ON COOKING: Get creative with pasta sauces

I have suggested on several occasions in this space 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 complement your pasta, be it from fresh or dry.

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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. 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 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 favourite 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 flavours 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. infuse their way into transforming an ordinary oil into a savoury enhancement. These types of sauces are perfect for less filling side dishes or during hot weather when a heavily thickened sauce is not desired.

A batch of seasoned simmered vegetables can also be transformed into a smooth sauce bursting with flavours with the help of a blender, food processor, or hand immersion blender.

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, then toss with your favourite pasta.

Your favourite fresh delicate herb (basil, oregano, sage) 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 and you will have to do less seasoning afterwards.

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. Have fun.

Chef Dez is a chef, writer and host. Visit him at www.chefdez.com.

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