The most important ingredient is the tomatoes. It would be nice if we all had access to fresh, ripe tomatoes all year round, but many of the fresh tomatoes available through the seasons are disappointing.
I rely on canned tomatoes, as cooks in Italy do for much of the year. Brands imported from Italy are generally the best, for the variety of tomatoes used and their ripeness. Canned tomatoes from other places are sometimes underripe when packed- sour tasting, hard and greenish at the ends, the juices thin and watery. Some packers try to compensate by adding thick tomato puree to the cans, but this does not disguise the lack of flavor and hard, astringent taste or the unyielding texture of the tomatoes. One of my criteria for a good canned tomato is whether or not it is tender enough to be chopped with a cooking spoon. Some cooks add sugar to their tomato sauce to counteract the acidity, but this is unnecessary if the tomatoes are ripe.
I also avoid prechopped or pureed tomatoes in cans. They are either too thin or too thick, and the texture masks the quality of the tomato. Buy several cans of tomatoes and taste them until you find a brand you like. It is hard to recommend any particular brand, since most imported brands are distributed in limited areas.
Many of the sauces, as well as other recipes in this book, are made with a food mill. This old-fashioned cooking tool consists of a metal strainer fitted with a hand-cranked paddle that pushes the food through the holes of the strainer. The strainer has retractable legs so that it can be set securely over a bowl or pot. The pureed foods pass through while the seeds, skins, and other hard objects are kept back. A blender or food processor can puree foods, but both pulverize the seeds and skins so that they cannot be separated out.
The little seeds in tomatoes can be annoying, sometimes bitter, and interfere with the texture of sauces that you want to be perfectly smooth. If you don't have a food mill, you can simply cut the tomatoes in half and scrape the seeds out with a spoon or your finger, before pureeing them in a food processor or blender. Or, if the seeds don't bother you, you can just leave them in. A little extra fiber is probably good for you.
When ripe fresh tomatoes are in season, their sweet, delicate flavor is incomparable. Plum or Roma tomatoes are meatier and best for sauces. To peel fresh tomatoes, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Drop in the tomatoes a few at a time. When the water returns to the boil, cook the tomatoes 1 minute, then remove them with a slotted spoon and drop them into a bowl of cold water. With your fingers, peel off the skins. Cut the tomatoes in half through the stem and cut out the core. Squeeze the tomatoes over a bowl to extract the seeds.
Unlike a simple tomato sauce, a meat sauce, known in Italy as a ragù, is time-consuming. The meat needs long, slow simmering to become tender and to marry with the other ingredients. Though not particularly difficult to make, it takes time, but a meat ragù can easily be made ahead and refrigerated or even frozen until needed.
Exact proportions are difficult to give when it comes to pairing pasta and sauce. Italians like a minimal amount of sauce, and they use just enough to coat the pasta. Americans generally prefer more sauce, to coat their pasta heavily. The pasta sauce and ragù recipes in this chapter make at least enough for one pound of pasta. Some of the ragùs make more than enough for one pound, but because of the number and type of ingredients involved, it makes more sense to cook a large batch. Leftover sauces freeze well and can be used for another meal.
White sauce, often called by its French name, béchamel, or in Italian salsa balsamella or besciamèlla, is another Italian staple. It is used so often by Italian home cooks that there is even a readymade version that can be bought in Italian supermarkets. Béchamel is typically mixed with grated cheese or other ingredients and served with pasta or vegetables. Many baked pasta dishes call for salsa balsamella.
Butter sauce is a classic Italian favorite, often served with fresh pasta, especially ravioli or other stuffed pastas. Usually it is flavored with fresh sage, but other herbs may be used. Holy oil is not really a sauce but a condiment made from whole or crushed dried chili peppers and olive oil that is used on pasta, vegetables, and other foods.
Beyond these sauces, there are many others made with herbs, olive oil, and other ingredients that are eaten with meats, fish, eggs, or vegetables. Mayonnaise made with olive oil is sensational with poached fish or ripe tomatoes as well as on salads. Green sauce, made with olive oil, parsley, garlic, and other ingredients is often served at room temperature with boiled meat or roasted fish. Throughout this book, you will find many other sauces that are meant to accompany particular dishes but can also be adapted for use with other foods.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
Tomato Sauce, Sicilian Style
Tomato Sauce, Tuscan Style
Fake Meat Sauce
Tomato Sauce with Onion
Roasted Tomato Sauce
MEAT SAUCES (RAGÙ)
Tuscan Meat Ragù
Rabbit or Chicken Ragù
Porcini and Meat Ragù
Pork Ragù with Fresh Herbs
Truffled Meat Ragù
OTHER PASTA SAUCES
These sauces are used with pasta, with vegetables, and in whatever other ways creative cooks devise.
Butter and Sage Sauce
Fontina Cheese Sauce
SAUCES FOR MEAT AND FISH
Boiled, roasted, and grilled meat and fish are often served with one or more of the following sauces.
Sicilian Garlic and Caper Sauce
Parsley and Egg Sauce
Red Pepper and Tomato Sauce
Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
Molise-Style Pepper Sauce
Olive Oil Mayonnaise
Orange Mayonnaise Sauce
From "1,000 Italian Recipes." Copyright 2004 by Michele Scicolone. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
"I must say this is the best recipe software I have ever owned."
"Your DVO cookbook software saves me time and money!"
"I saw lots of recipe software for PC computers but I was having a hard time finding really good mac recipe software. I'm so glad I discovered Cook'n! It's so nice to have all my recipes in a computer recipe organizer. Cook'n has saved me so much time with meal planning and the recipe nutrition calculator is amazing!!!
My favorite is the Cook'n Recipe App.