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Italian Lessons: Favorite recipes for getting saucy
Italian Lessons

Italian Lessons: Favorite recipes for getting saucy

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Extra sauce. Hold the sauce. Sauce on the side, please. Secret sauce.

“An ounce of sauce covers a multitude of sins,” Anthony Bourdain once said.

It’s all about the sauce.

“Sauce” is a French word taken from the Latin word salsa, meaning salted. Sauces are liquid or semi-liquid foods intended to enhance how other foods taste, look and smell.

The majority of sauces aren’t typically enjoyed by themselves. Sauces are most often considered ingredients in a recipe, but with some dishes it’s considered a condiment and added just before serving.

Gravy is most often considered to be a type of sauce. Made from meat juices that are combined with broth, cream or milk and thickened with a starch product.

A true sauce, however, isn’t necessarily meat juice-based, but rather thoughtful combinations of multiple ingredients.

Added to a food as it cooks, drizzled over a finished dish or served alongside, a sauce also provides moisture, color and texture.

There are many seasoning liquids that use the word “sauce” in their name — soy sauce, hot pepper sauce, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce — and are used as ingredients in preparation or as table top condiments.

This made me wonder why we call the combination of multiple ingredients that enhances the taste of and adds moisture to the gathering of greens and veggies we fondly call salad is topped with “dressing.” Why don’t we call the Ranch, Thousand Island and Creamy Cucumber “sauce”? I dug deeper into my research.

The consensus of culinary opinion is that sauces are cooked and dressings are uncooked. Well, what about hot bacon dressing for spinach salad? More research will be required.

Sauces can be savory, sweet or even sweet and sour.

How did it all start? It’s believed that as far back as 200 A.D. the Romans created highly flavored and seasoned sauce to mask the flavor of spoiled food, due to the lack of refrigeration. In the early days of food preparation, meat, poultry, and fish didn’t last long and sauces were created to mask not only the flavor of spoiled foods, but the smell.

Marcus Gavius Apicius, believed to have been a Roman gourmet and lover of luxury, who lived in the 1st century AD, wrote at the end of one of his recipes for a flavorful sauce, “No one at table will know what he is eating.” These highly flavored sauces often contained a dozen ingredients or more.

Although every country has its traditional sauces, the countries most well known for their sauces are Italy and France. “Mother Sauces” of Italy are Carbonara, Ragu, Amatriciana, Pesto and Puttanesca. “Mother Sauces” for France would be Beschamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, red tomato based and Veloute.

Let’s get saucy with some of my favorite recipes. Mangia bene e’ bon appetit.

Amatriciana Sauce

1—1 lb. 2 oz. can plain DOP San Marzano tomatoes

Sea salt

1 medium red onion, julienne sliced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2—1/4 inches slices pancetta

1 dried hot red chili pepper, seeded and shredded (You can substitute ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes.)

Finely mince pancetta.

Squeeze tomatoes by hand into a bowl. Reserve liquid.

Place olive oil into cold pan. Add onions. Saute on medium-high heat until onions are translucent and dark golden.

Add shredded chili pepper or crushed chili flakes.

Add pancetta. Don’t stir too often. Deglaze as needed until pancetta is cooked, but not crisp.

Add squeezed tomatoes into mixture and raise heat to high.

Add ½ tsp. sea salt

Cook 10 minutes, deglaze as needed.

Add reserved liquid from can.

Reduce and deglaze until sauce thickens.


You can adjust the “heat” of the chili to taste

In addition to enjoying as a spicy pasta sauce, this can be used as a dipping sauce for pizza, bread or calzone.

Used as pasta sauce serves 4-6.

Parma Rosa Pasta Sauce

Serves 4.

2 lbs. ripe plum tomatoes (or canned San Marzano tomatoes if not tomato season), peeled or unpeeled as you prefer

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 peeled garlic clove, flattened with side of large knife

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

2 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley

1 pinch white sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 dash cayenne pepper

Water if needed

Heat extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper and garlic.

Cover and cook until tomatoes are cooked down completely approximately 15 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth. Add small amounts of water if needed to keep sauce from sticking to the pan. If tomatoes are ripe and juicy, you won’t need water.

Remove garlic clove.

Slowly stir in cream. Add pinch of sugar. Simmer sauce to incorporate cream. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and parsley. Stir until cheese is melted, then serve over hot pasta.

Saffron Sauce

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 large leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced

1 glove garlic, minced finely

½ cup white wine

1 ½ cups chicken broth

1/4 tsp. saffron threads (or equivalent in powder)

½ cup heavy cream

3/4 tsp. sea salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

Parsley, optional garnish

In warm pan melt butter. Add leeks and garlic. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Deglaze pan with white wine. Cook until wine is reduced by half.

Add broth and saffron threads, bring to a simmer and reduce for 10 minutes. Add cream, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and simmer for 5 minutes:

Remove from heat and whip with hand blender just until creamy, with no chunks. If too thin add more cream, if too thick, a bit more broth.

Pour over roasted chicken and garnish with bits of parsley if you like

Beurre Blanc (White Butter Sauce)

Makes 1½ cups.

3 sticks cold unsalted butter (24 tablespoons), cut into tablespoon-sized chunks

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. minced shallots

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1 pinch white pepper

½ tsp. fresh lemon juice

Cut butter into a small bowl. Set aside.

In medium saucepan, bring wine and vinegar to a boil. Add shallots, salt, and pepper.

Lower heat to simmer and cook until liquid is reduced to 1½ Tbs.

Remove pan from heat. Whisk 2 pieces of butter into the reduction.

Set pan over low heat and continue whisking butter into sauce a chunk at a time, allowing each piece to melt before adding more. Maintain low heat and don’t allow the sauce to come to a boil once the butter is added, or sauce will separate.

Remove sauce from heat and whisk in lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl.

Serve over fish or vegetables.

Poulet De Bresse A La Creme Et Aux Morilles

(Free Range Chicken With Cream and Morel Mushrooms)

Serves 4.

1 large free range chicken

2 1/4 cups heavy cream

2 1/4 cups chicken stock

2 oz. unsalted butter

1 shallot

2 oz. morel mushrooms

4 oz. white wine

One day prior to serving, soak morels in lukewarm water. Cut in half and wash thoroughly. Refrigerate.

On serving day, cut chicken into 4 parts.

Brown chicken in butter. Add stock and cook 10 to 15 minutes for breasts. Remove breasts and cook legs and thighs and additional 5 to 10 minutes.

Brown chopped shallot and morels. Deglaze with white wine and reduce.

Add cooking juices and reduce in half.

Add cream and cook sauce until desired consistency.

Plate chicken and cover with sauce.

Satisfy your cravings

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