Twist on a Basic Sauce

Let’s take a look at a few sauces that are unique yet useful. Sauces that will catch the eye of your customer and, just possibly, leave your competition in the dust. I am not suggesting that you go through a complete sauce makeover, because that would be foolish (customers will only accept subtle changes). What I am suggesting, though, is that you look at sauces in a whole new light. And I promise you it’s not going to hurt a bit.

For example, you can change the flavor profile of a basic red sauce simply by adding some heat. So a marinara sauce turns into a spicy, taste-tingling arrabbiata sauce just by adding one ingredient — crushed red pepper flakes. And this arrabbiata sauce can be used on either pasta or pizza.

Similarly, we can take a simple garlic and oil sauce (aglio e olio), a sauce that is a classic for just about any cut of pasta, and then by adding, say, some chicken broth and sauteed escarole, we create an entirely different and interesting sauce that is large with added texture and flavor. And now, to take it one step further, adding lightly sautéed scallops to the pasta and escarole sauce, we create yet another delicious dish.

In other words, what I am suggesting here is what I like to call “sauce layering.” Take the basics and add one, two, three additional ingredients to build a series of sauces that you can draw from, a portfolio that can be used as needed, especially as it relates to a range of ongoing daily specials.

Here are several unique and interesting sauces, for pizza and pasta, to pique your interest.

Luis’s Special Pizza

The popularity of salsa prompted the idea of adding salsa to the tomatoes for an extra kick. It works in a delicious way with this pizza, one that is deep with flavor and requires just a few toppings. There are many bottled salsas to choose from, so pick the one with the heat that you want to work with.

Makes one 14-inch pizza. (Scale up in direct proportion)

3/4 pound chorizo
3/4 cup crushed tomatoes
½ cup thick and chunky medium salsa
1 14-inch pizza shell
10 ounces Monterey Jack cheese (about 2 ½ cups)
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro

In a sauté pan over medium-heat, crumble the chorizo and cook through while breaking up the larger pieces (about 4 minutes). Drain the grease from the pan. Transfer to a bowl or plate (can be prepped ahead up to this point and held).

Combine the crushed tomatoes and the salsa and blend thoroughly. Sprinkle half the cheese over the crust. Spoon the sauce over the cheese in several globs. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the sauce. Sprinkle the cooked chorizo over the cheese, pushing it into the cheese with your fingers. Sprinkle on the cilantro. Bake.

Clam Pizza with Red Sauce

One of the most popular pasta dishes in Italian restaurants is linguine with clam sauce. Now take this idea and use it on pizza and watch the smiles from your customers.

Makes one 14-inch pizza. (Scale up in direct proportion)

1 14-inch pizza shell
Olive oil
3/4 cup all-purpose crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons clam juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 ounces chopped clams, drained
3 ounces grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Brush the pizza shell with olive oil. Combine the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, clam juice and crushed garlic. Spread the clam sauce over the pizza shell. Sprinkle on the chopped clams, the Parmesan cheese, oregano and the parsley. Bake.

Fusilli alla Siciliana

The dominant flavor of olives and olive oil always signifies a dish peculiar to southern Italy. Serve this delicious pasta dish hot or cold (as in a cold pasta salad). The sauce should be of coarse texture, so do not process it too much.

Makes 4 servings as a pasta course (scale up in direct proportion)

1/4 cup green olives, pitted
½ cup oil-cured black olives, pitted
3/4 cup roasted red bell peppers (jarred peppers are fine)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 pound fusilli or similar short pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a food processor, blend the olives, peppers and olive oil into a coarse puree. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain well and put the pasta in a large bowl. Add the sauce and toss to combine. Add the Parmesan and toss again. Portion and serve.

Rigatoni with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

Use this luscious sauce on any cut of pasta (though I prefer to use a short hollow pasta like rigatoni or ziti for this creamy sauce, because the holes in the pasta grab the sauce).

Makes enough sauce for 12 ounces of cooked pasta

3/4 pound rigatoni or ziti
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ cups whipping cream
2 ounces (½ cup) Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta until al dente, drain well, keep warm. In a large sauté pan set over medium heat, melt the butter (do not brown). Add the whipping cream and raise the heat to medium-high. Add the Gorgonzola and bring the sauce to a steady simmer to reduce slightly (about 3 minutes) while creaming the small crumbles of Gorgonzola into the sauce with the back of a spoon. Lower the heat. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce. Toss to coat. Add the Parmesan and toss again. Serve at once.