In my last post I gave you detailed instructions to cook pasta to perfection, I hope that helped!
Now it’s time to take another step: you need something to add to your pasta. In Italy we always serve pasta with a condiment, never have it unseasoned as a side. There are thousands of different sauces and condiments you can have with pasta; it is a very versatile product, in fact you can match it to almost any food: its delicate and balanced taste goes well with everything!
Italian cuisine is characterised by simplicity: most of its recipes require only four to eight ingredients. As long as you choose fresh and good quality ingredients, you will end up with a palatable dish.
I recommend not to use ready made sauces. Not only they don’t taste as good as the real thing, they usually contain loads of preservatives, excessive amounts of salt and artificial flavourings.
I know, I know… You are busy. Everybody is.
What if I’d say to you that you can prepare a healthy condiment in less than the pasta’s boiling time? No joke.
Of course, I’m not talking about elaborate, slow-cooked recipes.
I’m going to teach you how to prepare four tasty yet unpretentious pasta condiments (ready in 10 minutes or less), ideal for those days when you have no time, but still crave a decent meal:
- A quick tomato sauce
- Basil pesto
- Burro e Parmigiano (butter and Parmesan cheese)
- Aglio, olio e peperoncino (Garlic, oil and chili pepper)
If you haven’t read my previous post, 10 Easy steps to cook perfect pasta, please do so: a nice sauce would be wasted on overcooked and insipid spaghetti.
Are you ready?
simple tomato sauce
Surprisingly enough, there are a lot of versions of something as simple as tomato sauce can be. Well, maybe it is not so surprising if you think that tomato sauce is one of the basics of our cuisine, fundamental in the preparation of many Italian recipes.
The best results are obtained starting from the scratch, from raw fresh tomatoes, but at this time we’ll use tomato purée – way faster to cook. Consider that the traditional recipe entails more than one hour of cooking time.
All you will need (serves 4 to 6 people):
- Tomato purée, 500 ml – about 1 pint
- One garlic clove
- Extra virgin olive oil – 2 table spoons
- About six fresh basil leaves
- Pinch of salt
- Ground black pepper
- Optional: one small scallion (spring onion) or half a onion
After putting the water on heat for the pasta, cut lengthwise the garlic clove in halves and remove the internal, green part (do you know how’s that called? In Italy we often refer to it as the “soul” of the clove, no idea if that applies to English as well!).
Anyway… put oil and garlic in a deep pan or pot, and start cooking over low heat, until the garlic is golden but not burned.
If you like it, chop finely a small scallion or half a onion, and add it to the pan. I usually skip this passage, because I prefer only garlic in this particular recipe, though sometimes I add just a little scallion which is sweeter than onion.
If you added the scallion/onion in very small pieces, you only need to wait about 10 seconds, and then add the tomato purée.
Mix it well with a wooden spoon, then wash the basil leaves, take half of them and save the rest for later. Shred the leaves using only your hands, and put them into the sauce. Also add freshly ground black pepper, according to your tastes. I personally adore it, I add it to most dishes!
Put a lid on the pot, but make sure it’s not completely closed as the steam needs to get out. Stir from time to time.
Towards the end of pasta’s cooking time, add a few spoonfuls of boiling starchy water to the sauce and stir well; then add a pinch of salt, try and adjust accordingly.
Your tomato sauce is ready, you only need to add the strained pasta and the basil leaves you saved, and sauté over low heat for one minute.
- You can prepare the sauce in advance and store into the fridge, but remember to reheat it and add the pasta water.
- Play with the recipe: You prefer not to use garlic but a lot of onion? Go ahead. You’d rather have a chunky sauce? Choose canned diced tomatoes and coarse chop the onion. Love spicy food? Add your favourite chilli peppers together with the garlic. Find out how you like it better.
- Use it as a base for a richer sauce: use whatever you like, from olives to meatballs, cooked vegetables or anything you can think of.
- Top your tomato sauce pasta with grated Parmesan cheese.
This is a delicious speciality from Genova, really easy to prepare.
Basil shouldn’t be cut with metal blades, because that makes them darker, so if your blender features a set of plastic blades, use them. If not… it’s not a huge problem really, just go ahead.
The ingredients to make basil pesto for 4 portions of pasta, are:
- Basil leaves, washed and gently dried – 50 grams (1.76 oz)
- Extra virgin olive oil – 100 ml (half a glass, 3.52 fl. oz)
- 2 garlic cloves (remove the centre as explained before)
- 6 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese (about 70 g)
- 2 tablespoons of grated Pecorino cheese (about 30 g)
- 1 tablespoon of pine nuts (15 g)
- A big pinch of coarse salt
Cut the garlic cloves in chunks and put it in the blender together with half the salt.
Blend for a couple of seconds, or give 2-3 pulses. We want the garlic coarsely minced at this stage. Add the basil leaves and the remaining salt and pulse a couple of times to start shredding it.
Now put in the grated cheese and the pine nuts, and blend briefly again. Finally add the oil, and give it the last pulse.
I personally prefer when pesto is not completely smooth, I like the texture given by little pieces of garlic and pine nuts and the bigger pieces of basil. Of course, if you want it more uniform, just blend more.
As regards the pasta, I suggest choosing linguine (sort of spaghetti, but flat) as for the traditional recipe, but you really can pick any shape you like.
When your pasta is ready, just strain it and put it in a bowl (not in the pot, because it is still hot), add the pesto and stir thoroughly.
That’s it! Now enjoy your fantastic pasta al pesto!
- You can make it in advance, and store in the fridge in a airtight container for up to three days;
- When you mix pesto with pasta, eat it immediately after that: reheating it would cook the pesto and you don’t want that! 🙂
- I usually don’t buy ready-made sauces, pesto is the only exception to that: I always check the ingredients, the colour (it should be a vivid green), and prefer the fresh kind (you can find it refrigerated).
butter and parmesan cheese
I just discovered something new about this recipe. Have you ever heard “Fettuccine (or pasta) Alfredo”? Well, I just discovered that it is basically pasta with butter and parmesan.
Before this day I came in contact with this recipe, I found it in several menus of Italian restaurants abroad, and I always thought it was not an actual Italian recipe. But apparently it is! So probably you already know what it tastes like.
This is all you will need to make it at home:
- Butter, 250 g – 8.2 oz (it must be at room temperature)
- Grated Parmesan, 350g – 12.35 oz
- Some salt
- Ground black pepper and/or nutmeg (optional)
- Some of the water where pasta is boiling
I recommend using fresh pasta for this recipe: not only it is tastier, but makes the water starchier, and we need that to give the right texture to the sauce.
Put the butter in a bowl, then strain the pasta and put it in as well. Stir thoroughly.
When you’re done add the cheese and keep stirring, pouring some pasta water in it as needed: the cheese will melt and you will get a creamy sauce.
Now taste it and salt, pepper and nutmeg according to your tastes.
garlic, oil and chilli pepper
This is one of the simplest things you could possibly cook, it requires about two minutes to be ready an is made with:
- Extra virgin olive oil, 50 g – about 5 tbs.
- 2 small garlic cloves (or a big one)
- One of you’re favourites chilli peppers
- Washed and gently dried parsley, 5 g – 0.18 oz
- Some pasta water (about 3 tbs)
Being the preparation very quick, it is better if you start doing it while the pasta is boiling.
Put in a frying pan one peeled garlic clove, the oil and the chilli pepper, only after slicing it and removing the seeds. Put over gentle heat.
When the whole garlic clove starts to get golden, remove it and put in instead the sliced one.
Be careful not to burn them, and as soon as they turn golden take out of heat.
Strain the pasta, put it back in the pot over low heat, and then add the water you saved, the chopped parsley and a pinch of salt.
Stir, serve and enjoy!