So, recently I’ve had a lot of people say that one area in particular where they cannot seem to take a right turn in the kitchen with, is pasta. Believe it or not, yes. Pasta. It’s easy enough to just open a jar and chuck on some sauce. But you know what? It’s dead simple. Even I could explain it to you. And so, teach you I shall.
seelensturm, pasta, August 14, 2012 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution
The main problem people seem to have with a tomato based sauce in particular is that it is too tangy. This is an easily solvable problem. Never use fresh tomatoes as a base for a sauce, always use tinned. It will still be a little tangy if you simply do this, but it makes a huge difference, as when you use fresh tomatoes, you would need to cook them for a long time to get them to the state of the tinned variety. Save your hours, use a tin! For the very best sauce, I would recommend plum tomatoes, and simmering them for 2 hours or so (the longer the better!) with whatever herbs or spices you think you want. However, if you want a quicker one, use chopped tomatoes, but make sure you cook it a lot longer than you need to! (I always start cooking them about 5 minutes before I put the pasta on, and leave it to its own devices whilst prepping any meat/veg I want in it)
The next bit of advice I can give you with this is to use something to counteract the tang. Sugar, believe it or not, is your friend! A teaspoon of sugar goes a long way in the kitchen, and so it does with tomatoes. I usually add this when I start cooking the pasta, then taste it a few minutes later. If you add too much sugar, it’s nothing a bit of tomato purée can’t solve. I tend to use that to thicken the sauce, or to fix my lack of judgement. With the sugar, I usually add a little salt, just to make sure it isn’t too sweet.
So now you have your sauce started, merrily simmering away by itself. It looks a little plain, though. Surely there has to be something you can add to it? Why yes, yes there is. As far as I’m concerned, most things can and will go into a tomato sauce. And trust me, I’ve tried most things. I always start off with a little garlic, pepper and dried mixed herbs, just as a base. But then I go a little crazy with other things. Oregano is always a must, and if you want something a little subtle, thyme or parsley are also your friends. Parsley especially if you plan on having fish with this. For chicken, anything goes, but tarragon, ohmy.
If you want something a little different, try chili, and smoked paprika. Lemon juice also works wonders, but you only need a tiny amount. And don’t forget your ever faithful companion, cheese! Any cheese goes here, except maybe the really pungent ones, which would simply overpower the sauce. With those you may as well just mix your pasta with some butter and pepper, then melt the cheese into that.
Missing anything else? Sometimes simply pasta and its sauce do not do the trick. You need something a little more, just to pad it out a little. Try frying some bacon in a little apple juice, or rubbing some chicken with herbs mixed with oil, and frying it off. (I like frying. It’s easier to have two or three things on the hob than worrying about the oven too) If you’re a veggie kinda person, peas, sweetcorn, bell peppers, onion, mushrooms, runner beans… it all fits together almost perfectly in a tomato based sauce. And because pasta is so very versatile, you’d be surprised at how much you can get away with. It really is one of the easiest things to go with.
If you’re making a white sauce, I would couple this with either parsley or chives. In this case I treat pasta like a potato bake. Bacon and cheese go with this perfectly. However, if you want something a little sweeter, a tiny bit of cinnamon or nutmeg go perfectly.
See? Easy. Definitely not rocket science, which I most certainly am not qualified to explain. Essentially, whilst it’s cooking, play around. Enjoy it, fiddle, and adjust it until you’re happy with it. I will say, however, if you are cooking straight out of a jar, don’t heat it up first. Mix it into the pasta, so you can make sure that it heats through and doesn’t leave any plain bits. And hey presto, you’ve saved on washing up too!
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