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What's your favorite sauce for pasta?

I've lost my pasta mojo and can't seem to think of anything other than carbonara, marinara, pesto and alfredo. What are your favorite pasta sauces?

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  1. You have overlooked white wine/garlic/ OO with clams and other shellfish over linguini, or a fra diavolo.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      The clam sauce is a great idea. I kind of lump fra diavolo in with marinara, although not sure if that's accurate but I consider it a spicy marinara for categorical sake. Do you have a good clam sauce recipe?

      1. re: fldhkybnva

        I start with a sofrito of diced sweet peppers, sweet onions, and garlic with OO, then I add white wine and well-rinsed fresh clams to capture all the clam juice as they open. Usually I add mussels and shrimp but they don't contribute much to the liquid, just to the dish when it's done. White wine and OO in proportion to the size you are serving.

        1. re: fldhkybnva

          I make a good one with buttermilk, leeks and canned chopped clams. I like to use shell-shaped pasta for the ambience.

          1. re: Sharuf

            Would you please supply your recipe, Sharuf. Sounds interesting and yummy.

            1. re: sagetom

              I don't actually have a recipe -- just wing it. I sauté chipped leeks, add buttermilk and the liquid from the clams, thicken it with cornstarch, and then add the clams at the last moment.

              1. re: Sharuf

                I gotta tell ya, though originally from the South, I'm just not seeing buttermilk with clams. But I trust you.

                1. re: c oliver

                  I use buttermilk a lot in cooking and for sauces. For me, it makes a good substitute for cream or sour cream.

        2. re: Veggo

          You sure know what's good, Veggo. Both dishes are the only way to go for me.

        3. brown butter, black pepper, chopped parsley and parmesan

          2 Replies
            1. re: carluccio

              I was going to suggest the same thing! Simple, but oh so good!

            2. Puttanesca. Vodka. Any variant on butter but fresh sage brown butter on ravioli being my favorite of the butter sauces. I also make extreme short cut sauces with a mince of leftover meats (love steak and pork roast) with soffrito, tomato, toasted nutmeg and fennel, black pepper, wine, and cream. Bolognese with home made pappardelle might be my favorite meal.

              1. I like a light red sauce that incorporates bacon, white wine, garlic, Italian parsley and diced portabella, preferably over capellini.

                1. Bolognese is my favorite, but I love a good pasta all'amatriciana (a slightly spicy tomato sauce with onions and bacon/pancetta/guanciale) or any butter/cheese based sauce. Rich braised meats make great sauces too - basically any classic braise, meat shredded into the sauce, can be used as a pasta sauce.

                  I made a vaguely Asian pasta dish that used canned pumpkin and peanut butter for the sauce - it was quite good. Pretty much any pureed vegetable would work - you could try a pureed eggplant sauce, pureed fennel, etc.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: biondanonima

                    I think Heston can be 'over the top' sometimes but there are a few tips he shares that REALLY elevate this dish. He uses a little star anise for instance. His explanation why is excellent. I have know added barely a pinch of star anise to any beef dish. When I'm cooking steaks for instance I put a whole star anise in the pan for just a few seconds then remove it. There's something magic in that spice when it's used VERY sparingly.

                    1. re: biondanonima

                      The Eggplant-Pepper-Tomato Sauce in the Chow recipes is pretty darn good! (Works over potatoes, sausage, etc. too.)

                      1. I love fideus, a baked pasta dish in the same vain as paella. I usually brown chorizo then onions and tomato pulp add toasted pasta shrimp stock with saffron cook 8 mins add fresh shrimp and broil 5 mins. Serve with garlic aioli.
                        How about sausage and broccoli rabe or blue cheese and Brussels sprout or smothered cabbage and bacon or
                        Asian meat sauce with scallions and bean sprouts.

                        1. Ragu using beef shin or lamb neck; prawns with lemon, parsley and garlic; crab and chilli linguine; tomato and eggplant with thyme and chilli; wild mushrooms with cream and sherry; asparagus in butter and wine...

                          1. I'll start by sayin' that no tomato sauce should ever be the same. Whether it's a Bolognese, Marinara, Cherry Tomato, or whatever, it's time to show your chops and play the solo. Bust it. I mean, stay in key, but play to what's at hand, the feel of the crowd, . . . find the flourish. You got a lot of fresh basil in the pot? Pick it. You find some funky sausage at a local butcher? Build off it. Hell, even if you just have extra roast chicken or a few mushrooms left over, it can be a source of inspiration. Jam!

                            The possibilities with pasta sauces are practically limitless. Learn your scales and improvise. Sometimes, color the tune outside the lines. Face it, D-C-G is a great startin' place, but the magic's in what you can bring to it. Practice, taste, and learn.

                            That bein' said, cottage cheese, butter, salt, and pepper can be damn good and soul comfortin' too.

                            17 Replies
                            1. re: MGZ

                              Very well said.

                              One of the things I love most about cooking with pasta is it’s like a working on a clean slate. Pasta, both literally and figuratively, soaks up the flavor of whatever you put it in. The potential is truly unlimited and I often find myself just experimenting, as you describe, with whatever leftovers I can find, throw them in a pan, add some garlic, chicken stock and wine….and see where the road takes you.

                              Pasta has to be one of the most flexible items to cook with. Want a novelty app/starter for your next dinner party……cook/boil some lasagna noodles, then deep fry them. Break them apart into “chips”, sprinkle with cheese, salt/pepper, seasoning(s) of choice and serve with some marinara and you have Italian Chips and Salsa

                                1. re: josephnl

                                  They are three major chords that form the basis for a bunch of popular rock songs. (See, e.g., http://ellenford.hubpages.com/hub/Gui... ) I s'pose I took the metaphor a bit far, huh?

                                  1. re: MGZ

                                    Oh...of course!! I was thinking food and pasta sauce, and did not even think about what was being said.

                                    1. re: josephnl

                                      I thought it was Duck, Chicken and Garlic...

                                      1. re: Tripeler

                                        "I thought it was Duck, Chicken and Garlic..."

                                        That works fine with my fundamental theory. You could either slowly braise duck and chicken dark meat in a garlicky, San Marzano puree. Let cool a bit. Tear apart the meat and add back to the sauce. Heat through again and toss with pasta (tagliatelli, maybe) and fresh oregano, marjoram, and thyme. We'll call that the "Not Fade Away" version.

                                        Or, I suppose, it would work well, if you saute the garlic gently in good olive oil and duck fat, and add the cherry tomatoes. When the latter blisters, the leftover duck and chicken goes in to heat. Toss with pasta (maybe a rigatoni?) and basil. That might be named the "Stir it Up".

                                        1. re: MGZ

                                          I favor your Bob Marley version over your Grateful Dead version.

                                          1. re: Veggo

                                            I think the former is a Buddy Holly version.

                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                              The Dead version takes longer to cook. The Holly version is for the impatient.. The Brian Jones' Rolling Stones' version falls somewhere in between, but with less grace and more guts.

                                          2. re: MGZ

                                            The reference to duck reminded me of this sauce http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/13/din... A fall winter fav of ours!

                                            1. re: Bigley9

                                              It looks delicious but is it very fatty?

                                              1. re: Gloriaa

                                                I was concerned that with no 'lipid' added at the beginning that the duck would be overcooked. The duck legs get trimmed of any extra fat and there's no other in the recipe. I kinda eliminated it cause it sounded dry. ???

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  it is neither fatty nor dry. It ends up being a wonderful ragu. Despite trimming the fat, the duck releases a reasonable amount of fat as it cooks (from under the skin) Thats why it is slow cooked.

                                                  1. re: Bigley9

                                                    Thanks for reporting back. I have a couple of ducks in the freezer. I'll sacrifice a couple of legs and try this out.

                                  2. re: MGZ

                                    I've never made a pasta sauce with cottage cheese - sounds interesting and inexpensive. In lieu of ricotta?

                                    Middle-Eastern friends use good, plain yoghourt.

                                    1. re: lagatta

                                      That was a comfort food offering from Mom. I'm not sure she even knew what ricotta was back then. Nevertheless, I will still occasionally resort to it for ease and rich, gooey goodness, Maybe, I'll "fancy" it up with ricotta and fresh herbs next time.

                                      1. re: lagatta

                                        My mom made her lasagne with cottage cheese instead of ricotta. I prefer it to this day.

                                    2. Cacio e pepe. The ATK method of dissolving the cheese in starchy pasta cooking water is a brilliant truc. Works for any hard grating cheese, not just pecorino, fwiw.

                                      14 Replies
                                      1. re: Karl S

                                        I've never had cacio e pepe, but it seems like a favorite. I guess I always wondered about the fascination given that there are very few ingredients but perhaps it's one of those simple is delicious kind of things.

                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                          Hell, Neil Young could make a one string solo sound pretty good.

                                          1. re: fldhkybnva


                                            ATK, for its actual cacio e pepe recipes, also uses cream, which is a no for this dish (just as in carbonara) so far as I am concerned. But their truc gave me the idea simply to take the starchy hot pasta cooking water to the cheese by spoonfuls in a small teacup and do the dissolving before I add it to the pasta. I now do this for any pasta dish where I want the cheese to be part of the creamy element.

                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              Great, thanks so basically I just need fresh pepper, cheese and oil? Seems simple enough.

                                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                yes, just make sure your cheese and oil are the best you can get/afford!

                                                1. re: Bigley9

                                                  And lots of freshly ground black pepper (the photos in the link have been enhanced by merely putting it all on the exterior). Technically, no crushed red pepper, btw (I gather Italians don't typically combine those in this kind of dish).

                                                  What I liked about the link is the detail about warming the serving bowl (and this also applies to the dishes it will actually be served on). Cacio e pepe, like carbonara, is a dish that is not excellent unless it is served on warmed dishes; it congeals unevenly on tepid dishes. A lot of recipes neglect that detail because they originate with chefs for whom warmed dishes are automatic and not something they'd think to detail.

                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                    Very good point about warmed dishes, absolutely essential for both carbonara and cacio e pepe.

                                                    As for the pepper, definitely all black, though one chef I know here in Rome sometimes uses a mix of black, white, and pink. Definitely not red. But the main thing about the pepper is that it's best not actually ground in a grinder, but crushed so it's coarser. While the water is boiling, put the peppercorns in a folded napkin or piece of waxed paper and whack with a meat tenderizer or other blunt instrument. You want those little pieces that explode in your mouth. ATK uses cream? That is awful. But what they do with most Italian sauces is vile, at least in the two or three episodes I've downloaded.

                                                    1. re: mbfant

                                                      White pepper is generally vile in the USA. I have heard there is wonderful white pepper than can be found somewhere on the planet, but that what makes it to the USA is, notwithstanding all sales talk aside, not that stuff.

                                                      Crushing pepper does have a different effect. I actually prefer the kind of very fine grind you can only get from a large Perfex mill (Peugots don't get this quite right). Crushed or extremely fine grind have a different effect than typical grind, to be sure.

                                                      When I read recipes that are careful to detail warmed plates, then I know the author and/or editor is thoughtful about the realities of the home cook. Sadly, that is uncommon. Then again, good editors are vanishing breed.

                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                        Wynant a maker of vine ripened tellicherry peppercorns also makes a white peppercorn that is as good as the black.

                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                            Thanks for that. I'd googled "Wynant" and didn't come up with anything. Will check it out.

                                                            1. re: Karl S

                                                              Sorry for misspelling, am away from my supply so could not check.

                                            2. re: Karl S

                                              OK...I guess I'm stupid, but who/what is ATK?

                                            3. Brown butter and sage over gnocchi. My go to "we need dinner stat" pasta dish.

                                                1. Sauteed cuttlefish with a LOT of squid ink

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                    I'll be sure to order it at my next visit to Olive Garden.

                                                    1. re: Veggo

                                                      Maybe at Cuttlefish Garden.
                                                      You should have come to Paris this time, great friends and great food here.

                                                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                        In retrospect I goofed. Can I have a rain check for next April?

                                                  2. Bolognese is #1, then Putenesca followed by Marinara. Basil Pesto when basil is in season.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. Not necessarily "my favorites", but if you're looking for suggestions to mix up your repertory:

                                                      - melt a bunch of anchovy filets in olive oil, add some red pepper flakes and a few cherry tomatoes, and sauté until they're blistered/smooshed; slivered garlic is a nice addition here, too

                                                      - vietnamese garlic noodles. google them -- quite a bit of butter & tons o'garlic. they are incredible, and ridic easy to make

                                                      - spicy peanut/sesame noodles

                                                      - white wine cream sauce for orecchiette with peas and ham

                                                      Boy, do I miss me some pasta.....

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                        The anchovies idea is a great one. I did something similar a few weeks ago with diced mushroom stems sauteed with garlic and anchovies, splash of red wine and a glug of jarred tomato basil sauce. It was absolutely delicious.

                                                        Well, I probably won't actually use the sauce ideas for pasta. I usually use pasta sauce over chicken or vegetable noodles and just change the volume of liquid accordingly.

                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                          OMG, how could I forget one of my *actual* favorites: mushroom sauce!!!!

                                                          Guess if ya only have pasta once in a full moon, you're bound to forget things.... >sigh<

                                                        1. re: Gastronomos

                                                          I could eat it like a soup, I love it so much.

                                                          1. re: pinehurst

                                                            Really? A "soup" made of just olive oil and garlic?


                                                            1. re: pinehurst

                                                              I do add a lot of grated cheese on my plate :-)
                                                              I do change it up once in a while. I'll add a little red pepper (chili) flakes if the others don't mind. I'll occasionally do it with broccoli or broccoli rabe garlic and oil.
                                                              Any additional ingredients beyond garlic and oil, maybe a bit of red chili flakes and on occasion a green veggie is another sauce altogether.
                                                              That said, after a heavy amount of grated cheese, a few stiff pinches of coarse black pepper over the top seals the deal.

                                                              There are other great pasta sauces...

                                                            1. Garlic and red chili flakes sautéed in olive oil

                                                              Sauté onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and garlic in some olive oil, then add lots of black pepper, red chili flakes, and some fresh basil, some chicken broth and half and half (or cream). Simmer until reduced a bit, then toss with pasta. I sometimes add chicken and/or green onions for garnish.

                                                              I make "indian" pasta sometimes -- sauté onions, garlic and ginger, then add some chopped carrots, and bell pepper and tomatoes, simmer for a bit, then add some frozen peas and some pav bhaji masala (available at your indian store). Toss with some bowties or shells.

                                                              1. I love the classic sauces you mentioned, but if I have just made fresh pasta, my favorite "sauce" is to toss it with butter, garlic and parmesean, with some fresh parsley or basil.

                                                                  1. Roasted eggplant and tomato sauce!

                                                                    1-2 eggplants depending on size
                                                                    pint cherry tomatos
                                                                    3-4 garlic cloves
                                                                    oilive oil
                                                                    red pepper flakes to taste
                                                                    bunch of fresh basil
                                                                    reserved cup pasta water

                                                                    Cut eggplants into cubes and toss with tomatoes, garlic cloves and olive oil. Season with S/P and red pepper flakes. Roast in a 400 degree oven until the tomatoes split their skins and the eggplants are brown. Let cool slightly and then transfer to a food processor. Add basil and puree. Taste for seasonings and add more S/P/pepper flakes to taste. Before serving thin with hot pasta
                                                                    water to desired consistency.

                                                                    This also makes a great topping for pizza or bruschetta

                                                                    I also love a simple aglio e olie.

                                                                    1. How could I forget? I love a good marsala sauce.

                                                                      1. Gnocchis, I love a pesto cream sauce.
                                                                        TJ's has a lemon papperdelle and I saute lots of fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice, baby criminis, cherry tomt's, EVO..
                                                                        Meatless meatballs from TJ's are delicious and with lots of fresh garlic, EVO with some fresh capellini.
                                                                        Butter, garlic, EVO and Parm Reggiano with sea salt and fresh ground pepper is fab.
                                                                        Lots of fresh mushrooms, tons of garlic and EVO with a dash of heavy cream served with a French bread loaf, slathered with fresh garlic, little butter and toasted, drizzled with evo and salad is one of my favorite things to chow down on.
                                                                        Sometimes, I'll add some sambal for a little kick in the pants.

                                                                        Fresh garlic is where its at!

                                                                        1. Chilli-lemon-garlic-oil-black pepper

                                                                          1. Sea urchin roe (uni) cut with a little Chardonnay.
                                                                            Takes pasta to a whole new level.

                                                                            1. Aglio, olio e peperoncino. Like cacio e pepe, one of the simplest. I do add a bit of pecorino, and chopped flatleaf parsley if I have it.

                                                                              1. Artichoke sauce

                                                                                Melt 1/4 cup butter with 1/4 cup evoo.
                                                                                Add one garlic clover and 1 Tablespoon flour.
                                                                                Cook for a couple minutes.
                                                                                Add 1 cup chicken broth ( or veg).
                                                                                Cook for a couple minutes.
                                                                                Add teaspoon or two of lemon juice, one can of artichoke hearts ( chopped or sliced), a couple tablespoons of parsley and about 1 tablespoon of capers.
                                                                                Cook for a couple minutes. Serve with parm. My mom will also serve with ham or prosciutto.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: viperlush

                                                                                  Some different pasta sauces I've made in the last year are: celery and tomato sauce (from Marcella Cucina - much lovelier than it sounds), a roasted golden beet sauce that was phenomenal, ratatouille (I made one that was heavy on the tomatoes, thus more saucy - worked great with rigatoni and grated pecorino Romano), bruschetta (again tomato heavy, but with crushed garlic, fresh basil and grated Parmigiano Reggiano - a great hot weather raw sauce), cauliflower with anchovies, garlic and red chile flakes. To my basic tomato-basil sauce I have added broccoli, to good success. I also do a summer pasta salad that is essentially a Greek salad tossed with pasta (red, yellow and orange bell peppers, red onions, tomatoes, feta, Kalamata olives, garlic, olive oil, wine vinegar, oregano, salt and black pepper. It's very good. I use rotini, penne or even orzo. Oven dried tomatoes in this salad would make it extra intense. Lastly, a lemony spinach sauce of olive oil, lemon juice and zest, garlic, an herb and baby spinach which is tossed with the hot pasta and a bit of the pasta water. Grate or shave a punch cheese on top to garnish. Alternatively, the lemon pasta could be done with fresh ricotta, in which case I'd use a good salt to finish.

                                                                                2. A small container of ricotta, small jar of roasted peppers, a clove or two of garlic, some salt and pepper whirred with a blender then fresh, chopped flat leaf parsley added. Don't heat, just mix in hot pasta.

                                                                                  I make white clam sauce with frozen chopped clams and sometimes additional littlenecks using white wine, olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes, and a lot of chopped parsley during the end of cooking and when plating.

                                                                                  Also, though I low carb and therefore serve this over a bed of spinach, this recipe is superb over pasta: I use larger shrimp and a full lb of them, dry, fully defrosted, and Dodoni feta from Costco, which is excellent, 7 oz. And I use quartered campari tomatoes. http://www.mtvikos.com/recipedetail.a...

                                                                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                                        Usually without [olive oil & garlic base, maybe some scallions], but with is OK. I dont happen to like red clam sauce. That's the only reason I specified white.

                                                                                    1. I love Marcella Hazan's very simple butter and tomato sauce.

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                          1. Arrabiata - with putanesca running a close second.

                                                                                            1. Hmm, it's tough to say for Italian sauces, but I've enjoyed a nori mentaiko combo with wafuu (Japanese-style) pasta.

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                                                Drizzle of best olive oil/and grated Grana Padano S&P and a grind of chili flakes. That's it.

                                                                                                1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                  It's a good choice, but it's not always the choice that I want. Sometimes, I want to invite tomatoes and/or ricotta salata too.

                                                                                              2. If the pasta is great, all you need is a hunk of butter, a generous grinding of peppercorns and lots of good grated Parmesan…it's cacio e pepe…and it's the simplest and one of the best, if done with great ingredients.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: josephnl

                                                                                                  You say you've "lost your mojo". Sometimes it's then best to go back to what is the most basic and see where the muse takes you then.
                                                                                                  That's why I offered the most basic pasta dish.