Even with the millions of recipes at your disposal, your mind can draw a blank about dinner. Unless you have planned the meals for the week in advance (and who does that?), you tend to make the same dishes repeatedly. When faced with this dilemma (or just plain lazy), my go-to is usually a simple meat-free pasta dish. With seven sauces to choose from (depending on what is available in my pantry at the time), I have dinner for 4 people ready in less than 20 minutes.
Quick Cream Sauce (This one happens to be one of my mother’s favorites!)
Add 1½ cups of heavy cream into a deep pan along with 1 tablespoon of salsa, 1 teaspoon of pesto, and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously until the whipping cream starts to thicken and boil. Add ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese and stir until well blended. This sauce works great with tortellini or fusilli pasta. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese on top.
Brown Butter Sage Sauce
In a small saucepan, melt ¼ cup unsalted butter with ½ teaspoon Kosher salt. Turn the heat to low and add 2 sage leaves (to be removed afterward) into the butter. Continue to cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until the butter starts to brown. Remove the butter from the heat and then remove the sage leaves. Add 2 tablespoons of heavy cream and stir in. Add ½ cup grated Romano when tossing with pasta. This sauce works well with egg noodles.
In a frying pan, heat 5 tablespoons olive oil with 2 tablespoons butter for a few minutes. Add ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, ½ cup pine nuts, and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Stir continuously for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the garlic starts to caramelize. Toss the sauce with spaghetti and sprinkle with grated Reggiano parmesan cheese.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup sliced mushrooms and ¼ cup sliced shallots and cook for about 3 minutes. Add 1 minced garlic clove, 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and 1 tablespoon salt. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add ¼ cup dry white wine and cook for approximately 3 to 5 minutes until the wine reduces by half. Toss the sauce with cooked penne or rigatoni and sprinkle with parsley.
Lemon and Wine Sauce
In a deep skillet heat ¼ cup olive oil with 1 teaspoon lemon pepper and 1 sprig of tarragon. When the oil is hot, add 5 cloves of garlic that have been cut in half. Add ½ cup of white wine and ¼ cup of lemon juice. Season with salt to taste. Cook until the sauce has been reduced by half. Remove the tarragon and garlic cloves and add 1 tablespoon of butter into the sauce. Stir until all the butter is melted and incorporated into the sauce. This sauce works well with fettuccine, angel hair pasta, or egg noodles. (Note: this sauce is also great with chicken or seafood if you want to include it.)
Cook 5 slices of bacon in a skillet until crisp. Reserve the bacon fat for the pasta. Whisk 4 eggs along with 2 tablespoons of heavy cream in a measuring cup. Season the egg mixture with salt and pepper to taste (remember, the bacon is salty so you don’t want to add too much. Cook and drain your pasta. Place the pasta back into the pot and while stirring continuously, add 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat to coat the pasta. Next drizzle in the egg mixture (while stirring continuously). Add 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese and stir until melted. Sprinkle with additional cheese and bacon pieces. This sauce works best with spaghetti or spaghettini.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a deep pan and add ½ cup sliced onions. Cook for 3 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and cook for an additional minute. Add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, 1 heaping teaspoon of sugar, and Kosher salt to taste. Cook for an additional minute, coating the onions with the tomato paste. Add 1 cup of stock and simmer until thickened (approximately 10 to 15 minutes). Toss in ½ cup of cubed feta once the sauce has cooked. Toss the sauce with cooked fusilli, ravioli, or linguine and garnish with fresh parsley.
There you have it! Quick and easy solutions to dinner that look and taste like you have been slaving in the kitchen for hours.
Fun Facts You May Not Know About Sauces
- Ketchup is considered a sauce and is the most popular in the world!
- A chef who specializes in making sauces is called a saucier.
- The oldest recorded sauce ever made is garum, a fish sauce used by Ancient Romans around 200 A.D.
- All sauces need a liquid component.
- There are over 50 different kinds of sauces used in cooking, but only five are “mother sauces” as they are the starting point for all others. They are bechamel (a white sauce made with flour, butter, and milk), hollandaise (a butter sauce made with a tempered egg yolk and lemon juice), velouté (a blond sauce made from roux and stock), Espagnole (a brown sauce made from a roux, brown stock, mirepoix, and tomato), and sauce tomat (a red sauce made from tomatoes and spices).
- The word sauce originates from the Latin word “salsus” meaning salted.
- A sea captain invented Newburg sauce. Ben Wenburg showed the recipe to Charles Delmonico, the manager of the famous Delmonico Restaurant in New York. Charles then worked with the chef to refine it and add it to the menu. However, after an argument between Ben and Charles, Ben insisted on removal from the menu. It was so popular with the patrons that Charles Delmonico simply switched the first three letters to “new” to keep serving it.
- The most popular sauce in the world is not what you think. No, not tomato, not bechamel, and not hollandaise. It is Mole, a Mexican sauce made from chili peppers and a host of other ingredients. Extremely popular worldwide and a staple in Mexico during Cinco de Mayo, it comes in seven distinct versions. Guacamole is considered a mole. On Super Bowl Sunday alone, we consume 8 million pounds of guacamole. That gives new meaning to the phrase “Holy guacamole!”.
- The roux originated in the 17th century in France. Made with equal parts flour and some type of fat (usually melted butter), this smooth paste is used for thickening liquid and is the base of four of the five mother sauces.
- Some argue that a condiment is a sauce. Others maintain that only if it coats the food is it a sauce. If used in small amounts to augment the flavor, it is just a condiment. According to food historians, ketchup is a sauce. Then there are dips. Marinara is used as a dip for mozzarella sticks, but is it a dip or a sauce? The argument continues…
- With more on the condiment/sauce debate, the most popular condiment/ sauce is hot sauce. Hot sauce is the most consumed worldwide, with over 120 brands available for purchase. The hottest is Mad Dog 357 No. 9 Plutonium, and it comes with a warning to add it sparingly to food and never consume on its own. It’s that hot. Seriously hot with 9 million SHU’s (Scoville heat units). The world’s hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper, only has 2.2 million SHU’s. Jalapeño peppers measure 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale. Most brand hot sauces only reach 8,000 SHU. If you are brave enough to try it, make sure you call 911 first. You will surely need hospital care for the burn, even after one drop.