In previous writings, I have suggested on several occasions that one should try their hand at making fresh pasta instead of always relying on purchasing it dry from a bag or box. Congratulations to you if you took my advice and tried your hand at this wonderful culinary skill. For those of you that did, and for those of you that never will, I want to give you some ideas for sauces to compliment your pasta, be it from fresh or dry.
The most common is the classic tomato sauce. Although Chefs will consider it sacrilege to any pasta, a number of people still buy canned or jarred premade tomato sauces to don their pasta. Some will at least get creative by adding extra ingredients like onions or garlic, but nothing can take the place of good rustic homemade batch of tomato sauce. This does not have to be the style that simmers for hours on end either. Many great homemade pasta sauces can start out with a little help from canned diced tomatoes and some tomato paste and be done in record time. Reduce it down even further at the end (by simmering some of the water content out) and replenish with some whipping cream and you now have a rosé sauce for those special occasions when calorie counting is not on your priority list.
Any ground meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, etc) cooked up at the beginning of the process will magically transform this rustic tomato or rosé sauce into a hearty meat sauce. Sausage meat can also be utilized in the same manner by removing it from the casings and cooking the same as ground meat. Italian sausage (mild or hot, depending on your tastes) is wonderful for this.
A béchamel (white sauce) is a very simple sauce. Don’t let the fancy French culinary name scare you – it’s just milk thickened with flour and butter. A little seasoning (salt, pepper, and a pinch of ground nutmeg) and you have an incredible sauce that can be a blank canvas for your favorite cheeses to be melted in or tossed with bits of grilled chicken. Add garlic and parmesan and you will basically have alfredo sauce.
Oils infused with flavors and seasonings can be the base of a tasty light pasta coating. Heating olive oil over medium to low heat and letting ingredients like crushed garlic, chillies, herbs, etc.
A batch of seasoned simmered vegetables can also be transformed into a smooth sauce bursting with flavors with the help of a blender, food processor, or hand immersion blender. We actually do one with ground lamb where it is simmered with a number of vegetables and herbs with some red wine. A few good pulses in a blender, at the end of the cook time, alter it into an amazing pasta sauce.
One of the quickest pasta sauces you will ever make is a browned-butter sauce. It is exactly what the name states it to be – butter that has been browned. Take a hot pan and place a handful of cold butter cubes into it. Stir, or lift the pan and swirl the melting butter, until the butter foam has just started to brown and then toss with your favorite pasta. Your favorite fresh delicate herb (basil, oregano, sage, etc) can also be added at the time of the cold butter for an incredible infusion of herbal essential oils. Although we have all been taught never to add butter to a hot pan for fear that it will burn, the trick is to stop the cooking process of the “browning” butter before it hits the “burning” stage. Use salted butter to be more complimentary in taste and less seasoning you will have to do afterwards.
These are merely suggestions as it would be literally impossible to cover every single type of pasta sauce idea here. What I want this column to be is an invitation for you to blow some dust off your cookbook collection or search recipes from the internet. Pasta is probably my favorite thing to eat, but I realize with most people that eating is not the problem; it’s the cooking part that feels like a chore sometimes. Find a way to make it fun. When I was younger, one thing I always insisted on when cooking pasta was to listen to Pavarotti while doing so. I still do on occasion, but now it is not only Pavarotti, but also Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and others... and always with a glass of wine. Until next time, Happy Cooking…