Kitchen Shortcuts: the Improvised Sauce

by , under food, main course, recipes

WARNING: This post contains pictures taken on a cameraphone. For those of you who require hi-res fancy pictures… sorrry! I should get a new camera for me and a cheap one for the Oldest Kidlet, who is quite the photographer- but rough on cameras.

I know, I’m the Queen of Make-It-From-Scratch. But you know… there are a few places that I take shortcuts. A few products out there that you can get quality goods without filling foods with preservatives.

I don’t use baking mixes anymore- making a cake from scratch really doesn’t take that much longer. Same with pancakes.

So where do I use my shortcuts? I used canned tomatoes almost exclusively, and keep a good jarred tomato sauce on hand. Nothing with HFCS as an ingredient- but something that’s essentially doing all the work I would have done if I was making it myself. I try to get something that’s as basic as it gets. Tomato with a little basil. And I always keep a jar of that on hand. That way, when I feel like having pasta, I can grab that and tweak the sauce the way I want to.

For example, last week I was in the mood for pasta with a little something special. I had a jar of Fresh & Easy’s Creamy Tomato Alfredo sauce, which is basically a suga rosa but with some romano cheese thrown in. Which is lovely on its own, but I wanted to wake it up with a little something extra.

This recipe comes together really quickly. As you can see, I’ve got the water in a small saucepan. I usually make a meal just for myself, since one kid isn’t adventurous, and the other is allergic to most of the ingredients in this.

I also have a saute pan. Again, I’m using small pans because I’m making a single serving. If you want to replicate this for your family, make sure to use larger pans.

Also, I don’t cover my water when bringing it to a boil. Mostly because it gives me a little wiggle room when it comes to cooking everything else. I used cavatappi pasta, because I like the way the curls hold the sauce- but you can use what you like.

I cut lardons from a package of bacon. I wanted a lot of bacon- honestly, this would probably be enough bacon for 2-3 people. Using kitchen shears, just cut about 1″ off the end of a package of bacon.

Separate it and put it into the cold pan. Turn on the heat to just above the lowest setting, and let it crisp. Let it go for a bit on one side, then flip the pieces. You might have to flip it back and forth- but pay attention! Bacon can go from looking almost crisp to being burnt really quickly.

Also, it’ll finish cooking as it drains. So pull it out just before you think it’s ready, and drain on a paper towel. I set my paper towel in my cast iron skillet so that any grease that bled through the paper would help season my pan.

What I didn’t take a picture of was chopping mushrooms. I used plain ol’ white mushrooms and removed the stems (they snap right off), then chopped up the tops. Actually, I used my shears and cut them. After you remove the bacon, pour out all but a tbsp or so of the bacon grease (more if you’re making it for a lot of people). Then saute them. Normally I’d say, don’t move things around a lot- but really, mushrooms don’t take long to cook, and you want to get them softened evenly and coated in the goodness that was left in that pan. As far as seasoning goes, I only used pepper- I undersalted the pasta and mushrooms, since the salt from the bacon will carry through.

Drain the pasta, toss with the sauce, and add in your toppings. That’s it! A quick and special meal.

I usually keep mushrooms, onions, and bacon on hand- as well as some sour cream. Want to make a tangy cream sauce? Take your marinara sauce, buzz it with your immersion blender to make it smooth, and add a dollop of sour cream or goat cheese. Want to make it a little spicy? Toss some red pepper flakes into your saute pan, and add that to the sauce. Don’t want to use bacon? No need (I just love the flavor). Just by adding in a few pantry basics, and just sautéing them, you get a fabulously unique sauce.

Related: Alfredo: The Easiest Sauce You’ve Never Made