Italians will tell you it’s pasta with sauce — not sauce with pasta! Too much sauce buries the flavor of the pasta and overwhelms it.
Most pasta sauces — there are certainly exceptions — can be made in the time it takes the pasta itself to cook.
Smooth sauces or simple dressings (like olive oil or butter and cheese) or sauces in which the ingredients are small or cut into small pieces are most appropriate for long noodles like spaghetti and fettuccine. Chunky sauces, like those with pieces of sausage or cauliflower, tend to work better with short shapes like penne or farfalle. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule — like spaghetti with clams — but when I see angel hair pasta garnished with a pound of mixed seafood, as I often do on American menus, I suspect that the cook doesn’t know much about pasta.
Instead of meat, try adding vegetables to a light tomato sauce for a nutritious option with plenty of flavor and crunch.
Pureed roasted red peppers make a fast, great-tasting sauce too!
Keep fresh herbs on hand as a quick and easy way to add a lot of flavor. Basil, which has a very fresh, delicate flavor, is best added to sauces at the last minute to maximize its flavor. Rosemary is woodsy, so it’s especially suited to cream sauces and earthy ingredients, like mushrooms. Because sage is so pungent, it stands up well in heartier pasta dishes with veal and pork.
Instead of creating sauce out of cream and butter, start with a base of broth, vegetables, or vegetable purees and add fresh herbs for flavor. You can experiment with ingredients that simulate the texture of fat, but aren’t fatty. For example, to slim down your favorite lasagne recipe cut the quantity of ricotta cheese in half and puree it with two large eggplants that have been roasted and peeled.
Use a blender or a juicer to create your own combinations of vegetable purees. Then just bring to a simmer with your favorite herbs and spices and toss with pasta.
Pairing pasta with legumes, such as beans and lentils, or low-fat dairy products makes for protein-rich, but inexpensive and delicious meatless meals.
Think texture as well as flavor. Add a toss of toasted pine nuts or toasted chopped walnuts to a creamy pasta sauce for added interest.
Don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients. If you plan to use zucchini in a pasta sauce, but the eggplant looks particularly good, substitute the eggplant.
Always save some cooking water: Before you drain your pasta ladle a cup of cooking water into a bowl or measuring cup and reserve for your sauce.
Add some pasta water: Adding a touch of pasta water to your sauce when you add the noodles helps the sauce adhere better to the pasta. The water adds a bit of richness and flavour and the starchiness can help bring a split sauce back together.