One of the things that makes Italian cooking so much fun – and such a great weeknight go-to – is that you can do so many different things with just a few, quality ingredients. I am very partial to red sauce, because I really love tomatoes. That being said, Jon makes an absolutely fantastic seafood Alfredo (white sauce) and at the end of the season, before all of our outdoor basil freezes to death, we like to harvest those beautiful basil leaves and make a rich and flavorful pesto (green sauce) which can be served either hot or cold.
Last month we did a fresh pasta post, and it really is wonderful to make your own pasta. I have since splurged on a KitchenAid mixer and rather than purchase the pasta roller, since Jon is very fond of our old Atlas and rolling it by hand, we decided to get the pasta press, which will allow us to extrude other shapes of pasta. I look forward to trying it, and I promise to post when we do. As much as we enjoy fresh pasta, however, there isn’t always time to indulge ourselves, so we usually have boxed pasta just like everyone else and spend our time on the sauce.
Our two favorite types of red sauces are a Marinara and a Ragu (otherwise known as a Bolognese). A Marinara is simple, quick and easy – the basis of so many other wonderful red sauces. A Ragu, on the other hand, is more complex, has several layers of ingredients and should, ideally, cook for hours to develop the correct flavor and texture.
White sauces are generally considered to be cream sauces, but when you’re talking Italian, butter and some oil-based sauces definitely belong in this category. The white sauce that everyone first thinks of here in the United States is, of course, Alfredo sauce. You might be surprised to learn that most Italians have never heard of it. In 1908, a restaurateur in Rome – Alfredo Di Lelio – whose pregnant wife wasn’t eating well, developed this wonderful butter and cheese sauce to tempt her. It soon became a staple at his restaurant – Alfredo alla Scrofa. Not long after, celebrity couple Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford visited the restaurant during their honeymoon and enjoyed the sauce so much that they told all of their celebrity friends about it. Alfredo’s restaurant became popular with the Hollywood elite for several years, and Alfredo sauce eventually became a staple in American Italian restaurants. For the full story, see the Italian-American culinary website COOKWITHGRAZIA.COM or follow the link from The DIY Bistro Facebook page.
Other white sauces include the Carbonara, a spicy Aribiatta, or a simple butter and herb. One popular example is butter and sage, which can include garlic and/or Parmesan cheese.
The usual green sauce is, of course, a basic pesto. That beautiful, vibrant green combination of olive oil, fresh basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. You can, of course, make variations on the pesto, using different nuts, or leaving the pine nuts out, adding different herbs, or even substituting Italian parsley for the Basil.
Experimenting with different combinations of ingredients can leave you with a myriad of possibilities, though it’s likely that you will find a few favorites to return to again and again.