit yourself? Middle Eastern za’atar is arguably more herby, fragrant, and interesting than your run-of-the-mill Italian seasoning, and it’s a flavor-packed, albeit untraditional, match-up with pasta. Letting it mingle with nutty brown butter, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and Parmesan cheese delivers a humble dinner that’s anything but average.

Za’atar Is the Punch Your Pasta Needs

While no two jars of za’atar are the same, most contain a mixture of dried thyme or oregano (or both), sumac, and sesame seeds. Traditionally, za’atar is made with the crumbled dried leaves of the za’atar plant, which is a relative of oregano found in the Middle East, rather than dried thyme or oregano, but many jars you’ll find stateside use them as a replacement. New York Shuk’s za’atar is my favorite because it does use the traditional za’atar leaves. Regardless of the brand you use, the spice blend is herbaceous and nutty with a certain lemony brightness, thanks to sumac. 

Credit: Kristina Vanni

Tossing pasta with a za’atar-infused brown butter is enough to transform it, but I like to stir in lemon juice and a mix of chopped fresh herbs like parsley, oregano, thyme, and/or mint for extra vibrancy, turning it into a truly comforting dinner that doesn’t feel heavy.

Pantry Pasta is Sheela Prakash‘s monthly column of easy, accessible pasta recipes. You’ll discover a new, inspired recipe each month that takes advantage of grocery staples and highlights one pantry hero. Follow along and grab all the recipes here.

Brown Butter Za’atar Pasta Recipe

Strands of spaghetti or bucatini tossed with brown butter that’s infused with za’atar, lemon juice, Parmesan, and a mix of fresh herbs.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

Serves Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 packed cup

    fresh herb leaves, such as parsley, oregano, mint, thyme, or a combination

  • 1 ounce

    Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup firmly packed freshly grated or 1/3 cup store-bought grated), divided

  • 1 pound

    dried long pasta, such as spaghetti or bucatini

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1 tablespoon

    za’atar, plus more for serving

  • 1/2

    medium lemon

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more for the pasta

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Coarsely chop 1 packed cup fresh herb leaves. Finely grate 1 ounce Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 packed cup) or measure out 1/3 cup store-bought grated.

  2. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package instructions for 1 minute less than al dente. Meanwhile, start the sauce.

  3. Cut 8 tablespoons unsalted butter into a few pieces and place in a large skillet. Melt over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon za’atar and continue cooking, swirling the pan occasionally and scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until the butter has a nutty, fragrant aroma and is a toasty-brown color, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Carefully squeeze the juice from 1/2 medium lemon (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) into the pan (it will spatter). Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and stir to combine.

  4. When the pasta is ready, reserve 2 cups of the cooking water. Drain the pasta.

  5. Pour the reserved pasta water into the sauce and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until the liquid reduces by half, about 3 minutes. Add the pasta and toss continuously until the sauce thickens a bit more and coats the pasta, and the pasta is al dente, about 1 minute more.

  6. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the herbs and half of the Parmesan and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the remaining Parmesan and a generous sprinkle of za’atar.