Introduction to Restaurant Quality Pasta Sauces.
Pasta sauces are an interesting category of sauces because the way they are used in the United States differs from the way they are used in Italy. In the US, we like plenty of extra sauce that we can mop up with some good ciabatta or garlic bread.
In Italy, however, most sauces are used sparingly (at least to American tastes) because they are just there to highlight the pasta itself--to enhance its texture and flavor. That's why Italians emphasize cooking pasta until it is al dente, or just a bit firm in the center, because it is the best texture to highlight the noodles themselves.
The Secret to Marrying Sauce to Pasta
Maybe Americans are so used to the overcooked, limp noodles of canned pasta that they would rather the noodles be nothing more than a vehicle for the sauce. Regardless of whether you serve your pasta with just enough sauce to coat the noodles or with plenty of sauce for mopping, here is the secret to marrying the sauce to the pasta:
- Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water just to al dente.
- Before draining, reserve approximately 1 tablespoon of pasta cooking water per ounce of pasta. So, if you have cooked 8 oz pasta, you would need 8 tablespoons of cooking water, or ½ cup.
- Drain the pasta and return it to the pan over high heat.
- Add the pasta cooking water along with enough of your sauce to coat all the noodles.
- Add a tablespoon or two of either extra virgin olive oil, heavy cream or butter and stir together well until most of the water has evaporated and the sauce has thickened and lightened in color. This is a signal that you have emulsified the additional fat into the sauce, imparting a silky mouthfeel and ensuring that each noodle is coated.
- Turn off the heat, and if appropriate, stir in a little freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.
- Serve the pasta as-is, or ladle on additional sauce after plating. You could also pass the additional sauce at the table.
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