Saffron Pasta with Spiced Butter


I can’t see a pasta maker without thinking of this one painting by John Currin. The painting is of two guys, presumably a couple, making pasta together. It’s not a painting that I particularly like, but it is a painting I will never forget.

Chevrolet has recently been airing some commercials that feature diverse families: multiracial, single parents, same-sex parents. They almost make me care about Chevrolet.

Representation is an important thing. Those of us in marginalized groups grow to understand this, and either long for it or find ways of embracing our otherness. Seeing yourself reflected in the culture is powerful, it validates you. I grew up without any positive depictions of gay men—literally none. There was no literature read in high school, no characters in film or television, and I certainly did not have any examples in my own life. There were millions of examples of heterosexual love and lives. I have an imagination and so of course I was able to see myself in characters and situations that were unlike me, we all do. I identified with people like Mick Kelly in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks, and Levin in Anna Karenina.


But this identification is not the same thing, it isn’t representation. That painting of the gay couple making pasta is burned into my mind because it was the first (only?) time I had seen my life represented in painting in a literal way. Both in terms of the relationship between the two men and depiction of them in a domestic situation. Even today, when there are more diverse representations of gay men, they are rarely in domestic spaces—they are rarely mundane. The act of painting imbues the couple and their domestic act with an importance that was oddly moving and unsettling the first time I saw it. Over the years it has become iconic to me and impossible for me to separate from the act of making pasta. How odd! I don’t necessarily like this fact. It is stupid that I could feel so desperate for this sort of representation that I am forced to hang onto a painting that I don’t even know if I like.

So when Bryan and I, in a collective effort to make better use of sometimes neglected kitchen appliances, decided to make pasta, we both said: LIKE IN THE PAINTING! Because it is stuck in Bryan’s head too.


Making pasta turns out to be a really sweet thing to do with a partner. There is a slowness to the process that is soothing. It is a task that is possible to do by yourself, but much easier and more efficient with someone else. You do have to stand close together, like in the painting. We had a really nice morning making this pasta, and then our friends came over and we all shared a good meal. These are the friends with that baby I love. He already has seen his “uncles” make pasta together, he won’t need the painting. Hopefully we’ll all get better at including more people in the stories we tell. Hopefully he’ll have enough examples of everything that he’ll feel like he has a place in the world no matter who he is.


This is one of my favorite recipes. It is both so delicious and so beautiful. It is also surprisingly spicy, which I love. Everyone else thought it would be nice served with a dollop of greek yogurt, or labneh. I’m not sure, it was so perfect as it is. The recipe notes that if you do no want do make the pasta you could throw some saffron into the cooking water of store-bought pasta. You can, it just won’t be nearly as good. Making pasta at home is one of those rare instances where everyone is right when they tell you it is superior—by a mile. And this pasta isn’t really that difficult or time-consuming. The pasta dough is very easy to work with and the sauce comes together in a few minutes. I adjusted the spiced butter a bit to reduce the butter and increase the olive oil, because we are getting old and have to think about these kinds of things. Other variations are noted below.


Saffron Tagliatelle with Spiced Butter (adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)

For pasta:

  • 2 teaspoons saffron threads
  • 4 tablespoons boiling water
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 440g 00 pasta flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 80 g pine nuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
  • 4 tablespoons roughly chopped mint

For spiced butter:

  • 113 g unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • black pepper

Place the saffron in a small bowl with the boiling water and leave to infuse for at least 10 minutes. Then add the eggs and oil and beat to mix. Place the flour and turmeric in the bowl of a food processor and add the saffron mix. blend until a crumbly dough forms. You may need a little more oil or flour to adjust the dough to the required consistency—it should not be sticky nor very dry.

Lightly dust your surface with flour, tip out the dough and knead it into a ball. Work for a few minutes, adding more flour as needed, until it becomes silky soft (I dont really know what that means- knead until smooth). Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes, or up to a day.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Keep the pieces you are not working with well covered. Using a rolling pin, or your hands, flatten one of the pieces into a thin rectangle. Set the pasta machine to its widest setting and pass the dough through. Continue rolling the pasta, narrowing the setting by a notch every time, until you get to the lowest setting (I stopped at the second lowest setting, I like a little more heft to my noodles).

Fold up the pasta sheet 2-3 times along its length, sprinkling some flour between the layers. Use a large knife to cut strips that are about 1/2-3/4-inch wide. Hang them on the back of a chair to dry for 10 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Next make the spiced butter. Place the butter and oil in a frying pan and cook the shallots gently for about 10 minutes, or until they soften and the butter turns slightly brown. Now, add all of the spices, the salt and some pepper. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and return to the saucepan (or, if you used a large frying pan for the butter, you can also add the noodles directly to that pan). Toss the pasta with the spiced butter until evenly coated. Serve topped with pine nuts and chopped herbs.

6 servings.


43 comments to “Saffron Pasta with Spiced Butter”

  1. There is definitely something magical about this pasta, especially when made by such an important pair of uncles.

  2. Tim, I don’t know if I love the look of that painting either (not a huge Currin fan I guess), but I love this post. Hope you guys have a great weekend.

  3. Justin- I’m a magical witch/uncle!
    Lisa- thanks! I hope you guys do too!

  4. Before I scrolled down further to keep reading, I immediately googled “John Currin pasta.” I guess I just couldn’t wait.

    I can see how you aren’t quite sure if you like the painting or not; I feel that way too. However, I very much like what you’ve written here about it, and that means that I can’t help but like it because of that.

    Despite how simple the ingredients, there is something about homemade pasta that feels so luxurious. Can’t wait to make my next batch even more luxurious with saffron and spices!

  5. schneiderluvsdoof says:

    February 14th, 2014 at 9:50 am

    A beautiful post.

  6. What a lovely post. I’m sorry to hear that you had to experience that lack of representation in the world/media/life, but I’m glad that you are taking the opportunity to be a role model and influence for those in the same boat. Love your blog, love this post, and I also love making pasta with my partner ^__^

  7. Way to represent, boo! Thanks for being the best pasta collaborator and valentine around. –P.S., y’all, I can attest that the Audrey Horne music plays whenever Tim walks into a room.

  8. I love the post and pasta! (but not so much the painting!)
    Happy Valentine’s Day. xo

  9. What a beautiful post. Thank you and a very happy Valentine’s Day to you both!!!!!

  10. I love this post. The sentiment is beautiful, the painting great fun, and the pasta looks delicious. I love how you plated it: the textures and colors are marvelous. With the availability of fresh pastas in the stores now, I have gotten a bit lazy about making my own, but now I feel it’s time to pull out the old pasta making equipment again! Thanks for the inspiration. Oh, and as for the kind words about Chevrolet. I haven’t seen the commercials – I still remember the Dinah Shore ones with her singing: ‘See the USA in your Chevrolet…’ Sounds like the new ones are memorable, too. D

  11. My husband and I are making pasta tonight and we are going to toast both you and Bryan, and the painting. Love is good!

  12. Fantastic post, on many levels. I’ve never seen the pasta painting by Currin but it resonates with me, again on multiple dimensions. We recieved a beautiful pasta maker as a gift for our committment celebration, last fall and have yet to use it. This post, its central theme and recipe, along with the painting will give us new motivation to get it out of the box and on our kitchen counter where it belogs. Nicely done, guys!

  13. Tim, I enjoy reading your blog so much. Lovely post. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and Bryan! Can’t wait to make this pasta.

  14. Thanks for all of the nice comments, friends! I hope everyone has a sweet weekend. xo

  15. my eyes welled up. so true and so much to say on this. i hope you guys have an amazing valentine’s day! xx

  16. A gorgeous post that made me a little teary-eyed. Thanks Tim!

  17. Lovely post, as usual with the perfect sentiment. Wondering what pasta machine you have, and if you would recommend it? Considering getting the Kitchen Aid attachment one, but wanted to know if you liked yours. Yay love!

  18. Hi Rachel, For some reason I did not like the Kitchen Aid attachment, I returned mine. I have a feeling it has more to do with me than it. We just didn’t jive. Some dear friends bought us this one as a wedding gift. I love it. Call me old fashioned, but I like the hand crank. It feels like you have more control over the process.

  19. Beautiful and thought provoking, dealt with so sensitively. It resonates on so many levels, even though my issues are not yours and yours not mine, they are somehow the same nevertheless. I do not know you but ‘through the screen’ you move me regardless.

  20. So beautiful (dish & post)! I wish I could indulge, but alas, George has a dairy allergy and I am still nursing, so…

  21. I have followed your blog for awhile now and loved many of your recipes. Came out of the woodwork to say that this is such a lovely post!

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  22. lovely post. it is amazing how people in the mainstream; white, hetero, middle class, take things for granted. the simple art of representation is so easy to broaden, yet so threatening to the mainstream. hopefully things are changing for the better.

  23. I am speechless with love and hope and warmth and, also, a bit of sadness because your truth is still so many people’s present lives. Lacking representation, lacking validation. There is such beauty and significance in the mundane. Such validation. You’ve also made me want to make pasta. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  24. Tim, I really loved this post. I’m always making the recipes you post and always come back for the thoughtful commentary. Hope you’re well!

  25. That pasta looks delicious, I love the streaks of colour throughout and it just seems to be one of those dishes that are filled with comfort and warmth. A dish to share with those you love. Beautifully written post.

  26. I am just getting ready for bed and read this post. Today we made two kinds of pastas and two sauces. One for lunch and one for supper. Love is in the air. Doesn’t matter who we matters that we love.

  27. Wonderful words– thank you for representin’!

  28. Thanks for posting this Tim. Making pasta is one of my favorite activities with my husband. I totally agree the crank is so much more satisfying than the Kitchen Aid.

  29. I really like what you’ve written here. You’re right that representation is important, even if it’s just in a car commercial or a strange painting (the more I look at that pairing, the more I like it). And that pasta looks delicious.

  30. Important and lovely post.

  31. What a wonderful post. And, the pasta looks terrific too. I’ll try it very soon. I’m a fan of my old Atlas pasta machine and never considered getting the Kitchen Aid one. It just seems wrong. I haven’t seen the Chevrolet ads, but we have a ’67 Corvette in our garage.

  32. I too love my hand crank pasta maker. Marcato Atlas Pasta Machine ( is also a great brand! I’m dying to know, where did that plate come from? I love the retro look to it. Thanks for the inspiration!!

  33. What a thoughtful post – representation and food – I love it! I’m not surprised you don’t love the Currin, his paintings are deliberately controversial and I’ve always found that one needlessly antagonistic. There’s something about those empty shelves and the placement of the pasta crank that’s more reductive than celebratory. Anyway, that guy’s a jerk, but you’re great. (:

  34. Your talent reaches far beyond the kitchen. Inspired.

  35. Hi Neil- It’s from a company called Astier de Villette in France. You can find their stuff here and there in the US. The plates are their “Cube” pattern.

    Thanks for the support, all.

  36. great painting, great pasta, great post!

  37. I just made homemade pasta this weekend! Now I’m inspired to try it again.:) Thank you for the lovely post!

    I also have mixed feelings about that painting. The overall look is a bit hackneyed, but the message is sweet. But most of all… Are they feeding already-cut pasta back into the machine?! What’s going on there?

  38. as if saffron pasta with spice butter weren’t enough, such a beautiful story to go with it. excellent post.

  39. I love this post, friend. And, yes, it is good to use a pasta maker. Even if just once a year. Coz that’s probably how often you’ll use it. :)

  40. Such a beautiful post and that recipe looks AMAZING. I can’t wait to try it.

    Saw this pop up today and I immediately thought of your post:

  41. Have you seen these beautiful pics? there are no pasta making photos, but every one is spectacular and the message is similar to your thoughts on the representation of same-sex relationships.

  42. Simply D timber on many levels. Je t’aime.

  43. I was referred to your site recently, by another blogger that I can’t pick out of my brain now, and I’m so glad that I was! I love that you write about food and life mixed together the way it really is, and what you write about it so important. How wonderful to have created your own family portrait. Even better that it includes food! Cheers.

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