Tortelli with Brown Butter

A simple tortelli pasta recipe featuring plump, ricotta-stuffed tortelli tossed with brown butter balsamic sauce, arugula, pecorino cheese, and lemon zest.

Tortelli with Brown Butter

The first time I cooked this simple tortelli pasta was years ago, 2010. We rented an apartment in Rome’s Testaccio neighborhood for a month, and would spend our days exploring the city on foot. One of the charms of Rome is the neighborhood bakeries, pasta shops, and produce markets. I particularly love the pasta shops and this is one of the impromptu lunches I threw together after scoring a dozen beautiful fat-bellied ricotta tortelli. For good reason it has remained a staple in our pasta repertoire.

tortelli pasta in a bowl with brown butter sauce, arugula, and cheese

This pasta couldn’t be simpler. Toss cooked tortelli in butter that has browned in a skillet. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar along with a good amount of lemon zest. Finish with a few handfuls of arugula and generous layer of shaved pecorino! This pasta is so good I included a version in Near & Far.

fresh tortelli pasta in a tinfoil container

A Few Tips

A few things to keep in mind if you want to bump this recipe from “really good” to “absolutely great.”

  • Use a great tasting balsamic vinegar. It makes a real difference in a recipe with this few ingredients.
  • A good quality stuffed pasta is what you’re after here. There’s not much to hide behind, so - the better the pasta, the better the outcome.
  • When you zest the lemon avoid the bitter white pith.

detail photo of rome neighborhood

Tortelli: Variations

  • Pasta shape: Tortelli can be tough to find in the U.S. Feel free to substitute ricotta ravioli or tortellini in this recipe. Or shape your own tortelli using sheets of this homemade pasta.
  • Winter / Fall: Pumpkin filled pastas work beautifully in this recipe as well. The brown butter and winter squash combination is a classic pairing. And in this scenario an introduction of blanched or roasted broccoli or radicchio is nice in place of the arugula - especially in the fall and winter months.


More Pasta Recipes

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Tortelli with Brown Butter

4.5 from 2 votes

For this recipe I use one dozen big, chubby, fresh tortelli. You can certainly use ravioli. The pasta I used here was ricotta al limone - tortelli stuffed with lemon zested ricotta. But as I mention up above, a bit later in the year pumpkin ravioli make a great seasonal substitute.

  • one dozen fresh tortelli pasta
  • 1/4 cup / 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
  • fine grain sea salt
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 - 3 big handfuls of torn arugula or other bitter/spicy greens
  • plenty of grated (or shaved) pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook tortelli per package instructions, or until the pasta floats, in well-salted water. Drain the pasta and reserve a small cup of the pasta water.
  2. In the meantime, place the butter in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the butter has browned and is very fragrant and nutty smelling. Letting the butter *really* brown is key. Remove from heat, and let it cool off for a minute or so. Whisk in the vinegar, a couple pinches of salt, and most of the lemon zest.
  3. Add the cooked pasta to the brown butter pan and toss gently. Add a tiny, tiny splash of the reserved pasta water and toss again. Add the arugula, then turn out immediately into individual bowls or a serving platter topped with cheese and the remaining lemon zest.

Serves 2-3. depending on size of tortelli. You can easily double or triple the recipe to feed more.

Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
15 mins
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Recipe Rating


Made the brown butter sauce for a pot of pumpkin ravioli. Insanely good. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

Jennifer @ keepitsimplefoods

I made this recipe the other day with fresh pumpkin tortellini. It was seriously one of the most delicious pasta recipes I have ever made! And so simple. I think one of the tricks is making sure you cook the butter long enough, until it really browns. Thanks for this great recipe!


We just came back from 10 days in Rome…we must have overlapped a bit. 🙂 We stayed near the Piazza Navona, which is equally amazing for people watching…and there is a bit more space! And oh, the food, the food. I have been craving salads all week, though, I must admit! My Rome Moleskine is bursting with everything we did.
Can’t wait to try this. Roma ha rubato il mio cuore!


This was delicious!!!! I served it over gnocchi for dinner tonight. My family loved it. I wouldn’t change a thing! Used a really nice aged balsamic. Made all the difference. Thank you for a great recipe!


looks incredible! I will definitely try it.

Katie Kirby

I have just started learning how to cook and I have been visiting your page for the last few months. I have found more ways to use pumpkin and squash than I thought were possible Thruogh you, I have traveled more than I would have ever expected to, too. I have had alot of fun on your page and have shared everything that I have made with everyone I know. I hope that you are safe and are having a good time where ever you are.


I have tried this recipe at home and it has really stolen my heart. My son loved it the most.


My boyfriend made this for us last night at my request, and it was awesome. Thanks so much for the recipe.
I also made your broccoli cheese soup the other week and we both loved it.
Can’t wait to try more!


My stomach just growled…out loud. I’ve been all about pumpkin-y pastas recently. Made and posted a pumpkin ricotta lasagna last week, and this week, made ravioli in a light pumpkin sage sauce. Love those fall flavors…

Feast on the Cheap

This recipe is pure, simple perfection. Truly. Ideal elegant weeknight meal for two. Thanks Heidi – you are the best! ♥

Rae Alexis

I loved Rome, but I loved Tuscany more. Thanks for bringing back memories with this beautiful recipe.


I just love brown butter…the thought of it with ricotta filled pasta and arugula makes me very happy indeed! Will be trying this soon!


Just discovered your lovely blog, instantly bookmarked it as the veg recipes are amazing!


beautiful! and I will be trying this with the pumpkiin ravioli idea!!
Cathy B. @ brightbakes

Cathy B. @ Bright Bakes

I hold a special spot in my heart for anything made with browned butter…thanks for this, Heidi!


yum…fresh pasta is the best. this dish looks excellent. I love the addition of the peppery Arugula!

Mary (Sisters Running the Kitchen)

I made this last night with a portobella asiago ravioli. I added sliced shallots to the brown butter sauce. Fantastic! Thanks so much.


I made this tonight with butternut squash and sage stuffed ravioli. I threw some organic kale into the pasta water and a little chopped fresh sage into the butter sauce before tossing with the pasta. I topped it with some crumbled chevre and toasted pumpkin seeds. Delicious! Thank you for posting!


I’m not sure if you’ll see this or still be there, but I studied in Rome for 4 months and have a list of places you must try. In Testaccio there is Volpetti Piu that is a wonderful “deli” and near Piazza Navona is my favorite restaurant–Da Tonino. The pasta dishes are overflowing, delicious, authentic and cheap! The last restaurant (where I only saw a fellow American only ONCE) is in Trastevere called Da Enzo’s-delicious!


I am living vicariously threw you food travels Heidi!
Keep it coming, you are a true inspiration to all of foodies who lean towards fresh and whole grain food! You have such a wonderful talent for creating great recipes.


This looks beyond fabulous – hearty, fresh, simple, perfect.
Love the pumpkin idea too!
Can’t wait for a Rome re-cap – love that city!


i made this tonight and it was super easy, fast and delicious! the lemon zest really adds that extra something.


i made this tonight and it was super easy, fast and delicious! the lemon zest really adds that extra something.


Heidi, this looks glorious. It makes me want to go to Italy so badly! In the mean time I may just have to brown some butter.


This sounds divine. I’ve got to try it this week!


tortellis are my favorite!! I will make this soon!
Have fun in Rome!

PB Jung

I love simple pasta dishes – mine usually involve olives! But the browned butter, lemon and balsamic combo sounds amazing. The photos are delicious too!


Fabulous pictures! Thanks for sharing!

madge @ vegetariancasserolequeen

Hello Heidi,
Although nearly being responsible for you both falling under a Roman bus, I am very glad to have been able to say hello to you on Via Mamorata. I like the picture of Santa Sabina and this recipe very much. Rachel
HS: It was great meeting you as well. That gelato place you tipped us off to was fantastic! Thanks for saying hello Rachel, it was fun chatting with you. We’ll miss Testaccio for sure.


This just made the best quick lunch for my hubby and I when I substituted leftover brown rice and kale (what I had on hand) for the pasta and arugula. Thanks!


Li abbiamo mangiati ieri sera. Li ha cucinati per noi Adwoa! Buonissimi.
Yesterday my friend Adwoa made it for dinner.
She’s from Florida but now she’s living in Genoa, the Pesto and Focaccia italian city!
The tortelli were simply delicious!


Hi Heidi! I just moved to Genova; I’m staying with Italian friends and made this for them tonight. They were surprised by the lemon zest (apparently not a huge part of Ligurian cuisine), but apart from that loved it! Thanks as always – it was also nice to have a short recipe and be in a location to easily find all of the ingredients! I love your Italy posts 🙂


I made this tonight with spaghetti squash instead of pasta and it was so delish! The brown butter with the lemon zest is TDF. Thanks for another amazing recipe 🙂


You are my (much-needed) memory bank! For years, I adored this very combination, browned butter + balsamic, usually over broccoli raab. It was lost, somewhere along the way, and thanks to you, it’s found, again. It is, indeed, perfection.


My father and grandmother used to make this once a year in the fall for the family. A great recipe and memory jogger.
Thanks Heidi

John Govoni

I can’t remember the last time we had pasta, odd??? But this one is definitely inspiring and so easy it would be hard to come up with an excuse not to make it. 😉


Heidi, we have found your blog through this great post about Rome…we like your pics and words! Looking forward for your updated post about Rome…
We’re a small group of Romans that launched a simple independent blog few months ago. Currently our content is in Italian but any specific question from you or your readers is welcome if we can help you with our suggestions about food (not only restaurants) and events for enjoying Rome.


Sigh…never been to Italy! One day. In the meantime, I’ll make your pasta and pretend 🙂

Michelle @ Find Your Balance

This brown butter Tortelli is perfect for the fall weather and I like your suggestion of having pumpkin filling. That sounds delicious! Enjoy your last few days in Roma!


This reminded me about the best things about Rome. It’s compact – you can walk just about anywhere and there is always something amazing round each corner. You can find delicious, simple, inexpensive food. The delicatessen on the corner right by the Trevi fountain for instance; my slice of funghi pizza wrapped in paper, fresh from the oven, eaten by the fountain. I always enjoy your posts Heidi but this was one particularly evocative.

Sally from My Custard Pie

Aah yes, simplicity is always the best!
🙂 Mandy

Mandy - The Complete Cook Book

This blog is so lovely. Just found it at the moment and will always come back.


I love the idea of pupkin filled pasta here. I just saw some beautiful pumpkin ravioli at my favorite Italian grocery. I think I will go buy them tomorrow and take an in-my-kitchen trip to Rome!


I’m sure they must be also tasty with ravioli that you said! 😉

Hoping to visit next year. Can’t wait to read more!

Hungry Sofia

what a lovely, simple pasta! sounds delicious 🙂

the blissful baker

Sounds like you’re having an amazing time… and that tortelli recipe is everything I love about Italian cuisine: simple combination of ingredients that naturally go well together. Have fun!


I have this love and hate relationship with Rome (simply because I might move to live there) and a stack of photos back from May to be uploaded on my blogpost about Rome. I think I will have to quote this: ‘Rome is intense. I love it, but it makes my head explode a bit.’ Spot on 🙂

Egle B

It sounds delicious and simple and, yes, Rome is astounding and overwhelming.

anna maria

I love seeing Rome through your eyes, Heidi. Looking forward to more. We got a big bag of spicy greens from our farm share this week, and I have a batch of fresh ricotta in the fridge (your recipe – thank you!). I was thinking of putting something together for dinner tonight that’s like the dish you describe: whole wheat spaghetti, ricotta, greens, and lemon zest. I like the idea of adding balsamic vinegar to the mix. I think I’ll try it. Thanks!


All of the Rome photos are amazing, Heidi – just gorgeous – the light, the textures, etc. I can certainly understand how Rome can make your head explode after a couple of weeks though. My father was born there and it IS intense. Am going to try this recipe tonight. If I’m lucky, my homemade version of the tortelli will come out great!
HS: Thanks so much Tracey, hope we have a chance to swap travel stories in person soon.

Tracey Ryder

honestly, my heart leapt when I saw these pictures! I’m ready to fly away today to Rome. You really captured the moment in these photos. Thanks so much for sharing!


beautiful photos! thanks for the delicious and simple dish recipe! enjoy the rest of your stay in rome.:)


I just did this with butternut squash ravioli, Parmesan, a Meyer lemon, and a baby arugula/spinach mix. Keeper!


So simple and so elegant.
I love recipes which allow the ingredients to shine though.


Heidi, I’m glad to see my mind waves reached Italia. I was needing a new recipe for my Italian black (Lacinato) kale. This fits the bill: simple, delicious and greens friendly. Prego!
HS: I love Lacinato kale, glad to hear you’re putting it to good use Tom.

Tall Clover

I am making this pasta tonight! I simply love things made with brown butter and make it often, as it’s so easy, yet so rich and delicious at the same time. And with the fresh pasta you can get at the market, this will take no time to to make. Now, I just have to decide which wine would pair well with this recipe. . .
: )


Heidi – love the recipe for Tortelli – it is delicious.
Next time you head for Rome – take “Not Built in a Day” – by George Sullivan. It’s the best book for getting around to different neighborhoods, and understanding what you are looking at – he gives the architectural history, breaks it into twelve “day tours”. Really a great book.


Great inspiration! Browned butter is the bomb. 🙂

A Teenage Gourmet

Sometimes the most simple recipes are the best. Now only if I could get some freash hand made pasta from Rome… 😉

Mary (What's Cookin' with Mary)

Hello Heidi,
I haven’t commented in a while, but Thank You
again and again for your beautiful blog, photos, stories and ofcourse recipes. Ciao!


This sounds absolutely wonderful, and just in time for our cool fall weather here. Can’t wait to try it and I loved reading your perspectives on Rome.


Sounds like an amazing trip. Rome (and Italy in general) is at the top of the list of places that we want to visit. Maybe someday…

Tabitha (from single to married)

wonderful photos! looks like a fabulous trip.


Made this for lunch today…It was delicious. Used tortellini and it worked well. This one is a real keeper. prego, heidi

aunt con

I studied the culture and politics of food in Rome my junior year of college. I loved Rome so much, I barely left to visit other cities and never once left Italy. It is intense, but it is captivating. I was certainly under its spell. Just thinking about it makes me tear up; I can’t wait to go back.
did you visit the key hole on Aventine hill? it’s one of my favorite little known spots.


I have made pumpkin ravioli with browned butter. It is fantastic topped with toasted walnuts.

Cheryl Parsons

ooh that sounds great and once again, beautiful pictures! Enjoy the rest of your time there!

Simply Life

love your post and beautiful photos…they bring back so many memories of rome — probably one of my favourite cities in the world.


Heidi, your posts bring me back to my student days in Rome…the food, the light, the history…makes me long to go back…i will be making this recipe, perhaps in a squash/pumpkin version for a friend who just returned from her first trip to rome…needless to say she is besotted with roma as well. mille grazie bella!

carolina p

Complimenti on your blog, I have been following it for some time, and find your recipes and approach just wonderful. Perfetto. Though I’ve lived in Rome since 2006, I love reading what others discover in the city, always something new down a that tiny alley-street, or around an anonymous corner. I look forward to your recap. Plus, I love vegetarian and vegan Italian dishes, so perhaps we will see some Italian influence in postings to come. BTW, I live in Prati if you desire to hear some of my favorites in this zona. Happy travels.


It’s almost lunchtime, such a pity it’s too late to make these tortelli! I’ll try them next week, thank you very much!

Gaia - the Cook

Browned butter with aged balsemic vinegar … sounds really good with lemon zest . I must try this.


I thought I already knew the recipe for the simplest of pasta dishes: my family loves hot, fresh pasta with just a tablespoon of tomato paste fried-off in butter. The aroma of the butter is fantastic, made doubly delicious by the lightly fried tomato pasted.
Your buttery version sounds just as simple. Will definitely try it soon!


perfect! we’re making homemade pasta today! and this sounds perfect! I’ll post the results in my blog, thanks a lot! I love your photography!


Hi Heidi,
I studied in Rome when I was in high school, at a private boarding school right near the Aventine Hill you mention. I was stunned when you mentioned Volpetti in your last post, as my friends and I used to eat there weekly to escape the terrible cafeteria food of my school. Then, when I saw this post, I just had to write a comment. The teacher in that picture looks exactly like my art history teacher from that school (of course it’s a small picture, so perhaps I’m just imagining it). Was she speaking English to the class? That would be too funny.
Anyway, I’m glad your enjoying Rome and keep the wonderful recipes coming!

Julia Norcross

sounds and looks delicious! i always love your travel posts! enjoy the rest of your trip!

charlotte s

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