Post #495 Six Pasta Sauces Every Cook Should Know

July 29, 2016 at 12:58 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #495 Six Pasta Sauces Every Cook Should Know

For a while, I’ve been wanting to write about what, in Italian cooking, are known as the “mother sauces.”  These are a basic seven sauces which can be used as the jumping off point for hundreds of other sauces.  Every time I tried to write the post, though, something just didn’t sit well with me, and I always stopped and went on to something else.  I finally figured out that while the mother sauces are fine, the sauces most home cooks are going to use are the ones based on the mother sauces.  I may get around to writing about them one day, but for now, I want to talk about six sauces that really should be in every cook’s repertoire.  (fancy word, huh?)  They are simple and easy and can work with just about any pasta shape imaginable.  They can also be used to cover rice, toast, dipping sauces, or a ton of other things.  They’re flexible and easily varied to match your mood.

The first is the basic marinara sauce.  Marinara sauce is a meatless tomato sauce with just a few ingredients.  While the sauce is cooking, you can boil up the pasta, set up the lasagna, or get the water boiling for gnocchi.  Marinara sauce goes with everything.  Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet and add one chopped onion.  When the onion starts to turn translucent, add two or three cloves of chopped garlic.  Sauté for about 30 seconds, until the garlic starts to release its aroma.  Add to medium cans of crushed tomatoes with the juice and stir.  Set the heat to its lowest setting and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and add either parsley or basil, fresh only and chopped.  Add the freshly cooked pasta or gnocchi directly, or set aside for the lasagna or other pasta casserole.  This can be made in large batches and frozen or refrigerated until needed.

The second sauce is alfredo sauce.  The first time I had homemade fettucine alfredo, I called it adult mac and cheese (at that time, mac and cheese hadn’t grown up and was still a kid’s mainstay.)  Alfredo sauce is simplicity itself.  The secret to success is to use the richest and freshest ingredients you can find.  That means using real butter, real cream, and grating the parmesan by hand rather than buying it in the green jar.  In a large skillet, melt 1/2 a cup of butter in 1 cup of heavy cream.  When the butter is completely melted into the cream, add 2 full cups of freshly grated good quality parmesan cheese.  Stir until melted.  Taste and add salt only if needed.  Remember that parmesan cheese is pretty salty to begin with.  Toss freshly cooked fettucine into the sauce and toss to coat evenly.  Sprinkle with fresh ground black pepper and serve immediately.  Do not let this cool.  It’s a meal by itself (believe me, I know) but you can add grilled chicken, beef, or even fish on the side.

The next sauce is a good Bolognese sauce.  It’s basically a marinara sauce with the addition of ground beef and a couple vegetables.  The difference is this a very hearty sauce so you want to pair it with a pasta that can hold up to it.  Don’t use angel hair, for instance, instead of spaghetti.  Don’t use ditalini instead of macaroni or penne.  As with the marinara sauce, sauté onion and garlic.  Before adding the tomatoes, though, add one pound of ground beef.  Use a good quality beef, as good as you can buy.  Cook, breaking apart the meat, until no pink remain.  Add one shredded carrot (it adds sweetness) and one diced celery stalk (it adds a mild “kick” of flavor) and sauté for 1-2 minutes.  Then add the tomatoes and simmer for about 30 minutes until the sauce thickens.  Basil and/or parsley can be added near the end of the cooking time.  If time is important, you can speed up the thickening time by adding a small can of tomato paste, allowing for enough time to cook the raw flavor out of the sauce.  Finish the sauce by adding 1/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese.  As you can see, this is a very hearty sauce, well able to stand on its own.  It can be used in dozens of ways.

I’m a big fan of mushrooms.  This sauce uses them to perfection.  Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over low heat to avoid burning the butter.  Add some chopped garlic and sage leave.  Sauté these for a few moments, then add a cup of sliced or chopped mushrooms and cook slowly.  I use a mix of mushrooms rather than just one kind, but you can always use just one kind if you like.  Never use canned mushrooms since they’ve already been processed and have a rubbery texture.  Then slowly add a cup of cream, stirring constantly until thick and velvety.  Remove from heat and add half a cup of chopped onion, or shallot, or leek.  Continue stirring off heat for a minute or so until the added vegetable releases its flavor into the sauce.  This sauce can be used over nearly anything, but I don’t recommend you put it over ice cream, since it’ll melt.  Partner/Spouse doesn’t like the texture of mushrooms so I tend to puree it with an immersion blender.

Brown butter sauce is pure simplicity.  The basic process is:  melt six tablespoons of butter in a heavy sauce pan over low heat.  Add salt, about 1/2 a teaspoon, but suit your own tastes, and 1/2 teaspoon of sage.  Cook while stirring constantly until the butter browns in about five minutes, then remove from heat.  Add two tablespoons of cream and stir to combine completely.  This is another sauce that can be used over everything except ice cream, but is mainly used on fish or pasta.  You can add garlic and/or onion to perk it up, but make sure they are both chopped very fine.

Lemon sauce I’ve written about before, but it bears repeating because it’s so tasty and so easy.  In a large skillet, melt two tablespoons of butter with one tablespoon of olive oil.  Add two cloves of finely minced garlic, or one large shallot finely minced, and cook until softened about two to three minutes.  Add the juice of one lemon straining it through a fine mesh sieve to avoid seeds and pith.  Toss cooked pasta directly in the sauce to coat evenly.  Or pour the sauce over rice and stir.  Or spoon over fish, chicken, or beef.  Wherever you like lemon and garlic, this sauce will enhance it.


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