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Sans-Tomato Sauces

Pasta Alfredo
Pasta with Alfredo Sauce. (Photo: Pixzolo for Unsplash)
Contributor: Ron Fenolio, Veedercrest Estates

Tomato sauces in all their splendor and variation are not the “end-all” for dressing Italian pasta, pizza or meat. Building a sauce not based on tomatoes is still a very exciting proposition, and, actually, much more traditional. Remember–tomatoes came from the “new country” in the 15th century and were feared at first to be poisonous! They did not start showing up in Italian cookbooks until the mid-16th to 17th centuries, and originally they were used to make ratatouille or caponata types of dishes with tomatoes in chunks, and not pureed.

To begin: sauces without tomato are based upon butter or olive oil, garlic, and cheese, and then build from there.

ALFREDO AND ITS “COUSINS”

Who doesn’t like butter and cheese on their ciabatta bread? Or who doesn’t have memories of mac and cheese when you were growing up–a staple. One of the easiest sauces to prepare when you need a quick meal is the traditional Alfredo sauce. Only three ingredients (provided you don’t count the pasta water): pasta, butter, cheese. Boil the pasta in water while melting butter gently in a frying pan; add the al dente pasta to the frying pan; and add the parmesan cheese, while stirring continuously. Add hot pasta water in small batches as needed to melt the cheese and make a creamy sauce. Note: there is no cream in a traditional Alfredo. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remember, the pasta water has salt in it as does the parmesan cheese, so don’t add salt until the end and only to taste. How much butter and cheese in the original recipe? A half pound of butter (two cubes) plus a half-pound of grated parmesan to one pound of pasta. Not exactly for the conscientious dieter. You can cut down on the butter and cheese if you like.

Olio e Formaggio (Oil & Cheese)

A quicker variation without a pan: plate the pasta and dress with “a thread” of olive oil, grate some pecorino cheese on top, add a grind of pepper, and call it a day! (A creamy sauce won’t be formed but it will still be good).

Cacio e Pepe (Cheese & Pepper)

Only two main ingredients: put grated pecorino in a bowl and add some pasta water a little at a time and stir vigorously until you get a creamy sauce, pour over the hot pasta, add some more cheese and ground pepper to taste. Careful with the salt as the pecorino is saltier than the parmesan. In all of these preparations add the pasta water a little at a time so you don’t end up with a “soupy” presentation.

Aglio e Olio (Garlic & Oil)

Simplicity again. Very gently heat olive oil over low heat with crushed garlic until the olive oil is infused with garlic flavors. Careful not to burn the garlic: take the pan off the heat as soon as the garlic is soft and before it starts to color. Toss the pasta in the garlic infused oil and top with toasted bread crumbs and some fresh ground pepper. You may also add herbs of your choice. How much garlic? Do you like garlic a lot or do you want a more neutral flavor? Are you using the pasta in the traditional way? The Italians (that is the Italians in Italy) treat pasta as a prima (a first course before the meat and vegetables, to fill you up a little because meat is expensive), but it is not intended to be a meal in itself–it is not the main course. If serving pasta as a prima, two ounces of dried pasta per person is usually enough. As to garlic: one-half to a whole clove of garlic per person for the “faint of heart,” and 1-2 cloves per person for the adventurous! (In America, we double the portion of pasta to serve as a main dish, with the amounts of garlic correspondingly doubled.)

More flavors, more variations

Once your taste buds are tantalized with really good olive oil and diced garlic, they are going to “want more”! Where does the “more” come from? Just as we did with the tomato sauce, to convert the tomato sauce to an arrabiatta*, we built flavors by adding pepperoncini (dried red pepper flakes, not pepperoni sausage). Do the same for these sauces. Flavors zoom up to the next level.

Want to add “umami” richness to the aglio e olio sauce? Try making it with anchovies. Mash a couple of anchovies in the oil and garlic mixture and cook gently until the anchovies are dissolved and the garlic is just a blushing light tan. Again, no cheese, just bread crumbs. Italians believe the cheese would conflict with the anchovies. Parmesan is used to add umami and it is salty, as are anchovies. You don’t need both.

And so again we see, we “play” with the sauces to get different textures and different flavors.

 

ARE THESE SAUCES ONLY FOR PASTA?

Not at all. Using traditional sauces to dress pasta is just one variation on the theme.

Pinzimonio

This basic olive oil sauce does not have to dress pasta. Mix good extra virgin olive oil with salt and pepper for a basic sauce in which to dip raw vegetables. This is a staple of the Tuscan table. You could add a variety of your choice of herbs. Want to vary the sauce for more interest? Add lemon juice or vinegar to give it an acidic bite. Sounds just like an Italian salad dressing to me. Want to elevate it to honey mustard dressing? Add honey and mustard and whisk.

Bagna Cauda (“Hot Bath”)

If you add butter and anchovies to the oil and garlic sauce and heat it through and serve warm, you have converted the pasta sauce into a “hot bath” dipping sauce for raw vegetables or ciabatta bread. After a vegetable dipping course, use the sauce (heated to a higher temperature) to cook shrimp or thinly sliced beef on fondue forks.  In Piemonte, this hotter (in temperature) dipping sauce might be considered a fonduta.

 

CAN YOU SUBSTITUTE…?

If you don’t like garlic or are allergic to garlic, can you use shallots? Of course. Can you add diced onion or diced scallions to any of the sauces? Yes, but the texture and taste will be different and the “classicists” will argue that it is no longer the traditional recipe! Can you dress the pasta with a sauce with tuna instead of anchovies? Yes. Can you combine anchovies and tuna to make sauce? Yes. Can you add sliced olives to the anchovy sauce? Yes–and then you are getting perilously close now to a Puttanesca, especially if you also add capers. Italian nonne built sauces with what they had on hand—these were the best creations because they turned into the classic dishes of Italy that we see on every Italian menu.

 

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

Carbonara

Sauté some guanciale (cured pork cheek; or substitute pancetta or bacon) in a frying pan, gently rendering the fat out and crisping the meat. Drain the excess fat (traditionalists will use all the fat to make the sauce). While the meat is cooking, put egg yolks in a bowl (about two per person), whisk, and add grated cheese. Continue whisking the egg yolks and cheese together until they combine, slowly adding small portions of the hot pasta water. (Adding the hot pasta slowly will “temper” the eggs so they don’t end up “scrambled”). Continue to whisk until you get a creamy sauce. Using tongs or a “spider” drop portions of the cooked pasta into the frying pan with the guanciale, pour the egg and cheese mixture over the top and stir vigorously, add more water if necessary, and season with salt and pepper.

Grecia

Same as carbonara but leave out the egg yolks.

Vongole

To the aglio e olio, add diced scallions and sauté until soft and translucent. Pour in some white wine, add whole clams and steam until they are just opened. Top with chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, cilantro, or chopped chives. Dill would also be a nice touch. For more spice add the pepperoncino flakes.

 

Cooking is the process of creating, experimenting, adding what you love and what you would like to taste, and seeing how it all works together!

Enjoy!

 

* Arrabbiata sauce, or sugo all’arrabbiata in Italian, is a spicy sauce for pasta made from garlic, tomatoes, and dried red chili peppers cooked in olive oil. … Arrabbiata literally means “angry” in Italian; the name of the sauce refers to the spiciness of the chili peppers (Wikipedia).

 

 

By Ronald L. Fenolio

CEO/Proprietor – Veedercrest Estates LLC

Chair – Family Winemakers of California

© 2021 Ronald L. Fenolio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SANS-TOMATO SAUCES
by Ron Fenolio

 

Tomato sauces in all their splendor and variation are not the “end-all” for dressing Italian pasta, pizza or meat. Building a sauce not based on tomatoes is still a very exciting proposition, and, actually, much more traditional. Remember–tomatoes came from the “new country” in the 15th century and were feared at first to be poisonous! They did not start showing up in Italian cookbooks until the mid-16th to 17th centuries, and originally they were used to make ratatouille or caponata types of dishes with tomatoes in chunks, and not pureed.

To begin: sauces without tomato are based upon butter or olive oil, garlic, and cheese, and then build from there.

ALFREDO AND ITS “COUSINS”

Who doesn’t like butter and cheese on their ciabatta bread? Or who doesn’t have memories of mac and cheese when you were growing up–a staple. One of the easiest sauces to prepare when you need a quick meal is the traditional Alfredo sauce. Only three ingredients (provided you don’t count the pasta water): pasta, butter, cheese. Boil the pasta in water while melting butter gently in a frying pan; add the al dente pasta to the frying pan; and add the parmesan cheese, while stirring continuously. Add hot pasta water in small batches as needed to melt the cheese and make a creamy sauce. Note: there is no cream in a traditional Alfredo. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remember, the pasta water has salt in it as does the parmesan cheese, so don’t add salt until the end and only to taste. How much butter and cheese in the original recipe? A half pound of butter (two cubes) plus a half-pound of grated parmesan to one pound of pasta. Not exactly for the conscientious dieter. You can cut down on the butter and cheese if you like.

Olio e Formaggio (Oil & Cheese)

A quicker variation without a pan: plate the pasta and dress with “a thread” of olive oil, grate some pecorino cheese on top, add a grind of pepper, and call it a day! (A creamy sauce won’t be formed but it will still be good).

Cacio e Pepe (Cheese & Pepper)

Only two main ingredients: put grated pecorino in a bowl and add some pasta water a little at a time and stir vigorously until you get a creamy sauce, pour over the hot pasta, add some more cheese and ground pepper to taste. Careful with the salt as the pecorino is saltier than the parmesan. In all of these preparations add the pasta water a little at a time so you don’t end up with a “soupy” presentation.

Aglio e Olio (Garlic & Oil)

Simplicity again. Very gently heat olive oil over low heat with crushed garlic until the olive oil is infused with garlic flavors. Careful not to burn the garlic: take the pan off the heat as soon as the garlic is soft and before it starts to color. Toss the pasta in the garlic infused oil and top with toasted bread crumbs and some fresh ground pepper. You may also add herbs of your choice. How much garlic? Do you like garlic a lot or do you want a more neutral flavor? Are you using the pasta in the traditional way? The Italians (that is the Italians in Italy) treat pasta as a prima (a first course before the meat and vegetables, to fill you up a little because meat is expensive), but it is not intended to be a meal in itself–it is not the main course. If serving pasta as a prima, two ounces of dried pasta per person is usually enough. As to garlic: one-half to a whole clove of garlic per person for the “faint of heart,” and 1-2 cloves per person for the adventurous! (In America, we double the portion of pasta to serve as a main dish, with the amounts of garlic correspondingly doubled.)

More flavors, more variations

Once your taste buds are tantalized with really good olive oil and diced garlic, they are going to “want more”! Where does the “more” come from? Just as we did with the tomato sauce, to convert the tomato sauce to an arrabiatta*, we built flavors by adding pepperoncini (dried red pepper flakes, not pepperoni sausage). Do the same for these sauces. Flavors zoom up to the next level.

Want to add “umami” richness to the aglio e olio sauce? Try making it with anchovies. Mash a couple of anchovies in the oil and garlic mixture and cook gently until the anchovies are dissolved and the garlic is just a blushing light tan. Again, no cheese, just bread crumbs. Italians believe the cheese would conflict with the anchovies. Parmesan is used to add umami and it is salty, as are anchovies. You don’t need both.

And so again we see, we “play” with the sauces to get different textures and different flavors.

 

ARE THESE SAUCES ONLY FOR PASTA?

Not at all. Using traditional sauces to dress pasta is just one variation on the theme.

Pinzimonio

This basic olive oil sauce does not have to dress pasta. Mix good extra virgin olive oil with salt and pepper for a basic sauce in which to dip raw vegetables. This is a staple of the Tuscan table. You could add a variety of your choice of herbs. Want to vary the sauce for more interest? Add lemon juice or vinegar to give it an acidic bite. Sounds just like an Italian salad dressing to me. Want to elevate it to honey mustard dressing? Add honey and mustard and whisk.

Bagna Cauda (“Hot Bath”)

If you add butter and anchovies to the oil and garlic sauce and heat it through and serve warm, you have converted the pasta sauce into a “hot bath” dipping sauce for raw vegetables or ciabatta bread. After a vegetable dipping course, use the sauce (heated to a higher temperature) to cook shrimp or thinly sliced beef on fondue forks.  In Piemonte, this hotter (in temperature) dipping sauce might be considered a fonduta.

 

CAN YOU SUBSTITUTE…?

If you don’t like garlic or are allergic to garlic, can you use shallots? Of course. Can you add diced onion or diced scallions to any of the sauces? Yes, but the texture and taste will be different and the “classicists” will argue that it is no longer the traditional recipe! Can you dress the pasta with a sauce with tuna instead of anchovies? Yes. Can you combine anchovies and tuna to make sauce? Yes. Can you add sliced olives to the anchovy sauce? Yes–and then you are getting perilously close now to a Puttanesca, especially if you also add capers. Italian nonne built sauces with what they had on hand—these were the best creations because they turned into the classic dishes of Italy that we see on every Italian menu.

 

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

Carbonara

Sauté some guanciale (cured pork cheek; or substitute pancetta or bacon) in a frying pan, gently rendering the fat out and crisping the meat. Drain the excess fat (traditionalists will use all the fat to make the sauce). While the meat is cooking, put egg yolks in a bowl (about two per person), whisk, and add grated cheese. Continue whisking the egg yolks and cheese together until they combine, slowly adding small portions of the hot pasta water. (Adding the hot pasta slowly will “temper” the eggs so they don’t end up “scrambled”). Continue to whisk until you get a creamy sauce. Using tongs or a “spider” drop portions of the cooked pasta into the frying pan with the guanciale, pour the egg and cheese mixture over the top and stir vigorously, add more water if necessary, and season with salt and pepper.

Grecia

Same as carbonara but leave out the egg yolks.

Vongole

To the aglio e olio, add diced scallions and sauté until soft and translucent. Pour in some white wine, add whole clams and steam until they are just opened. Top with chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, cilantro, or chopped chives. Dill would also be a nice touch. For more spice add the pepperoncino flakes.

 

Cooking is the process of creating, experimenting, adding what you love and what you would like to taste, and seeing how it all works together!

Enjoy!

 

* Arrabbiata sauce, or sugo all’arrabbiata in Italian, is a spicy sauce for pasta made from garlic, tomatoes, and dried red chili peppers cooked in olive oil. … Arrabbiata literally means “angry” in Italian; the name of the sauce refers to the spiciness of the chili peppers (Wikipedia).

 

 

By Ronald L. Fenolio

CEO/Proprietor – Veedercrest Estates LLC

Chair – Family Winemakers of California

© 2021 Ronald L. Fenolio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SANS-TOMATO SAUCES
by Ron Fenolio

 

Tomato sauces in all their splendor and variation are not the “end-all” for dressing Italian pasta, pizza or meat. Building a sauce not based on tomatoes is still a very exciting proposition, and, actually, much more traditional. Remember–tomatoes came from the “new country” in the 15th century and were feared at first to be poisonous! They did not start showing up in Italian cookbooks until the mid-16th to 17th centuries, and originally they were used to make ratatouille or caponata types of dishes with tomatoes in chunks, and not pureed.

To begin: sauces without tomato are based upon butter or olive oil, garlic, and cheese, and then build from there.

ALFREDO AND ITS “COUSINS”

Who doesn’t like butter and cheese on their ciabatta bread? Or who doesn’t have memories of mac and cheese when you were growing up–a staple. One of the easiest sauces to prepare when you need a quick meal is the traditional Alfredo sauce. Only three ingredients (provided you don’t count the pasta water): pasta, butter, cheese. Boil the pasta in water while melting butter gently in a frying pan; add the al dente pasta to the frying pan; and add the parmesan cheese, while stirring continuously. Add hot pasta water in small batches as needed to melt the cheese and make a creamy sauce. Note: there is no cream in a traditional Alfredo. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remember, the pasta water has salt in it as does the parmesan cheese, so don’t add salt until the end and only to taste. How much butter and cheese in the original recipe? A half pound of butter (two cubes) plus a half-pound of grated parmesan to one pound of pasta. Not exactly for the conscientious dieter. You can cut down on the butter and cheese if you like.

Olio e Formaggio (Oil & Cheese)

A quicker variation without a pan: plate the pasta and dress with “a thread” of olive oil, grate some pecorino cheese on top, add a grind of pepper, and call it a day! (A creamy sauce won’t be formed but it will still be good).

Cacio e Pepe (Cheese & Pepper)

Only two main ingredients: put grated pecorino in a bowl and add some pasta water a little at a time and stir vigorously until you get a creamy sauce, pour over the hot pasta, add some more cheese and ground pepper to taste. Careful with the salt as the pecorino is saltier than the parmesan. In all of these preparations add the pasta water a little at a time so you don’t end up with a “soupy” presentation.

Aglio e Olio (Garlic & Oil)

Simplicity again. Very gently heat olive oil over low heat with crushed garlic until the olive oil is infused with garlic flavors. Careful not to burn the garlic: take the pan off the heat as soon as the garlic is soft and before it starts to color. Toss the pasta in the garlic infused oil and top with toasted bread crumbs and some fresh ground pepper. You may also add herbs of your choice. How much garlic? Do you like garlic a lot or do you want a more neutral flavor? Are you using the pasta in the traditional way? The Italians (that is the Italians in Italy) treat pasta as a prima (a first course before the meat and vegetables, to fill you up a little because meat is expensive), but it is not intended to be a meal in itself–it is not the main course. If serving pasta as a prima, two ounces of dried pasta per person is usually enough. As to garlic: one-half to a whole clove of garlic per person for the “faint of heart,” and 1-2 cloves per person for the adventurous! (In America, we double the portion of pasta to serve as a main dish, with the amounts of garlic correspondingly doubled.)

More flavors, more variations

Once your taste buds are tantalized with really good olive oil and diced garlic, they are going to “want more”! Where does the “more” come from? Just as we did with the tomato sauce, to convert the tomato sauce to an arrabiatta*, we built flavors by adding pepperoncini (dried red pepper flakes, not pepperoni sausage). Do the same for these sauces. Flavors zoom up to the next level.

Want to add “umami” richness to the aglio e olio sauce? Try making it with anchovies. Mash a couple of anchovies in the oil and garlic mixture and cook gently until the anchovies are dissolved and the garlic is just a blushing light tan. Again, no cheese, just bread crumbs. Italians believe the cheese would conflict with the anchovies. Parmesan is used to add umami and it is salty, as are anchovies. You don’t need both.

And so again we see, we “play” with the sauces to get different textures and different flavors.

 

ARE THESE SAUCES ONLY FOR PASTA?

Not at all. Using traditional sauces to dress pasta is just one variation on the theme.

Pinzimonio

This basic olive oil sauce does not have to dress pasta. Mix good extra virgin olive oil with salt and pepper for a basic sauce in which to dip raw vegetables. This is a staple of the Tuscan table. You could add a variety of your choice of herbs. Want to vary the sauce for more interest? Add lemon juice or vinegar to give it an acidic bite. Sounds just like an Italian salad dressing to me. Want to elevate it to honey mustard dressing? Add honey and mustard and whisk.

Bagna Cauda (“Hot Bath”)

If you add butter and anchovies to the oil and garlic sauce and heat it through and serve warm, you have converted the pasta sauce into a “hot bath” dipping sauce for raw vegetables or ciabatta bread. After a vegetable dipping course, use the sauce (heated to a higher temperature) to cook shrimp or thinly sliced beef on fondue forks.  In Piemonte, this hotter (in temperature) dipping sauce might be considered a fonduta.

 

CAN YOU SUBSTITUTE…?

If you don’t like garlic or are allergic to garlic, can you use shallots? Of course. Can you add diced onion or diced scallions to any of the sauces? Yes, but the texture and taste will be different and the “classicists” will argue that it is no longer the traditional recipe! Can you dress the pasta with a sauce with tuna instead of anchovies? Yes. Can you combine anchovies and tuna to make sauce? Yes. Can you add sliced olives to the anchovy sauce? Yes–and then you are getting perilously close now to a Puttanesca, especially if you also add capers. Italian nonne built sauces with what they had on hand—these were the best creations because they turned into the classic dishes of Italy that we see on every Italian menu.

 

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

Carbonara

Sauté some guanciale (cured pork cheek; or substitute pancetta or bacon) in a frying pan, gently rendering the fat out and crisping the meat. Drain the excess fat (traditionalists will use all the fat to make the sauce). While the meat is cooking, put egg yolks in a bowl (about two per person), whisk, and add grated cheese. Continue whisking the egg yolks and cheese together until they combine, slowly adding small portions of the hot pasta water. (Adding the hot pasta slowly will “temper” the eggs so they don’t end up “scrambled”). Continue to whisk until you get a creamy sauce. Using tongs or a “spider” drop portions of the cooked pasta into the frying pan with the guanciale, pour the egg and cheese mixture over the top and stir vigorously, add more water if necessary, and season with salt and pepper.

Grecia

Same as carbonara but leave out the egg yolks.

Vongole

To the aglio e olio, add diced scallions and sauté until soft and translucent. Pour in some white wine, add whole clams and steam until they are just opened. Top with chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, cilantro, or chopped chives. Dill would also be a nice touch. For more spice add the pepperoncino flakes.

 

Cooking is the process of creating, experimenting, adding what you love and what you would like to taste, and seeing how it all works together!

Enjoy!

 

* Arrabbiata sauce, or sugo all’arrabbiata in Italian, is a spicy sauce for pasta made from garlic, tomatoes, and dried red chili peppers cooked in olive oil. … Arrabbiata literally means “angry” in Italian; the name of the sauce refers to the spiciness of the chili peppers (Wikipedia).

 

 

By Ronald L. Fenolio

CEO/Proprietor – Veedercrest Estates LLC

Chair – Family Winemakers of California

© 2021 Ronald L. Fenolio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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