Pasta is the easiest menu addition you can make
Pasta always seems to be on those “trending” lists –– either it’s hip or it’s going away. Any way you view pasta, it has had a wonderful history. Researchers have found that this delicious concoction of wheat, egg and salt wasn’t founded in Italy, or even China, but it is both Arab and Indian in origin. In these countries, pasta was called righta or sevika (meaning “string” or “threads”). It is thought that traders in Genoa and Venice were influenced by pasta and named their new dish spago, which means “string” and is an early form of the word spaghetti.
Before the advent of pasta, the early Mesopotamians followed by the Romans were very fond of soaking and cooking grains, chickpeas, farro, groats and barley into a mush, adding lots of items from dates to beets, lentils, herbs and peas to the meal. This nutritious gruel was purported to be medically beneficial and placated the lower and middle classes by filling their bellies. In fact, ancient Babylonians mocked the Palestinians for eating “bread with bread,” or dipping bread in this filling porridge.
Could this possibly have been the first pasta sauce? Who knows. Nowadays pasta sauces have taken on a life of their own, changing with the pasta used, the chef, the restaurant and even the tastes of the restaurant.
If you have a béchamel or alfredo sauce you use in your pizzeria, you can blow up your pasta menu with ease. Consider these flavor profiles. (Some of these are based on sliced or diced onion and spice, run through your pizza oven and ground up in a blender.)
- Pesto cream sauce: spinach, tomato filets, shrimp.
- Feta cream sauce: with black olives, tomato, spinach, chicken.
- Curried onion cream: with broccoli, roasted garlic, chicken.
- Chipotle-onion cream: with jalapeño, tomato, cheddar, beef.
- Bacon cream sauce: with artichoke, mushroom, chicken.
- “Aurora” sauce (i.e. tomato cream): peas, roasted red peppers, Asiago, meatball.
There are many tomato sauces at your fingertips. From chunky-sweet to ground fine, they all have found a home in many pasta sauces. Summer is also a great time for fresh tomatoes.
- Tomato filet: garlic, oregano, extra virgin olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Roman style: ground tomato, anchovy, oregano, garlic, green olives.
- Pear tomato: broccoli rabe, pork sausage, capers, Romano cheese.
- Diavolo: ground tomato sauce, garlic, basil, parsley, chili flakes, pepperoni, fresh mozzarella.
- Alla Putanesca: fresh cherry tomato, garlic, oregano, anchovy, capers, cerignola olives, parsley, olive oil.
- Roast peppers-tomato: ground peppers, ground tomato, roasted onion, sausage, oregano, basil, olive oil.
Along with having sauces already prepped and waiting for cooked pasta, there are other ways to make an impressive pasta sauce. Here are a few:
- Pan sauces: These usually start after cooking a protein like meat, chicken or fish. The caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan are de-glazed with any liquid into a dynamic and intense juice. This flavor bomb is then extended with either fatty butter, wine, vegetables or broth. As this amalgamation of flavors heat up, the cooked pasta is tossed with the protein and then topped with fresh herbs and cheeses.
- Broths: Sliced protein is sautéed first in garlic or onion, then crisp vegetables are added. More flavors are layered on like soy, ginger, fish sauce, coloratura, butters, tomato broth or citrus juices. Finally, a hot broth like chicken, beef or fish stock (or dashi, miso or even a salsa combination) is added followed by pasta and fresh herbs, greens, chives, scallion, bottarga and/or cheese.
- Simple Fats: A powerful fatty sauce works wonders with stuffed entrée pastas and large ribbon pastas. Proteins or vegetables are sautéed in a pan with other aromatics and butter, lardo, bacon or extra virgin olive oil. This sauce can just coat the pasta. Cream, sherries, ricotta, mascarpone or even more butter can be added with wilted greens, spinach and even nuts, anchovies and cooked beans.
Fettuccine with Roasted Poblano Cream (Rajas con Crema)
If you are attracted to a little heat in pasta dishes, this has a wonderful spectrum of heat and flavor levels. The roasted poblanos offer a little tinge (depending upon the season), and the red pepper flakes are at your discretion. Both are articulated in a creamy sauce with texture from your in-house ham slices cut into ribbons and the brightness of fresh cherry tomato and lemon. This dish can be topped with sliced avocado, sour cream or with a tomato salsa.
Roast 8 medium-sized garlic cloves until soft. Cool and chop in small cubes.
Using a hot barbecue grill, your conveyor or deck pizza oven or the gas burner on your stove, roast 2 medium poblano peppers, (approximately 6.25 ounces) until all the skin is charred. If using a pizza oven, make sure to rub the peppers with olive oil and place the peppers in a pan so they do not splatter. Charring should take no longer than 10 minutes. If more, increase the heat.
When the peppers are charred, place them in a bowl and seal with a plate, plastic wrap or a lexan to steam for at least 10 minutes. This will facilitate an easier removal of skin from the poblano.
To skin, pull the charred skin away and pinch the top of the pepper off, split the sides and remove the seeds. You may use water to do this, but you will also lose flavor at the same time.
Place the poblano flesh on a cutting board and slice into ribbons vertically from the long side.
Roasted Poblano Cream (Rajas con Crema)
Pizzeria Makeline Manicotti
You don’t have to go far to make this delicious gem, because it consists of things from your own make line like bacon, Parmesan, spinach and ricotta. I use fresh spinach, but you can also use blanched, frozen spinach. Here, the shells are boiled and then cooled and piped with a wonderful filling for a final bake in the oven with your own marinara. I’ve purposefully left out an egg, which is traditionally mixed in with the ricotta, to bring the bake time down from 40 minutes to 20.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio, and is an award-winning pizzaiolo, baker, teacher, speaker and author.