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Starter Course In Sauce

In this lesson, we are teaching the foundation of tomato sauce, which is most commonly used to top pasta but also complements meat and vegetable dishes. Tomato sauce does not have to take you all day to make (unless you want it to). There are recipes for quick sauces, simmered sauces and even raw tomato sauce. So before you start cooking, evaluate your preferred kitchen time and pick your recipe accordingly.

Sauce From Scratch

Prime tomato season in the United States is from mid-summer to mid-fall, when produce sections and farmers markets overflow with all varieties. Since some sauces can include as few ingredients as pureed fresh tomatoes and salt, summer is the best time to make sauce purely from scratch.

Look for the very best tomatoes you can – ones that are a little heavy for their size and deep in color. Most recipes recommend peeling and seeding tomatoes before cooking them. With skins removed you'll have a slightly sweeter sauce, so the effort is worth it. However, if you are tight on time, look for a recipe that does not require it.

Making sauce without fresh tomatoes can be just as delicious by opening a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, and adding it to a sauté pan with garlic and onions that have been sautéed in olive oil until clear but not brown.

This simple base can be your canvas for many additions:

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  • a few tablespoons of fresh basil or dried oregano
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  • a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
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  • a quarter-cup red wine or some shakes of red pepper flakes

Simmer for 15 to 30 minutes and your stovetop sauce is done.

Doctoring Method

On nights when there is little time to cook, open a jar of your favorite Bertolli® sauce and doctor it with the suggestions above, or extras like leftover ground beef for a meat sauce, or pieces of chicken for a modified chicken cacciatore. Stirring in herbs just before serving will brighten fresh or jarred sauce; cured meats will make things smoky.

And always consider making more sauce than you need: it freezes well, and can be easily portioned by ladling sauce into separate plastic freezer bags, and laying them flat in your freezer on top of each other (this method helps you save precious space). On each bag mark the date and amount you ladled, and save for the dead of winter to enliven your stews and casseroles with your own homemade talents.

Tomato Sauce Types

Not all Italian sauce with tomatoes is the same. Here are varieties you may see on the menu the next time you dine out. If you want to transform your basic tomato sauce into one of these at home, add the ingredients listed in amounts of your preference.
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  • Alla' Amatriciana: Spicy, with smokiness that comes from a few slices of cooked pancetta (uncured Italian bacon) or bacon itself. This sauce gets its heat from dashes of red pepper flakes.
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  • Puttanesca: A touch salty and fragrant, thanks to a few tablespoons of capers, olives and anchovies.
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  • Bolognese: Rich with a variety of meats that are cooked and added to the sauce (or sometimes simmered in it) – typically beef, pork and veal.
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  • Vodka: Sometimes velvety from the added milk, cream or cheese. Dairy or not, this sauce is always a little peppery from its vodka kick. Typically, a quarter-cup is all that's needed for an entire batch.

Sauce, Sans Tomatoes

Delicious and nutritious as they are, there are wonderful alternatives to the tomato that can be both healthful and decadent.
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  • Walnut sauce is as simple as it is unique. Toast nuts in a pan, and then set aside. Sauté garlic in olive oil until brown. Add back the nuts with a final handful of parsley and salt and pepper. Toss with pasta.
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  • Pesto sauce from scratch or from a jar can be mixed with hot or cold pasta for a satisfying meal.
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  • Mushroom sauce features cooked-down mushrooms, onions, and garlic, simmered with chicken or vegetable broth.
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  • Pureed vegetable sauce can be made by cooking until soft. Try sweet squashes like butternut or acorn, or light ones like summer and zucchini, and puree them with salt and pepper. A dash of nutmeg or cinnamon makes it perfect.