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Break me out of my pasta sauce rut


jsmeeker
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I need help with pasta sauces. I only ever make something that is tomato based or a meat sauce that has tomatoes. Marinara with meatballs. Bolognese. All'Amatriciana. That's pretty much it. I want to break out of this rut and learn more types of sauces. Bonus points if it's something that I can whip up quickly in small quantities. Like enough for a single, healthy portion of pasta. Extra bonus points if it uses "staple" items that don't perish quickly.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Aglio e olio (garlic and oil). Experiment with different olive oils, they change the taste dramatically, of course.

So, is this as simple as heating some olive oil in a pan with some garlic?

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Tonight, we had a very easy and quick pasta. Started with some fresh lemon fettuccine (from Farmer's Market), toss with a little black pepper, some Parmesan cheese and some toasted breadcrumb. Topped it with a fried egg with runny yolk. It's so simple but so good.

Another healthier pasta dish we've been making is with kale. I cook some onion and garlic in a saute pan, seasoned with salt and red pepper flakes. Blanch kale in a large pot of salt water. When onion has soften (can be caramelized if you like), add the blanched kale. Using the same pot, cook the pasta. When pasta is done, save about a cup of pasta water and drain. Add pasta to kale mixture and add some pasta water to give it a little sauce. When everything is tossed together, turn off the heat and toss in some Parmesan (or like).

And of course, you can always make some a cream sauce or pesto.

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Aglio e olio (garlic and oil). Experiment with different olive oils, they change the taste dramatically, of course.

So, is this as simple as heating some olive oil in a pan with some garlic?

Pretty much, yeah. And salt obviously. And many people also like to add black pepper and sometimes crushed red pepper flakes. But all pantry staples.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Oh, gosh, there's so much good non-tomato-based stuff for pasta. Ruth Reichl's carbonara, for example. Or this one that I made last week. (I know it has diced tomatoes, but they're not one of the featured ingredients.) I'm a fan of this book, less than six bucks, shipped, from Amazon.

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Pancetta, onion and peas - put diced pancetta in pan to render the fat. If you want your pancetta to be crispy, remove from pan and set aside. If you want them more meaty and chewy, leave them in the pan. Add sliced onion and salt and cook till caramelized. Add thawed peas and cooked pasta. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Put in some pasta water if it's too tight. Add cheese if you want.

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Spaghetti Carbonara

This recipe is scalable. Work on 100g pasta per person, 1 egg, 40g grated parmesan, 1 tbsp cream per person (optional) and 50g bacon/pancetta.

Slice up the pancetta or bacon, fry it and set it aside.

Put eggs in a bowl and whisk together with cheese, salt and freshly ground black pepper, add a small pinch of freshly grated nutmeg and the cream if you are using it.

Cook the spaghetti to preferred texture. Drain the spaghetti into a bowl. Add the egg/cheese mixture and stir. This will cook the eggs. Add the bacon/pancetta.

Serve with extra parmesan.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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North Italian white sauce, aka some butter, then some parm, then a bit more butter, then parm, and repeat once more. Delicious.

Carbonara - the full deal with pancetta, garlic, eggs, cream - or like my mum used to make it, no cream or garlic, just eggs and bacon, seasoned. Then she got on a kick of adding vinegar which granulated the egg as well as adding a tang. Strange, the things people will do.

Al tocco d'arrosto (excuse my non-existent Italian - 'with a touch of the roast') - tossed with the remaining gravy and scraps of meat from a roast, that you've warmed quickly in a wide pan you can toss the pasta in (and adjusted the liquid). I read Marcella's recipe when I first bought my Marcella book quite a few years back, and actually tried it for the first time this year - recommended, and you only need to remember the idea, hardly a recipe (I broke up the last of the veggies too - I used a pot-roast).

Add some chopped-up greens to your peperoncino.

In the end, pasta's just a carbohydrate like bread or potatoes - you can dress it up any number of ways, particularly if you get away from the idea that only an Italian could possibly know how to figure out an accompaniment for starch.

Edited by Blether (log)

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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Oh yes, and as an experiment last week I bought fresh pork belly instead of bacon. Half of it, I cut into pancetta-style batons (1/4" x 1/4" by the depth of the belly), salted (about 4-4.5g per lb ?), turned a few times in its plastic bag and left overnight in the fridge (and I've been taking from it day by day since).

Result - I'm as happy with it in pasta as with store-bought pancetta, and happier than store-bought pancetta in terms of price and convenience. It's good.

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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My suggestion is that you start making pasta primavera. It's a great way to use whatever vegetables you have, both fresh and frozen. You can prep the vegetables while the water is coming to a boil, saute the vegetables while the pasta is cooking, then assemble everything in the saute pan once the pasta is drained.

And of course, you can always make some a cream sauce or pesto.

While pesto doesn't exactly meet the criteria laid out in the opening post, it compensates by being easily freezable. You whip up a batch in the food processor and then you have it for single-serving use whenever.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Aglio e olio (garlic and oil). Experiment with different olive oils, they change the taste dramatically, of course.

So, is this as simple as heating some olive oil in a pan with some garlic?

Pretty much, yeah. And salt obviously. And many people also like to add black pepper and sometimes crushed red pepper flakes. But all pantry staples.

I like to make a quick sauce from olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, oregano, olives (kalamata or black) and crumbled feta cheese added right before serving.

Occasionally, I will make some beurre noisette then lower the heat and toss in some mushrooms and a tiny dash of nutmeg and lightly cook the mushrooms.

Another non-traditional sauce I like is brussels sprouts (halved or quartered) sauteed in butter until lightly brown and tender with diced red onion added towards the end so it just sweats a bit and then a big dollop of sour cream tossed into the pan and the heat turned off so the sour cream doesn't break.

Hope this helps!

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My partner makes a very simple dish with just ricotta, lemon rind and zucchini. It also works as a side dish.

Boil your pasta, but when you drain it leave a generous amount of water in the pan. Stir through ricotta cheese until it has mixed with the water and has a creamy texture- like a carbonara would have. Add more hot water if the ricotta is too solid. Add grated zucchini and some lemon zest to taste, and loads of black pepper.

For a simple meal for two people she'll probably use 1 - 2 zucchinis and 200-300 grams ricotta, and the zest of a single lemon.

I also recommend Annachan's recipe above, with peas, onion and pancetta. It's another one my partner makes often- I like it with a bit of fresh mozzarella. Delicious!

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While pesto doesn't exactly meet the criteria laid out in the opening post, it compensates by being easily freezable. You whip up a batch in the food processor and then you have it for single-serving use whenever.

And there are so many wonderful and quick pestos to make. That's my favorite...pasta tossed with basil and parsley pesto. And because I can't get into town without a planned visit, I usually use walnuts or almonds instead of pine nuts...not to mention the prohibitive cost thereof.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

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I make a super-easy pasta from Cooks Illustrated. Bear with me, this is from memory.

For about 1 Lb of pasta

Plum Tomatoes Seeded and Diced, maybe a cup

1/4 Cup Olive Oil (you can use less if on a diet, just add pasta water if its dry)

1/4 Cup Chopped Kalamata Olives

Couple Tablespoons Chopped/Chiffonade fresh Mint or Basil (I happen to prefer Basil)

4 oz Feta

Boil Pasta

Strain and reserve some liquid

Stir in Oil, then tomatoes, then Feta, then Olives, then Basil

Whats great is its easily adaptable, for example change to Goat Cheese, Sundried Tomates, and Asparagus

Mike

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Lemon, pine nut, parsley with angel hair

Zest the lemon with a rasp, chop parsley, slice some garlic, get your pasta water going. Add a good amount of olive oil to the pan and add slivered garlic and the pine nuts, toasting the pine nuts a bit and cooking the garlic till just blond in color. (Add optional red pepper flakes now and cook a few seconds). Add a bit of pasta water and stir to mix into a sauce, then add very al dente pasta. Squeeze in lemon to taste (half lemon usually works for me, using about 1/2lb pasta) and add parsley. Turn off heat, add zest and drizzle some raw oil.

This is a very fast dish, taking probably 3 minutes or a little more once your mise is ready. It makes a great side dish with grilled items too. Very summer-y.

nunc est bibendum...

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Maybe not a sauce exactly, but this is a pasta dish that got me out of a rut, and made me think about pasta more creatively. It's Cavatappi with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Cannelini Beans. http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2007/04/the_dinner_im_a.html

I often keep dried tomatoes around (not in oil), in which case i just rehydrate them in some hot water, and add a bit of olive oil.

I'm going to try the ricotta and zucchini recipe with some of the zucchini the zucchini fairy left me!

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And of course theirs the beautiful combo of sausage, broccoli (preferably broccoli rabe), red pepper flakes, and pecorino romano with orechiette.

The new Cucina Italiana has linguine with lemon, penne with sausage and saffron, tagliatelle with asparagus, taglietelle with mushrooms and prosciutto (all these are cream base), olive pesto, walnut sauce, anchovy sauce, spaghetti with onions and Vernaccia, etc. Once you get the basics down of how to do a cream based sauce (butter, cream, cheese), a pesto (sauce pounded to a paste), and a sauce with fat/alium base (the fat is maybe usually olive oil, but also may be rendered from diced charcuterie), its easy to riff by just elevating one thing, maybe a nice vegetable (broccoli, onion, zucchini), or a meat (guanciale, prosciutto), or a cheese (cacio e pepe), or even just the oil (aglio e olio). One of my favorites is peppercorn pasta: lots of toasted peppercorns (they take on a beautiful mellow fragrance) with spaghetti, olive oil, and salt. These is by no means meant to be rules, just a rule of thumb that seems to make sense to me from my experience.

The success of these pastas mainly rests on the quality of ingredients. A lot of these pastas that I mention are meant to be eaten with other things so they're not necessarily designed to be one dish meals, though I think they can be especially with a chunk of cheese and bread, or maybe some lightly pickled veg and some charcuterie, if you feel like it.

nunc est bibendum...

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Aglio e olio (garlic and oil). Experiment with different olive oils, they change the taste dramatically, of course.

So, is this as simple as heating some olive oil in a pan with some garlic?

Pretty much, yeah. And salt obviously. And many people also like to add black pepper and sometimes crushed red pepper flakes. But all pantry staples.

I keep a tube of anchovy paste around for just this reason. I squeeze into the hot oil and garlic and it is just enough that it gives it a nice flavor without it being "fishy".

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my mom occasionally makes a quick asian pasta thing----hot chili bean sauce (fermented soy beans and chili) with a little bit of pork. and scallions/shallots. i started making it in college because it is ridiculously fast---the chili bean sauce is from a jar. i think there's also a version sold that already contains the pork in it....in that case it's almost instant pasta sauce.

there's also the sesame garlic noodle thing to do.

there was another we ate growing up....i think peanut butter with soy sauce and maybe some chiles and garlic, shredded chicken, and lightly pickled cucumber (vinegar and a touch of sugar)....

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One of the quickest and, in my mind anyway, best pasta dishes is to simply take a can or two of top quality Italian tuna packed in olive oil and toss it with some cooked pasta.

Yes, you can make a full-blown Pasta al Tonno if you like, with onions and capers and parsley and garlic and celery and white wine and olives and tomatoes, etc., or whatever you like, but in a pinch, just a can of olive-oil-packed tuna and a little salt and pepper, served warm or room temp or cold - your preference - is a perfectly acceptable and tasty option.

And not sure staples get more "staple" than a can or two of tuna.

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Edited by Jaymes (log)

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Thanks, everyone! This is great.

Two things prompted this post. The first was the large batch of marinara I made two weekends ago. I would up with quite a bit of sauce. At least 3 quarts of it. It's going to last a while, especially when serving just one person. Eventhough I'm not having it every day since then, I am getting somewhat tired of it. The second thing was the "Rome" episode of "No Reservations". I was watching it (I think while having some pasta with my marinara) and Tony was eating some pasta dish. The sauce looked simple. Pasta water, black pepper, butter, some kind of cheese. (peccerino, I think). I thought to myself "I can make that! That looks easy". Later in the . episode, they showed a cook making a Carbonara and All'AmatricianaSo, it made me wonder what else I could do?

I think the next one I'll try is a carbonara. I've never had it before, but it looks simple. Uses simple, common ingredients, is easy to prepare, and is easy to scale to one serving.

But keep the suggestions coming. I will continue to read this topic and also report back on what I wind up doing.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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A mushroom sauce is fairly easy to make, and seriously good. While your pasta water is going just sweat some shallots in butter, add your sliced mushrooms (crimini by themselves would work, but the more varieties the better) and a bit of thyme. When they are cooked through add a splash of madiera, cook off the alcohol, and then another knob of butter. When it melts and darkens a bit add a ladle of pasta water and swirl it all together. Toss in your pasta when done (tagliatelle would work well), season with some black pepper and a touch of grated cheese and you're ready to eat.

aka Michael

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