Cheating in the kitchen.

Yes, I know. WDW post is pending. I had a full-featured, action-packed day at the office and tomorrow looks like more of the same. You can't serve Blog and Mammon at the same time.

Anyway.

Raving foodie that I am, I sometimes (like, say, today) don't have the time to make dinnah for the assembled and have to throw something together. Invariably that will be some variation on pasta. Or, sometimes, you don't want to do that whole "from scratch" tap dance or worse, you wanted to, but didn't and know you're up against the clock.

The first of my cheats is Victoria Marinara Sauce. This is clearly an Italian-American sort of sauce, more "gravy" from the North End or Little Italy than anything you can imagine. It is medium-thick, orangy-red, pulpy with little reddened globules of olive oil. There is a savory cooked-in garlic/onion thing going on with an undertone of meatiness. There is no added sugar (or any other sweeteners) and there are no tomato pastes or purees* or anything like that. This would be ideal for braising bits of beef/pork/veal or meatballs for putting on the "macaroni for Sunday dinner."

Good base for turning into an authentic-ish bucatini amatriciana or fra diavolo (much better than Victoria's jarred equivalent) or as a solid building block for a very correct bolognese, too. Great price and available pretty much nationwide, including Costco, pretty soon...although you might have to buy a pallet thereof.

The next cheat is Pomi's Marinara. In contrast to the Victoria sauce, this is Italian-Italian. The sauce is an unmistakable fresh-tomato-red, moderately chunky and it is minimally cooked (probably no more than absolutely necessary for the purposes of its excellent aseptic packaging, synergistically heightening that freshness thing). Whereas Victoria has that long-cooked taste with a strong bedrock of garlic and onion with supporting herbal players, this one has it the other way around; more Brindisi than Brooklyn. Freshness is key, and the bright herbal hit is noticeable, with the garlic, etc. doing the supporting role, all of which are ably aided and abetted by a nice undercurrent of olive oil (EVOO, from what I can gather, because it has that decidedly EVOO flavor note), in decidedly non-Italian-American dosages. There is a trace amount of sugar, but not in any noticeable way.

If you need to pair some sort fresh pasta (especially filled pasta) this is your go-to sauce right here. It is also stellar with most seafood-inflected pastas (mussels, clams, squid, most fish and the smaller/brinier shrimp) and a good start for making a quick puttanesca or arrabiata.

My third cheat is de Cecco egg fettucine. Mind you, making fresh pasta is no big deal, but sometimes you can't even spare the 20 minutes to do that (or you didn't have the presence of mind to make extra and freeze, or you ran out). Under those circumstances this gets you 9X% of the goodness with out-of-the-box convenience.

Naturally, fresh (i.e. egg) pasta suffers from drying, but in this case it's compensated by the fact that de Cecco uses better eggs and flour than you or I have readily available. The only criterion in which this is a (close!) second to fresh pasta is in texture. The dried stuff can never equal the silky, elastic mouthfeel of fresh. That said, this pasta takes to sauce like a champ, both absorbing it and allowing it to cling. This, and its Goldilocks size, allows the pasta to pair well with the greatest variety of sauces imaginable, particularly with the variations on the aforementioned jarred gems.

Another de Cecco gem is their pennette, which is a typical "dry" pasta (i.e., egg-free) with a gloriously flexible--in terms of usage--shape and a wonderfully wheaty taste and a great al dente texture that holds up even on the plate. This isn't, strictly speaking, a cheat...it's a staple of the pantry, but I figured while we're at it, I might as well give it a plug. It also has teh benefit of being cheap. Good for chunky/meaty sauces.

I mention these because they should be available at supermarkets almost anywhere (the Victoria might be a bit rough for the non-USA/Canada crowd) at a decent price AND they are a "killer app." These are things you want in a cheat.

As great as other cheats might be (I'm thinking of Cipriani pasta and Citarella Lobster/Fra Diavolo or Coppola's Porcini-Marsala), not being able to score them without a ride to Williams-Sonoma or a doorbelling from FedEx or a steep-ish price tag (further bloated by minimum quantities and/or shipping costs) take them out of the running.

Now you know.

-J.

* The most expensive part of making tomato-based pasta sauces is the shipping of the tomatoes, which are 96% water. To make it cheaper, the tomatoes are processed to remove varying amounts of the H2O, which weighs a ton...making the shipping cheaper and the taste inferior.

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