Know your pasta classics
Whether cooking or just eating, it is likely you already have your go-to pasta sauces; the one or two favourites that you crave whenever it’s been too long since your last taste.
Whatever your food inclination – meat-eater, vegan, seafood lover – pasta is one of those dishes that cuts across taste preferences, perfect for everyone from fine-dining enthusiasts to fussy eaters.
But before you go exploring exotic fusion flavours and gastronomic remixes of Italian sauces, it’s important to know your basic pasta sauces, especially if you’re the one who does the cooking in your household, and be able to build on your palate from there.
Here are some classic sauces any pasta lover should know!
(And psst,…. For the days you can’t be bothered to whip up a sauce from scratch, you could always order any of these amazing pasta dishes from GemSpot!)
When you imagine what a plate of pasta looks like in your head, you imagine the cartoon-like image of springy long spaghetti noodles, heaped and curled up onto a plate, with a big serving of a red sauce dolloped over the middle.
And while there are many red sauces in the spectrum, two of the basic ones you should know are Bolognese and marinara.
Dating back centuries and named after the city of Bologna, Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce and belongs to the ragout (or ragù in Italian) family of pasta sauces, though some may still debate if ‘Ragu’ and ‘Bolognese’ are the same thing or not.
While American-Italian food often depicts Bolognese served with spaghetti, the traditional Italian way is to serve it with flat noodles like tagliatelle. And while there is some tomato content in the sauce, the predominant ingredient remains the meat itself, with the slow-cooked sauce enriched by a number of other ingredients including onion, celery and liquids such as wine and milk.
Marinara on the other hand, is a basic tomato-based sauce made with tomatoes, garlic, herbs (usually basil and oregano), and onions. Unlike a Bolognese, a marinara doesn’t take long to whip up, and chefs and home cooks are certainly allowed to use the marinara as a basic red canvas for other ingredients such as olives, capers, salted anchovies, or to be incorporated into pasta bakes.
Once you know your Bolognese and marinara sauces well enough, you’ll be able to appreciate other red sauces such as the spicy Arrabbiata.
An equal to the favourite red sauces, are white sauces. And just like red, there are many versions of white sauces which get their colour from a milk, cream and/or cheese content.
Alfredo is a basic white sauce; made with butter, parmesan cheese and emulsified with the cooking water from the pasta, an Alfredo sauce is typically served over fettuccine and dressed with parsley.
Originating from Rome, carbonara on the other hand is more complicated, with ingredients that include pancetta, garlic, cream, egg yolks, black pepper, and hard Italian cheese (either parmesan, pecorino, or both), to produce a much richer, and thicker sauce. Carbonara is also typically served with long-noodle pasta such as spaghetti, fettuccine or linguine.
The original name of this pasta dish from Naples, is aglio e olio, which literally translates to ‘garlic and oil’.
Rather than a sauce that coats (or soaks, if you have a heavy serving hand) the pasta, aglio olio is tossed with the noodles, typically spaghetti, and garnished with parsley and grated cheese.
The sauce is simply made up of thin garlic slices sauteed in olive oil, with red pepper flakes often added in before tossing with the cooked spaghetti that had been boiled in salted water.
Not only simple to make, the ingredients for this pasta dish also have a long shelf life, making it a favourite that anyone can cook up at any time.
While it may sound like a delicacy to those who’ve never tried it, this pasta dish is actually considered a traditional dish in Italy, and is fairly common in coastal cuisine.
Called spaghetti al nero (black spaghetti) in Italian for the greyish-to-black sheen that envelopes the noodles, this dish is believed to have originated from the coastal towns near Sicily. With Italian fishmongers approving the idea that nothing ought to go to waste, the sauce is made with tender fresh squid together with its own ink, to lend flavours that are rich, tangy and uniquely sea-salty. The squid ink even contains nutritional value including amino acids and antioxidant properties.
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