Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pass the Pasta, Please !!!

Pass the Pasta, Please !!!

When folks think of pasta, it usually means boiling noodles, opening a jar of pre-made sauce, sprinkling on some packaged parmesan and eating.  Quick and easy as this may be, it lacks an important element – flavor!  With very little extra effort you can make delicious pasta meals in almost the same amount of time it takes to boil water and open a jar.

Pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, and everyone has a favorite.  From short pieces that cook quickly, like rotini (springs), farfalle (butterflies) and rotelle (wagon wheels, a favorite with kids!), to the kinds of pasta that are stuffed or stuff-able, like ravioli, tortellini, shells and manicotti to the familiar spaghetti, or fettuccine (a flat kind of spaghetti).  There are even tiny varieties, like pastina, used to feed babies and toddlers, or used in soups for grown-ups.  And there are many types of sauces as well.  

rotini-farfalle-rotelle pasta

Just about everyone is familiar with the traditional tomato-based sauces.  Common in the southern part of Italy, some contain meat, others chunks of vegetables, and other still extra herbs and cheese.  A popular favorite, these sauces are simple to prepare “from scratch,” and it’s likely you already have all the ingredients you need right in your kitchen:  a can of crushed or diced plum tomatoes, a can of tomato sauce, some garlic, parsley, oregano and basil.  Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to a simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and viola!  Homemade marinara (or plain tomato) sauce.  Of course you can dress this up in many ways.  Feel free to add some fresh grated parmesan or Romano cheese during the cooking.  You can also use a hearty red wine like a Chianti stirred in when it’s simmering.  Meatballs, Italian sausage, chicken or even seafood (like shrimp, clams and mussels) can also be added.  Of course, you’ll need to let it simmer a little longer to ensure whatever meats are cooked through.  This sauce also freezes very well.  Make a big pot, then freeze in individual serving containers (1- 1 ½ cup each).  Heat up just one at a time, or take out several should unexpected guests arrive.  

 Homemade marinara

In northern Italy, cream-based sauces, like Alfredo, are more common.  These are generally very rich, as they contain cream, cheeses and butter, and require a little extra effort to prepare (but are worth the effort).  Cream-based sauces require a little more work and planning.  Recipes include ingredients like fresh Romano, parmesan and sometimes even tomatoes.  The addition of vodka makes for an interesting twist, and adds an unexpected flavor.  Unfortunately, this sauce is best used the day it’s made.  Due to the high fat content, it generally won’t keep for very long, and freezing the leftovers is a hit-or-miss proposition.  

Alfredo souce

You’ll also find oil-based sauces.  These are a much lighter sauce than either the tomato or cream based ones, and are also a good base for creating more complex meals.  Pesto is familiar type of oil-based sauce.  Fresh basil, olive oil and pine nuts are combined in a food processor.  Use this on pasta or on crackers.  If you leave out the pine nuts, you can roll it flat between two sheets of wax paper and freeze.  Break off small pieces and use as needed when a recipe calls for basil.  Or you can simply fry up some garlic in some olive oil, add fresh herbs like oregano and basil, some salt and pepper and use over pasta.  Quick, easy and very satisfying.

So what are you waiting for?  These delicious options are easier than you think and much healthier and flavorful than their pre-made counterparts.  So get going!  Or as they say in Italy – “Andiamo!”

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