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RECIPES: Pasta pairings made in the time it takes to get al dente

by Kelly Brant | September 25, 2019 at 1:45 a.m.
Marcella Hazan's Butter Tomato Sauce with parsley and parmesan with long fusilli bucati pasta Photo by Jeff Gammons

Most of the time, it seems pasta at home relies on two options: sauce from a jar or sauce that requires hours of simmering.

It's true nothing is faster than popping open a jar of sauce someone else made and zapping it in the microwave. But there are plenty of flavorful pasta sauces one can whip up while waiting for a stockpot of water to boil, give or take 10 minutes.

If you're pinched for time, but still want a from-scratch tomato sauce, this one adapted from the blog Pinch of Yum comes together in about 20 minutes.

Quick Butter Tomato Sauce

1½ pints cherry or grape tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon garlic paste (look for it near the fresh herbs at the grocery store) OR minced garlic

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons butter

In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook tomatoes, stirring frequently, until skins are blistered, about 4 minutes. Stir in olive oil and garlic (careful! — it could spatter) and reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to split open. Season with salt and pepper. Using a wooden spoon, gently mash tomatoes to release their juices — they won't all be ready to burst at the same time, be patient. When about half of them have burst, stir in the balsamic vinegar and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until all of the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the butter and cook, stirring, until butter is completely melted and incorporated. Use immediately. If a thinner sauce is desired, stir in some of the pasta's cooking water to achieve desired consistency.

Makes about 1½ cups.

Recipe adapted from Lindsay Ostrom of

Marcella Hazan's Butter Tomato Sauce with parsley and parmesan with long fusilli bucati pasta
Photo by Jeff Gammons
Marcella Hazan's Butter Tomato Sauce with parsley and parmesan with long fusilli bucati pasta Photo by Jeff Gammons

If you have an hour, Marcella Hazan's Butter Tomato Sauce has legions of fans. It's simple, yet not lacking in flavor. And, it's possible you have all of the necessary ingredients on hand already.

Try it on long noodles such as spaghetti, fettuccine or long strands of fusilli bucati.

Marcella Hazan's Butter Tomato Sauce

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, no salt or herbs added OR 2 pounds fresh Roma or plum tomatoes

5 tablespoons butter

1 small white onion, roots trimmed, peeled and cut in half

Kosher salt

If using fresh tomatoes, bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut a small "x" in the bottom of each tomato. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, plunge each tomato into the boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just long enough for the peel to loosen where you cut the x. Drain well and when cool enough to handle, peel and coarsely chop them.

Place the tomatoes, butter, onion halves and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally and pressing on the tomatoes to crush them, for 45 minutes or until mixture is thickened and droplets of fat appear on the surface. Remove and discard the onion.

Makes about 2 cups.

For the tomato-adverse (or allergic) this sauce gets its vibrant red color and punchy flavor from roasted red bell peppers.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

2 red bell peppers (see note)

1 small white onion, halved

4 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup vegetable stock

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt to taste

Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

¼ cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves

Heat broiler. Line a broiler-safe pan with foil.

Cut peppers in half and remove cores and seeds. Arrange peppers, onion halves and the garlic cloves on the prepared pan. Broil, rotating pan as necessary, until pepper skins are uniformly blackened and onion is tender and deep golden, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven, pull up corners of foil to tent and set aside until cool enough to handle. Once cool, remove and discard pepper skins and squeeze the garlic from its papery skins.

In a blender or food processor, pulse roasted red peppers, onion and garlic until combined and smooth.

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Carefully pour in the roasted red pepper mixture. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the vegetable stock, sugar, salt and peppers. Reduce heat to medium-low, and let the sauce simmer 5 to 10 minutes; keep warm until ready to serve. Garnish with basil.

Makes about 2 cups.

Notes: Can substitute 1 (15-ounce) jar roasted red bell peppers.

Mozzarella Cream with trottole pasta garnished with cracked black pepper Photo by Jeff Gammons
Mozzarella Cream with trottole pasta garnished with cracked black pepper Photo by Jeff Gammons

Here, mild and creamy fresh mozzarella takes the place of nutty parmesan. This sauce can be a bit tricky — the mozzarella must be fresh or the results will be stringy — but it is delicious when it works and even when it doesn't. It is especially good with spinach ravioli but works with long noodles too.

Mozzarella Cream

4 ounce ball fresh mozzarella (plus brine from package), chopped OR 4 ounces cherry-size mozzarella balls PLUS 1 tablespoon brine

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup butter, cut into chunks

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the mozzarella and brine, the heavy cream and butter. Cook, stirring until the mozzarella has melted. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any solids. Season with salt and pepper. Use immediately or return to the saucepan over low heat until ready to use.

Makes about 1½ cups (enough to sauce 4 to 6 servings of pasta).

Recipe adapted from Tuscany: Simple Meals & Fabulous Feasts From Italy by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi

Flat ribbon pasta like fettuccine and linguine are traditional partners for cream sauces such as Alfredo but don't overlook shapes like trottole with plenty of nooks and crannies for catching the rich, flavorful sauce.


2 cups heavy cream

½ cup (1 stick) butter

¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (we use a rasp-style grater for quick melting fluffy strands)

1 teaspoon garlic powder, or to taste

Ground black or white pepper, to taste

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg, optional

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine heavy cream and butter; cook until butter is melted, stirring frequently. Slowly whisk in the parmesan cheese and garlic powder. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with ground black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.

Makes about 2½ cups.

This sauce comes together in a flash, be sure your pasta is almost done before you start. Tagliolini is traditional, but angel hair, vermicelli and spaghetti work well too.

Lemon Cream

1¼ cups heavy cream

Juice and zest of 1 large lemon

Salt and ground black pepper

Cooked pasta, for serving

1 ounce freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

In a wide skillet, heat the cream, lemon zest and juice over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the drained pasta and the finely grated parmesan and toss gently to coat. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted from recipes by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi and Emiko Davies

Pistachio Pesto with farfalle (bow tie) pasta

Photo by Jeff Gammons
Pistachio Pesto with farfalle (bow tie) pasta Photo by Jeff Gammons

Classic pesto is a combination of basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil. It's delicious tossed with hot pasta, as a seasoning for roasting potatoes, stirred into steamed vegetables, slathered on crusty bread or just about anything else you want.

Create-Your-Own Pesto

4 cups fresh herbs (basil is traditional), tender leafy greens or a combination

½ cup shredded medium/hard cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano is traditional) but cheddar, asiago, feta or romano would work too

5 tablespoons nuts (pine nuts are traditional) or seeds such as pistachios, almonds, pecans or sunflower seeds

2 cloves garlic, raw or roasted

¼ teaspoon salt and pepper

Crushed red pepper flakes, optional

¼ to 1 teaspoon lemon juice, balsamic vinegar or other flavorful acid

½ cup olive oil, plus more as needed

In a food processor, combine the herbs, cheese, nuts, garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes (if using) and lemon juice and process to a paste. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream while pulsing for about 10 seconds. Scrape sides and continue processing, adding oil as necessary to create desired consistency. Use immediately or transfer to a jar, top with a thin layer of olive oil, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Pesto will keep refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 6 months.

Makes about 1 cup.

Recipe adapted from Pesto: The Modern Mother Sauce by Leslie Lennox

Pistachio Pesto
Photo by Jeff Gammons
Pistachio Pesto Photo by Jeff Gammons

Pistachio and parsley give this rich pesto its flavor. It is excellent on its own and divine when enhanced with a little cream or combined with a bit of Alfredo sauce.

Pistachio Pesto

¾ cup shelled, roasted pistachios

1 ounce parsley leaves and tender stems (about ½ bunch)

1 clove garlic, peeled

Scant ½ cup olive oil

Juice from 1 large lemon

1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

In a food processor, pulse the pistachios until they are the texture of very coarse sand. Add the remaining ingredients and process until to desired texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container, top with a thin layer of oil and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Makes about 1½ cups.

Recipe adapted from The Long and Short of Pasta: A Collection of Treasured Italian Dishes by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi

Food on 09/25/2019

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