(Bloomberg) -- Niklas Ekstedt, co-author of Happy Food for Life, isn’t feeling too cheerful.

“I crashed on my snowmobile and broke my shoulder blade, so it has been a painful couple of weeks,” the Swedish chef says from Stockholm during a telephone interview. “And then you have the Covid thing on top of that. It is not the greatest time ever, but we can only get better.”

Niklas made his name with restaurants such as Ekstedt, where he cooks over fire, and has since achieved wider recognition for TV shows including Crazy Delicious with the British chef Heston Blumenthal. But his current focus is on the connection between diet and mood. He says it’s not such a complicated idea.

“If you meet people who have great gastronomy and eat well, they are always happy,” he says. “In so many different levels, having balance in gastronomy helps make your mind better and you are happier. People from northern Europe, we are almost always a bit frustrated when we meet people from the south, who always seem to have a smile on their face.”

In the new book, Niklas and co-author Henrik Ennart, a medical science journalist, dive deeper into topics originally covered in their original book, Happy Food. They explore the world of gut health and how closely linked it is to our physical and mental wellbeing. If that sounds a little heavy, the book is actually approachable, with plenty of simple, healthy recipes.

Niklas shares a recipe for pasta al dente with sage, butter and pine nuts. If you are worried about the health benefits of a dish with pasta and butter, he says moderation and quality are the keywords.

“The GI (glycemic index) value is lower if you choose pasta made from durum wheat and serve it al dente,” he says. “You have to see the meal as a whole. Here we balance the pasta with black pepper and pine nuts that stabilize the blood sugar and feelings of hunger.”

Niklas says it’s a dish he often cooks at home for his kids, where he uses pasta to challenge them with other ingredients, such as sage. “Sage is a great herb to introduce kids to early,” he says. “It’s different from parsley and dill and tarragon. It’s got a more rural flavor to it, the taste of farms.”

“The secret to this dish is browning the butter and making it nutty and nice without burning it. Then when you have this hazelnut flavor to the butter you can add the chopped sage.”


400 grams (14.1 ounces) dried pappardelle pasta

2 cloves of garlic

3 tablespoons butter

8–10 sage leaves, plus extra to garnish

50g Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

black pepper for serving


Cook the pasta al dente, according to the instructions on the packaging. Drain and leave to steam thoroughly.

Thinly slice the garlic.

Brown the butter slightly and add the sage and garlic.

Add the pasta and mix thoroughly.

Serve with Parmesan shavings, toasted pine nuts, extra finely sliced sage and freshly ground black pepper.

Happy Food for Life: Health, Food and Happiness is published by Bloomsbury Absolute. Richard Vines is Chief Food Critic at Bloomberg.