If you have read this column for any length of time, you know the subject of Italian food comes up often.
You also might have noticed the frequency in which Marcella Hazan and her cookbooks are referenced. If you are interested in real Italian, not Italian-American cooking, there is no better source for recipes and information in general than Hazan.
Let's clarify that point. There is nothing wrong with Italian-American cooking, just like there is nothing wrong with Tex-Mex cooking. You just should be aware that it is not authentic Mexican or Italian food. Don't make meatballs and spaghetti and call it Italian; it's not. It's a wonderful Italian-American recipe. See what I mean?
OK, enough. Back to the point I want to make today. We are woefully short on the sauces we serve with pasta. There plenty of sauces besides Bolognese and a simple tomato sauce. It also is important to match the sauce and the pasta, not all sauces go well with all pastas.
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Never serve a rich ragu with fresh pasta; tomato-based sauces go better with long pasta, such as spaghetti. Fresh pastas absorb more flavor than dried, store-bought pasta, etc.
Hazan lists five pages of sauce and pasta pairings in her cookbook "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking."
Some that sound good are asparagus with ham and cream, eggplant and ricotta and tomato, garlic and basil. It is a wonderful list to peruse. Get a copy, take a look and expand your pasta repertoire.
One last note: Almost any chef will tell you the seasoning most home cooks underuse is salt. In the preparation of pasta, that is doubly true. In professional cooking demonstrations, I have seen audiences gasp at the amount of salt the chef uses in water being prepared to boil pasta. Remember the rule of thumb: It should taste like the sea. Now that's salty.
SPINACH SAUCE WITH RICOTTA AND HAM
This is a delightful sauce and one that is quite versatile as well. Although cooking times will vary, you certainly could use collard or turnip greens with this sauce, just as you could use kale. Some chefs prefer the heartier greens, as they provide more texture. Spinach easily can disappear in a sauce, so beware of overcooking. This recipe also is good with the center-cut, smoked pork chops most grocery stores now carry. If you want to make it a bit more different, use thin slices of prosciutto de Parma.
1 large package fresh spinach
1/4 pound butter
1 cup chopped ham
1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 cup just grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (accept no substitutes)
1 pound penne pasta
Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Melt half the butter in a large sauté pan, add the ham and cook just 3 minutes, add the spinach, toss to wilt, and season with salt. Add just a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, add the ricotta, toss in the pasta, add the remaining butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano, toss again
and serve at once. Make sure to have plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano on the table. Please grate as needed. If you want to add a pinch of red pepper flakes to spice it up a bit, it might be a great touch.
FETTUCCINE SHRIMP AND CREAM
1 pound dried fettuccine
1 pound shrimp
2-3 cloves garlic
1-2 teaspoons best quality tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Add olive oil to a large sauté pan, add the garlic and cook until the garlic turns light brown. Add the shrimp to the garlic-flavored oil, turn to high and cook quickly, just two minutes, Now remove and set aside. Now add the tomato paste and wine, stir and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile puree about half of the shrimp and add to the sauce. Taste and season as necessary. Add the cream, simmer just a minute or two, add the pasta, the remaining shrimp and toss. Garnish with chopped basil. Serve at once.
The tomato paste is optional, some people do not like the pink color it imparts, so adjust its use accordingly.
A SIMPLE SPICY GARLIC SAUCE
This is a simple pasta sauce, aio e oio, which comes from Napoli, but is sometimes called Roman garlic and oil sauce. This is a classic example of how important a best quality pasta is. Make this with an inferior pasta and you will be disappointed. Make this with a good imported Italian pasta and you will be delighted. Adjust the amount of pepper flakes to your desired level of spice.
1 pound spaghetti pasta
1/3 cup best quality olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
Red pepper flakes
Prepare the pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Toss the pasta in a little olive oil if you like. Sauté the garlic in olive oil until just pale golden in color. Add the pepper flakes, but be sure not to burn. Toss in the pasta, add chopped basil and serve at once.
ROSEMARY AND BUTTER SAUCE
This is another very simple recipe that is quite delicious. You can use almost any long pasta that you like, and it would work just as well with a fresh pasta.
1 pound long pasta, spaghetti, linguini, angel hair or even pappardelle
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small bunch rosemary, stems removed
Prepare the pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan, add the rosemary and toss until fragrant. Add the pasta, toss, season as needed and serve at once. Make sure to have plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano on the table and a good bottle of Italian red wine.
Julian Brunt, who comes from a family with deep Southern roots, writes the Coast Cooking column that appears in Wednesday's Sun Herald and for a blog at sunherald.com. He is a food writer and photographer with regular columns also in magazines.