What better way to enjoy cooler temperatures than to fire up the stove and pull out the saucepan?
As the summer winds down, mountains of juicy tomatoes abound. Capturing and concentrating their flavors in sauces is a great way to preserve the harvest — not to mention use less-than-perfect-looking produce. Cooking down fresh tomatoes capitalizes on the flavorful juices, but roasting them first will concentrate flavor and evaporate moisture for a thicker texture.
While sauces with tomatoes can be found in many global cuisines, Italy is arguably the best known for really running with it, despite the region’s relatively young tomato tradition (tomatoes were only introduced in Italy in the last 500 years of the region’s 28-century history). Therefore, much of the terminology used for tomato sauces has its origins in Italian — except for the occasional French culinary term.
Among the most common, basic Italian tomato sauces are marinara, which is a chunky, tomato sauce with garlic, olive oil and oregano, and pomodoro, a slow-cooked, smooth tomato sauce (pomodoro is Italian for “tomato”). In addition, many regional traditions and ingredients create a palate of favorites, such as arrabiata (tomato sauce flavored with crushed red pepper flakes); Bolognese (a dense, slow-cooked meat sauce with vegetables and tomato — what French chefs coined as ragu — that originated in Bologna and should not be confused with more tomato-laden Neopolitan ragu from Naples); and puttanesca (tomato sauce flavored with capers and anchovies and often including olives and pepper flakes). Related French culinary terms include coulis (a smooth puree that has been strained) and tomato concasse (a culinary technique to prep tomatoes to use in sauces; concasse means to crush, break or grind in French).
Tip: Fresh tomatoes are great for freezing — and their slightly acidic sweetness is a welcome respite in the dead of winter. To freeze fresh tomatoes, simply rinse well with water, core out the top around the stem, dip in boiling water for about one minute and place in ice water to remove skins. Then chop or crush and freeze in freezer bags. Or you can leave the tomatoes whole, freeze them on a cookie sheet and transfer to freezer bags. Store for up to six months.
For two tomato sauce recipes, click here!
Oui, Oui, Cream-y!
When it comes to the French tradition of sauce making, it all begins with a roux — or flour whisked into melted butter and cooked until thick and smooth. The traditional roux ratio of butter to flour is 1:1. (For wheat-free alternatives, substitute potato flour or rice flour.)
Cream sauce classics often are used as springboards for a myriad sauces through the addition of herbs, vegetables, citrus and other ingredients. A standard white sauce, or bechamel, is not only versatile, but gives home cooks better control over salt, fats and other ingredients. Its standard ingredients are butter, flour and milk. The higher the milk fat content, the richer the sauce… and if you add cheese to bechamel and let it melt, you have a Mornay sauce. Two other notable sauces are made without milk or cream, but are no less creamy: French for “velvety,” a velout is made with light roux and a savory stock (traditionally made from chicken, veal or fish), while espagnole is a very dark brown roux combined with stock and is the basis for many brown sauce variations.
For four cream sauce recipes (plus a couple ways to use them), click here!
Eggs may be among the most basic of ingredients, but when whisked into a frenzy with fat to create an emulsion binding fats and liquids, they are anything but boring. Two timeless favorites among egg sauces are mayonnaise and hollandaise.
Made of room temperature egg yolks, oil, vinegar or lemon juice and seasonings, mayonnaise is simple in theory but requires attention to detail. The processor or blender needs to be clean and dry, and the oil needs to be added very slowly and carefully. Rush this process and you will end up with a curdled, unappealing mixture. Done right and mayonnaise is a blank slate receptive to any number of ingredients and flavors; a launching pad for an endless number of sauces and spreads.
The traditional method for hollandaise sauce — vigorously whisking butter into heated egg yolks and lemon — makes for a good workout on “arms day,” but a food processor makes it substantially easier and virtually foolproof. This pale yellow sauce is a bright, tasty topper for vegetables, fish and, of course, the classic eggs Benedict. Hollandaise also is the foundation for many other sauces, including the famous bearnaise sauce, which includes a vinegar-wine reduction, aromatics and herbs.
For five egg sauce recipe variations, click here!
Grassy licorice basil, bright cilantro, earthy thyme, chives, mint and arugula simply sing in beautiful herb sauces. Unlike sauces that require precise measurements and techniques, herb sauces are forgiving and flexible. No basil? Toss in parsley. Has mint gone crazy in the garden? Use it in a pesto-like sauce. Add arugula to a chimichurri for a peppery spin.
While hundreds of herb sauces can be found across the globe, three celebrated classics — pesto, chimichurri verde and gremolata — not only are tasty when added to meats and vegetables, pasta, beans, sandwiches and soups, but they require little work and are easily adaptable to personal taste.
Originating in Genoa, Italy, pesto is Italian for “pounded” — and pesto purists make it with a mortar and pestle. (But let’s face it, a blender or food processor is much easier.) It’s traditionally an uncooked sauce made of basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese; however, almost any herb or green can be tossed into a pesto-like sauce, including kale, basil, parsley, cilantro and arugula. Pesto’s lighter, minty Argentinian cousin, chimichurri verde, has no cheese or nuts but includes a good dose of vinegar — a great marinade and sauce for chicken, beef, fish and shellfish. And while technically gremolata is not so much a sauce as it is a chopped-herb condiment traditionally made with parsley, lemon zest and garlic, its versatility and bright flavor places it among the top of easy, adaptable dishes. Add Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese and olive oil for a twist.
For three green herb sauce recipes, click here!
Thanks to: Jill Melton, MS, RD, editor and founder of Edible Nashville Magazine.