Tuesday 12 February 2013
Great White Pasta Sauce Technique
I wasn't originally planning on blogging about this, but it turned out so good I decided I'd share anyway. I was cooking a pasta dish with vegetables and I wanted to make a cream sauce. Usually I'll do some variation that includes butter, cream and Parmigiano Reggiano. This time I experimented with some crème fraîche I had picked up at the market over the weekend. While my pasta was boiling in one pot, I sautéed my vegetables in a pan. Then I added crème fraîche and stirred that in until I basically had creamed vegetables. Then before straining my pasta, I added two ladles of the starchy, salted pasta water to my sauce. It came together very nicely and draped everything in the dish.
Crème fraîche is a soured cream with a flavour between that of whipping cream (or heavy cream) and sour cream. It only has a slight sourness to it. Milder than sour cream and is more viscous. When heated, it melts well where sour cream will just separate. It's a great product. It's incredible on fruit and in desserts, but as I'm about to show you, it has the same potential for the savoury. You should definitely get some if you can find it. If not, it's very easy to make. All you need is two ingredients and a day to make it. All you do is add 1 tablespoon of buttermilk to one cup of whipping cream (or heavy cream), give it a stir, cover it, and leave it at room temperature overnight. I haven't tried it, but I also read that you can use plain yogurt in place of buttermilk.
I made orrecchiette pasta. In Italian, orecchio means "ear" and orrecchiette means "little ears", referring to the shape of the pasta. They are small discs of pasta with a central depression. They have a very interesting texture as the middles are slightly thinner than the rims. This makes them soft in the center and more al dente around the outside. Because they are essentially little cups they are expert carriers for various sauces.
So for this particular dish I sautéed 2 diced shallots and 2 minced garlic cloves in olive oil and let them sweat for 2 or 3 minutes. Then I added the light part of 1 leek, chopped, along with a red chili that I seeded and chopped. After a few more minutes I added a little over a cup of crème fraîche. I let that melt into a sauce and stirred the vegetables around in it for a few minutes. The crème fraîche will reduce a little and coat everything in the pan. Two ladles of the boiling pasta water thinned everything else into a beautiful, thin cream sauce infused with all the aromatic vegetables. Then I added a large handful of baby spinach to the pan and stirred them until they wilted into the sauce. By that time the pasta was ready to be drained. Before adding the pasta to the sauce I seasoned with freshly ground salt, pepper, a good pinch of cayenne pepper and about 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. I really love fresh tomatoes in light, creamy pasta. I had some multicoloured, mini heirloom tomatoes that I halved and threw in last. Then when I plated I topped with more Parmigiano and fresh parsley.
This was a great, quick dish. Obviously it was vegetarian but this would have been incredible with a fillet of an oily fish like salmon or trout and even strips of grilled chicken. Next time you're planning on a creamy pasta dish you should give this a technique a try. You could make a slightly thicker sauce by using more crème fraîche and less pasta water. This was just about perfect for me. Just one tip about seasoning, Parmigiano Reggiano has quite a bit of salt already and so will the pasta water. So you don't want to go overboard with the seasoning. It may even be fine without any added salt. It all depends on your taste. If you don't have a habit of tasting your dishes before serving, you should definitely get into that. Getting a good sense of your taste for seasoning is a tremendous advantage if you're aiming to be a better cook. So always taste your food for salt and pepper. That even goes for other flavours like lemon, chilies and herbs.
Be happy and stay fed,