Meals are so easily enhanced, given a bit of oomph and extra personality, when you add a sauce. Growing up in the late ’70s and ’80s, my Midwestern heritage and generation were trained to grab a bottle of ketchup or mustard and smother whatever was on your plate — on a special occasion maybe a bit of mayo or ranch. Just a little something to enhance your supper! I am not dissing ketchup and mustard, but sauce is much more complex.
The word “sauce” is French and means “with salt.” I personally interpret that as “adds flavor.” A good sauce can make a mediocre dinner fantastic and memorable. There are five Mother Sauces: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Tomato and Hollandaise. These are the basis for all modern-day interpretations. I like to whisk up a pan sauce or patiently make a reduction to drizzle over grilled meat, fish, roasted chicken and toss with my favorite pasta.
All you need is a combination of wine, butter, cream, herbs, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, cheese, Dijon, flour or another thickener and you can concoct a yummy sauce for any meal.
On the following pages are basic recipes, which are adaptable to whatever you are cooking for dinner.
Basic White Wine Cream
This basic sauce is great on noodles, chicken or fish.
1 Tbsp olive oil or butter
1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small or ½ large yellow onion, diced
1 cup dry white wine
½ tsp salt
pepper to taste
½ pint of heavy whipping cream
fresh thyme, basil, cilantro or tarragon
In a sauté pan, heat up the oil or butter, add the garlic and onion and a sprinkle of salt. Cook for a few minutes, whisking constantly so nothing burns. Add the white wine and another sprinkle of salt and pepper. Reduce the wine for another few minutes and add the cream. Continue to whisk until the cream thickens. Add any fresh herbs before serving. Always add the herbs at the very end so the fresh flavors carry through.
- Whisk in 1 cup of Parmesan cheese after adding the cream. This creates an Alfredo — great on noodles or chicken (add fresh or dried tarragon to chicken sauce).
- Add 8 oz sliced mushrooms to the garlic and onion sauté. Proceed. Add ½ cup Gorgonzola cheese to the cream, whisk until the cream thickens, then salt and pepper to taste. This is a rich and delicious cream sauce to drizzle over tenderloin or grilled steak.
- Whisk 1 tablespoon Dijon, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika and a sprinkle of cayenne into the cream. Finish with a handful of chopped fresh cilantro. The spicy, smoky cream sauce is a delicious accompaniment to grilled shrimp, pork chops or portabella mushrooms.
Basic Tomato Sauce
This is a quick and easy sauce to serve on noodles for a simple dinner. It is also the start for many other tomato-based sauces.
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ onion, diced
1 lb fresh tomatoes, blanched and diced, or a 16 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper
In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, add garlic and onion, and a sprinkle of salt. Cook until onions begin to turn translucent. Add the tomatoes and butter. Continue to cook over medium-high heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy over angel hair or thin spaghetti with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
- Spicy Puttanesca — add the following ingredients to the pan after the tomatoes are cooked down: ½ cup of a combination of green and Kalamata olives; one teaspoon crushed red peppers; one tablespoon capers; and a sprinkle of oregano and basil. Serve on top of grilled or baked fish or toss with your favorite pasta.
- Cacciatore — add the following ingredients to the garlic and onion: 1 red bell pepper, sliced thin, and 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced. Cook until onions begin to turn translucent. Add tomatoes and ½ cup Kalamata olives, a sprig of fresh rosemary and ¼ cup of red wine. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes to reduce the liquid and allow flavors to meld. This is a delicious sauce when paired with pan-seared chicken thighs. Cook chicken in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through halfway. Pour sauce over chicken, cover skillet with a lid and finish over low heat until chicken is done; it takes about 15 to 30 minutes.
Process more tomatoes than you need. Blanched tomatoes can be stored in the freezer until you need them.
You will need
sharp or serrated knife
gallon freezer bags
1) Bring a stockpot of salted water to a boil.
2) Cut a crisscross in the top of each tomato.
3) Drop tomatoes gently into the boiling water.
4) Process at a rolling boil for three to five minutes. Remove each tomato from the water when skin begins to peel back from the cross cut.
5) Grab the skin and peel it back from the fruit, the skin should be easy to remove.
Cut the tomatoes you plan to use immediately into chunks, remove extra seeds. Tomatoes you plan to use in the future should stay whole, placed in freezer bags and frozen for future meals.