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Break me out of my pasta sauce rut


jsmeeker
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Tomato sauces are a minority in my kitchen. Most of my preps don't use tomatoes, and then only in the summer when they're mostly abundant.

Here are several examples (all recipes on the blog):

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Farfalle with asparagus and soft-cooked duck and quail eggs

This is actually three dishes, each prepared separately, then combined at the end. Roasted asparagus with salt and olive oil; farfalle in an herb butter sauce, and soft-cooked eggs. You can substitute chicken eggs if duck and quail eggs are unavailable.

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Pasta with pork pan-drippings and red cippolini onion

The base for this sauce was pan-drippings from some pork sausage that had been broiled for another night's dinner.

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Penne with manouri cheese, fried breadcrumbs and garlic

A riff on cacio e pepe, this dish also includes elements from another Italian classic, pasta con aglio e olio (pasta with olive oil and garlic). You can make it in literally 10 minutes … or 15, if you’re not adept at peeling garlic cloves.

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Fettucine with mussels and chorizo

This is a dish that was inspired by a paella I ate at a friend's place in southern New Jersey. Chorizo sausage is cooked with garlic and white wine, then combined with cooked pasta and steamed fresh mussels. Extra-virgin olive oil contributes a little "heft".

Regular readers of my blog know that I adore gnocchi, especially ricotta gnocchi. Suzanne Goins has a great recipe in her cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Once you master the basic technique, you can make gnocchi year-round.

Some of my favorite preps include:

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...with chanterelles, zucchini and nasturtium flowers

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...with Sungold cherry tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms

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...with asparagus, sage and wild mushrooms

There's a seasonal variant I do in the winter that involves bacon, cabbage and onion confit. It has a smoky, yet haunting flavor that reminds me of a cozy fireplace.

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Those look really good.

If I may say a word in defense of tomato sauces, I do think there are plenty of good reasons why people like them so much. I think a tomato-sauce rut can possibly be explained by a lack of variation in tomato-sauce methodology. There's a lot you can do with tomato sauce. Just last night, we had dinner with some new people and she made a tomato sauce with three variants of tomatoes: whole plum tomatoes from a can, halved fresh cherry tomatoes, and chopped sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil), plus lots of garlic, basil, and parsley. There was a lot of flavor complexity in the sauce. To me what's boring is the same old Italian-American "gravy" aka marinara sauce. Tomato sauces like what I had last night are plenty interesting.

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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Thanks Steven.

Someone mentioned pesto. Very easily done, with just about any type of fresh green herb (or in some cases, vegetable).

One strong favorite I always make -- albeit in the spring -- uses ramps.

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It's ramps, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil and salt. To this, add cooked pasta, onion chives and sautéed fresh peas.

Now, this isn't exactly a "traditional" recipe, but that's not the point. It's all about adapting whatever you've got on hand. You can easily tune the recipe for something less well-known, like puntarelle (a type of chicory) or something more mundane, like arugula.

Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)
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One of the most interesting sauces for pasta that I ever came up with was to take the leftover roasted cauliflower described here, mixed with some cream and garlic along with a bit of parmesan. Made a really yummy pasta dish - comfort food at it's best.

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I recommend taking a browse through the Mario Batali cookbooks - some of our favorite non-tomato pasta dishes are adaptations thereof. Some that have made recurring appearances in our kitchen include a goat cheese/fennel pollen/orange zest sauce (I think that was adapted from a ravioli recipe?) and a roast cauliflower/mint/red chili flakes/bread crumbs pasta (w/ olive oil & garlic). I'm not sure which book specifically either of those are from...

We improvised a really yummy summer pasta the other night: mushroom tortellini tossed with grilled corn (cut off of the cob), grilled zucchini (chopped), and sage-butter.

Another somewhat unusual favorite is a combo my husband discovered: pasta w/ beets, sauteed onion, goat cheese, and beet greens.

I also *love* the sausage/broccoli rabe/red pepper flake/parm combo. We do carbonara occasionally, usually for brunch, and cacio e pepe is a comfort food / nothing-in-the-house-to-eat stand-in. The one preparation I really want to try but have not actually made (yet) is some sort of Sicilian inspired sardine/fennel/orange/raisin/breadcrumb type of concoction...

Wow, it really sounds like we eat nothing but pasta! Not so... I'm actually currently on a pasta hiatus in order to 'save myself' for an upcoming trip to Italy!

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Attempt number two tonight.

After getting home much later than expected, I decided to whip up some "cacio e pepe". It was a total and complete disaster! Things were already a bit off due to the time I got home. It only went downhill from there. While setting up the mise en place for the sauce, I somehow managed drop my pepper grinder into the pot of water that was coming to a boil for the pasta. I quickly assembled the rest of the ingredients (the pecerino romano and butter) and got the pasta in the water. I then attempted to deal with the pepper grinder. Dumped out the contents. Tried to pick out the wet pepper corns. Made a lame attempt to dry the inside of the grinder. Re-loaded it, managing to spill about 1/4 of the peppercorns all over the place.

When the pasta was cooked, I ladled some of it into a small sauce pan, and some more into a measuring cup, then drained the pasta. Pan on heat. Tried to add pepper. Nothing would come out. Pepper grinder all clogged up or something! ACK!! This is no good. Pan off hear. Dumped some peppercorns onto the cutting board. Got out a small, heavy pan. Crushed them up. Pan with pasta water back on stove. Added pepper. Then some butter. Swirled it all around. Now, the cheese. Tossed it in and whisked. And whisked.

Clump city! it just would not melt and smooth out! Big clumps of tough, rubbery cheese and a watery, buttery, peppery mess. Total disaster. Kept on cooking, but no help. Strangely, I put in the bowl with the pasta. Tossed it. Platted it. Ate a few strands. Then tossed it all out.

Good thing I had plenty of marinara in the fridge. And some meatballs in the freezer. 'Cause they saved the day.

I just don't know what went wrong with the caio e pepe. I cooked the pasta in far less water than I normally would have. I thought maybe that was the trick to making sure the sauce emulsified properly. I'm gonna have to read up on this more before I try again.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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I have bought the smoked salmon and am ready to try it myself:

Pasta with Smoked Salmon

Ingredients:

• 1/2 pound pasta, either penne or a strip variety such as linguine.

• 1/4 to 1/3 pound thinly sliced smoked salmon, shredded

• 1/2 a shallot, thinly sliced

• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

• A sprinkling of good vodka, brandy, or whisky (which ever you prefer, about a tablespoon)

• 1/2 cup whipping cream (unwhipped)

• Salt & pepper to taste

• 1 tablespoon minced parsley

• Optional: several leaves finely shredded radicchio (arugola) -- stir them in with the salmon

Preparation:

Bring the pasta water to a boil and salt it; in the meantime prepare the other ingredients. Cooking the sauce will take 5-7 minutes, so check the cooking time of the pasta and begin the sauce about 8 minutes before the pasta will be ready.

Start by sautéing the shallot in the butter until it wilts, then add the salmon and cook a minute or so more, stirring, until it lightens in color. Sprinkle in the liquor (vodka will add a crisper note, and brandy a slightly sweeter one), stir until it is evaporated, and stir in the cream. Heat through, check seasoning, and it’s ready; sprinkle the parsley over it at the very end, just before you use it to sauce the pasta.

Edited by Aloha Steve (log)

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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Those look really good.

If I may say a word in defense of tomato sauces, I do think there are plenty of good reasons why people like them so much. I think a tomato-sauce rut can possibly be explained by a lack of variation in tomato-sauce methodology. There's a lot you can do with tomato sauce. Just last night, we had dinner with some new people and she made a tomato sauce with three variants of tomatoes: whole plum tomatoes from a can, halved fresh cherry tomatoes, and chopped sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil), plus lots of garlic, basil, and parsley. There was a lot of flavor complexity in the sauce. To me what's boring is the same old Italian-American "gravy" aka marinara sauce. Tomato sauces like what I had last night are plenty interesting.

This is a really good point. Plus there are many great sauces in which tomatoes play a supporting not a main role like the eggplant and ricotta sauce with rigatoni I'm having tonight: about 1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes are in the mix, but its about the eggplant and ricotta.

nunc est bibendum...

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Carbonara of course- but *no* cream please.

aglio e olio - with copious amounts of crushed dried red peppers mmmm.

Don't discount the tomato based sauces. These can be amazingly deep and complex.

A little anchovy never hurts either.

Important to remember IMHO and it only clicked for me on my 15th trip to Italy or so (OK I'm dense)- the sauce is just a condiment and should not overwhelm the pasta.

Jon

--formerly known as 6ppc--

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One of the most interesting sauces for pasta that I ever came up with was to take the leftover roasted cauliflower described here, mixed with some cream and garlic along with a bit of parmesan.

Then add some crisp pancetta bits, toss, sprinkle with chopped parsley. This was a favorite at one of my neighborhood restaurants in St. Louis. I haven't made it for a while but now I'm thinking that I need it for dinner. Soon.


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Fusilli with potatoes, tomato and herbs

Don't laugh ... even though your natural reaction will probably be "starch with starch???", it's a common Neapolitan specialty.

This is the vegetarian version -- with baby Yukon Gold potatoes, shallots, heirloom tomato, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt-packed capers, parsley, chives and lots of excellent extra-virgin olive oil. The usual variation has pancetta instead.

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I'm giving this a shot tonight. I'll stop back with my results.

Edit: I meant to reply to the Batali Carbonara recipe. I'll be trying that tonight.

Edited by Tim Dolan (log)

I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer...

Homer Simpson

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One -- Saute some onion, some garlic, some cubed butternut squash; add some chicken broth and simmer until squash is soft. Either mash it up with your potato masher or whiz it with the immersion blender; stir in a couple of ounces of goat cheese. Toss with hot pasta and sprinkle fresh basil and crumbled bacon over the top.

Two -- Dice some raw shrimp and quickly sear them in olive oil; add a healthy shot of lime juice and as many shakes of cayenne pepper as it takes to get it to the seasoning level you like. Toss with hot pasta and orange sections. Add more olive oil if you want. top with minced cilantro.

Three -- Make a quick curry sauce with one ripe, peeled, chunked tomato; garlic; onion; peppers of your choice; turmeric and a little cumin. Add a can of coconut milk. Throw in cooked shrimp or chicken if you have some in your fridge. Toss with hot pasta.

Four -- saute diced squash and fresh rosemary in olive oil; just as it's softened, hit it with a splash or two of balsamic vinegar. Toss with pasta. (I like to throw a diced fresh tomato in when I'm tossing, too; looks pretty, especially if you've used both yellow and green squash.) Top with grated parm and fresh basil.

Hard to beat just a plain ol' carbonara when you're tired and home from work late, though.

Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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