Sauces: Basic is best

sauces, variety, pizza sauce,“Made in house” is a unique marketing mantra that should be on your menu. The more items you prepare from scratch, the more you stand out from your competition across the street. Granted, some items are easier to make than others. And some items are more labor intensive than others. The good news? Sauces are neither difficult nor too labor intensive. And the right combination of scratch-made sauces can really set your shop apart.

With that in mind, I’d like to present to you five “mother sauces.” Once the basic sauce is made, you can add an ingredient or two to expand the usage possibilities. In other words, these five basic sauces open up a wide range of options for your customers to enjoy.

Marinara sauce

(for pasta, pizza, chicken parmigiana and eggplant parmigiana, with expansion to an herbed sauce for pizza or pasta).

Yields about 4 cups of sauce. Scale up in direct proportion

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
7 cups canned plum tomatoes, crushed by hand, juices drained
2 teaspoons each dried oregano and basil
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat for
1 minute. Add the onion and garlic. Cook and stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano and basil. Cook the sauce at a steady simmer for 20-25 minutes or until it has reduced slightly and shows no signs of being watery. Add the sugar. Salt and pepper to taste.

Use at once for pasta. Or let cool for later use on pizza and pasta. Can be held in the cooler, covered, for 4-5 days.

By adding 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley (or fresh basil) while the sauce is simmering, you will create a sauce with a slightly different flavor. Add crushed red pepper flakes or hot sauce to create a spicy arrabbiata variation.

Cream
(aka béchamel) sauce for pizza or pasta

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups milk
½ teaspoon crushed garlic
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Over medium heat in a saucepan, melt the butter (do not let it brown). Stir in the flour. Cook and stir until the mixture gets thick and pasty.

Add the milk in a steady stream while whisking. Stir until thickened, about
2-3 minutes. Off heat, add the garlic. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.

Let the sauce cool to room temperature before using on pizza. If the sauce thickens too much, add a bit more warm milk.

For pizza, spread a thin layer of sauce over the pizza shell. Add additional toppings, crumbled sausage, vegetables, etc. Bake.

For pasta, toss cooked and drained pasta with the sauce. Sauce works great for lasagna, too.

To expand the sauce usage, swirl in some pesto sauce after adding the Parmesan cheese.

Makes enough sauce for one 14-inch pizza.

Bolognese or Meat Sauce
for pasta (and eggplant parmigiana)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup chopped yellow onion
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup dry red wine
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
¾ pound ground chuck
7 cups tomato puree or ground canned tomatoes
1 tablespoon each dried oregano and basil
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, set over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add the onion and parsley to the pot. Raise the heat to high. Add the wine and boil rapidly for 2-3 minutes to cook off the alcohol.

Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the sausage, crumbling it with the tines of a fork. Add the ground chuck. Cook and stir until the meat is no longer pink—about 4-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano, basil and sugar. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Makes about 1 ½ quarts sauce. It will keep in the cooler, covered, for 4-5 days. Scale up in direct proportion.

White Clam Sauce

for Pasta (with expansion to red clam sauce)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 cup clam juice
2 teaspoons dried thyme
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cups canned chopped sea clams

In a saucepan or sauté pan set over medium heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute. Add the garlic and sauté only until the garlic is lightly browned. Discard the garlic. Add the clam juice to the pan. Add the thyme and the red pepper flakes. Simmer over low heat for
3-4 minutes. Add the pepper and the parsley.

Off the heat, add the chopped clams. Stir to combine.

To make this white clam sauce into a red clam sauce, simply stir in about ¼ cup marinara sauce.

This recipe will make enough sauce for about 4 servings of pasta. And it can be made ahead, but only to the point of adding the pepper and parsley.

Alfredo
for pasta (with expansion to a Primavera sauce for pasta)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups heavy whipping cream
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

In a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Do not let it brown.

Add the whipping cream. Bring the mixture to a low boil for 2-3 minutes to thicken the sauce. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan cheese. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg.

The sauce is now ready to toss with cooked and drained pasta and finish off.

Scale up in direct proportion.

By adding rounds of thinly sliced zucchini, blanched broccoli florets and cooked peas to the sauce when reducing it, you will now have Primavera sauce.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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