Mix me, make me saucy
August 4, 2010 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Give me your recipes for home-made pasta and stir-fry sauces. Quick, cheap and healthy preferred. If they can be made from store-cupboard ingredients, so much the better. I'm in the UK and I'm bored with cook-in sauces.

I like a bit of spice, but nothing above tikka masala level!
posted by mippy to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 108 users marked this as a favorite
This Brown Garlic Stir Fry Sauce is one of my favorites. I use it as my base stir fry sauce and then mix up the spices depending on what I'm making or how spicy I want it.
posted by pghjezebel at 6:09 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best sauce ever (my mama's):

Cherry tomatoes
An onion
Olive oil
A pinch of sugar

Dice the onion, sautee in the olive oil. Chop the tomatoes, add to onion. Salt and pepper, a pinch of sugar. About half an hour on the stove. Add fresh basil towards the end. Serve over pasta. Or on bread. Or right out of the pan.
posted by lydhre at 6:20 AM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

Pesto is easy to make if you have a food processor, just basil, garlic, salt, and olive oil, add nuts and cheese to taste.

One of my favorites is (1) saute a diced onion and some garlic in olive oil (2) add frozen chopped spinach and cook till it's hot but not dried out (3) add salt, pepper, basil (and/or other herbs), maybe a dash of cayenne, and a spoonful of honey (counteracts the bitter greens). Toss with hot pasta and parmesan cheese!

On the stir-fry end of things, try Peanut Sauce - add to stir-fry (esp noodles) right at the end after you take it off the heat. Lots of recipes out there, but it's basically a mix of peanut butter, soy sauce, tartness (lemon, lime, or vinegar), spices (hot, garlic, ginger, cumin), and (the key thing that takes it from adequate to delicious) coconut milk.
posted by aimedwander at 6:34 AM on August 4, 2010

Pasta sauce:
Stir fry in extra-virgin olive oil any or all of: an onion; several crushed cloves of garlic; several Thai chilis (2-3 adds a lot of flavor without going nuclear); a diced Portobello mushroom; 1/2 green or yellow pepper, diced (red is fine too but the others add more color); chopped scallions (green onions). I sometimes slice in some carrots, celery, pea pods, green beans, or whatever is on hand and appeals at the time.
Add in two large cans (ours are ~800m) diced or chopped tomatoes (hold back most of the juice) and 1 can (170g) tomato paste. Turn down heat and simmer at least an hour. Add the held-back tomato juice or water as necessary. Adjust seasoning during simmer with oregano, thyme, and lots of ground black pepper.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 6:35 AM on August 4, 2010

A peanut butter based sauce:

Creamy peanut butter, 1/4 cup
Soy sauce, 3 tablespoons
Water, 1/4 cup
Rice vinegar, or red wine vinegar, or red wine, 3 tablespoons
Lime juice, or lemon juice, 2 tablespoons
Fresh ginger, or sesame oil, 2 tablespoons
Fresh crushed garlic, 3 cloves
Sugar, 1 teaspoon
Red pepper flakes, or dried finely diced chilis, or chili paste, to taste

Pour this over hot pasta or a stir fry, works for both.
posted by copperbleu at 6:39 AM on August 4, 2010

My easy, go-to pasta sauce from cupboard ingredients is:

garlic (a whole bunch)
olive oil
canned (or ideally in a glass jar) tomatos
herbes de provence (a dried spice mix which ought to be readily available in the UK)

Chop and fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until just turning brown. Add the spices and fry a few more minutes. Add the tomato and heat through.

My easy cupboard stir fry sauce is:

soy sauce
dried coriander
fresh ground black pepper (white pepper is better if you have it)

Mix together and add to your stir fry. Adding some fresh ginger to the stir fry pan and frying a few minutes before you add the sauce improves things, as does fresh coriander (obviously).
posted by Go Banana at 6:40 AM on August 4, 2010

You can stir in jars of antipasti to pasta - sundried toms, mushrooms artichokes etc in oil and add cheese.

Not strictly your spec, but another quick thing in a wokI used to make is tinned salmon curry. Trust me, I don't like tinned salmon, but this works. Fry onion and spices, maybe a green pepper, and add a quartered tom and cook till it breaks down. Then add a tin of salmon and cook until heated. Add butter if you want and serve on rice or noodles.
posted by Not Supplied at 6:45 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I forgot - it would be good to tell you what I've been using!

Passata or pesto in a jar for pasta sauce - sometimes something like the Bertolli Pecorino (pecorino and tomato) or a Loyd Grossman Puttanesca sauce. I do not like any cheese/cream sauces that come in jars, I may like ones that don't (I love cheese, especially blue cheese and cheeses with a sour note like goat and Cheshire)

For stir-frys, it tends to be sweet and sour or sweet chili for me. I'd like more variety (the peanut butter ones sound ace, particularly as jar satay sauces taste a bit 'stale' to me) and maybe even some more curry-type sauces.
posted by mippy at 6:48 AM on August 4, 2010

I agree about home-made pesto. Easy and you can vary ingredients to taste quite easily. A great use for those stick/immersion blenders that have small "food processor" attachments.

I've found this "authentic" spaghetti carbonara recipe (does not involve cream as many restaurant / packaged carbonara sauces do) to be very good.

Pancetta, eggs and parmesan cheese are the key ingredients and all keep for a good long time in the fridge, compared to vegetables, so I have found it something I can pretty much make when I have nothing fresh in the house and need it to be fast.

The parsley is the only ingredient that really needs to be fresh and can be omitted if necessary. Equally you can probably get away with aging garlic or even none at all in a pinch. Wine can be substituted with vermouth, or avoided altogether.

Don't get me wrong: fresh garlic, parsley, eggs and the wine / vermouth stage add important flavour, but it's definitely a recipe that doesn't break down completely as soon as you modify it.

BTW nerds will tell you you need to use "slab" pancetta or even guanciale, but once again, the kind you can buy in UK supermarkets pre-cubed in a little sealed plastic container will be good enough.
posted by galaksit at 6:54 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I have good ravioli or tortellini, sometimes I will just sautee some garlic in olive oil on the stove and use that as a dressing. That way you don't mask the flavor of the pasta.
posted by radioamy at 6:54 AM on August 4, 2010

Parmgiano reggiano melted into whipping cream is very easy, very tasty. I like it on egg noodles with a bit of pepper and minced fresh parsley (a dish which also freezes well). Not something you'd want to eat a huge bowl of in one sitting, but a nice side dish.

Lazy variations on pesto can come out decently; you can just slop together some olive oil and basil and strew cheese and pine nuts on top and bypass the blending. A jar of marinated artichoke hearts is a nice enhancement.
posted by kmennie at 6:58 AM on August 4, 2010

Here is a curry-type sauce, then:

In a hot skillet with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil cook for 3-4 mins:
1 tablespoon each: turmeric, coriander, chili powder
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/4 tablespoon garam masala (only if you would like things to get hot)
Freshly pressed garlic, 2-3 cloves

Add 1 cup of coconut milk, add salt to taste
posted by copperbleu at 7:10 AM on August 4, 2010

I am with kmennie. Don't overlook the simplicity and deliciousness of just olive oil, garlic and cheese. It is also very flexible in the sense that you can add red pepper flakes or some herbs that you happen to have on hand. Also most sautéed vegetables could also be added to an arrangement like this.
posted by mmascolino at 7:24 AM on August 4, 2010

Open up some sausages and take out the middle bit. Mash it up with some onions and perhaps mustard. Fry it off and then mix in some sour cream.

Fry two anchovies per person in olive oil until they turn to paste. Add chilli to taste, lots of garlic and chopped parsley. Good with smoked mackerel.

Make a simple tomato sauce with an onion and a can of chopped tomatoes, then add one or more of
- either fish sauce, dark soy sauce or worcester sauce, or an anchovy or two
- bacon bits
- a bit of sour cream
- a dash of either lime juice, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar or sherry near the end
Taste as you go to make sure that the balance of all these things is how you like it.

Cook some sweet potato and an apple in some coconut milk until mushy. Whiz with a stick blender to the consistency of your choice. Finish with lemon juice. This also makes excellent soup.

Cook some spinach. Add nutmeg, sour cream, parmesan and salt to taste.

Sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice. This is good with cheap offcuts of smoked salmon and peas and/or green beans.
posted by emilyw at 7:27 AM on August 4, 2010

The best stir fry sauce ever includes fish sauce, the vietnamese kind, derived from fish that is allowed to ferment (nuoc mam). It's so tasty, not gross. It has an awesome salty savory flavor and it doesnt take much. You can add it to almost any stir fry sauce to bring it in a new direction.
posted by kenbennedy at 7:39 AM on August 4, 2010

Yummy things I regularly add in various combinations to basic pasta sauces (of the tomato-onion-garlic variety):

- Fish sauce especially when your sauce lacks depth.
- dried mint from Turkish/ Persian shops -- adds a lovely background freshness. I use it liberally.
- a pinch of good quality garam masala at the end of cooking
- lime or lemon zest, with a squeeze of juice to finish
- leftover cheese rind
- balsamic or sherry vinegar, whatever wine I have open (boil off the alcohol)
- sumac
- chili flakes (goes very well with the mint, above)

Most of the above you can taste as you add. My preference for the lighter flavoured sauces is to use fresh tomatoes, and reserve a handful to add towards the end so they maintain their fresh feeling, but you can certainly use tinned tomatos.

Consider a tin low-sodium chicken stock. use a little and freeze the rest in an ice-cube tray to toss into a sauce next time.

- Fresh vegetables that add to good tomato-based bases (ie added after the onion/ garlic and allowed to basically cook into the sauce): aubergine, mushrooms.

Also, do experiment with cheeses tossed, not grated, into the pasta. Cubes of Harbourne Blue, for instance, are delicious when melty and tomato-y.
posted by tavegyl at 7:45 AM on August 4, 2010

Another super simple pasta sauce.
Olive oil
Heated in a pan until the broccoli is cooked to your liking and garlic is browned.
posted by ecurtz at 7:45 AM on August 4, 2010

Brown butter is awesome on pasta. Just put some butter in a pan over medium heat until it browns (careful not to let it burn). I usually throw in some sage leaves and/or garlic towards the end. Toss with the pasta, and maybe some lightly cooked peas or asparagus.

This tomato and orange sauce is super easy and is really light and fresh. I like it on angel hair pasta.

I also like to cook penne in half water, half milk. Put just enough liquid to cover the noodles, then add a tin of diced tomatoes and some spices (oregano, thyme, garlic, s&p). You'll have to stir constantly and might need to add more liquid to keep it from sticking until you get cooked pasta and a thickened sauce. At the end, stir in cooked chunks of italian sausage (i acually use tofurkey sausage), sauteed mushrooms and roasted red peppers.
posted by bethnull at 8:04 AM on August 4, 2010

Puttanesca is really easy to make (although not quite cupboard based). It is also really pretty when you are cooking it.

Fry two cloves of garlic, one red chilli and a handful of chopped basil for a couple of minutes. Then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, a squeeze of tomato puree, a couple of handfuls of chopped black olives and a couple of chopped anchovy fillets. Cook it for a bit.

Actually, I am not a massive fan of anchovies so I use an olive and anchovy tapanade (like this) which is more expensive and less authentic but is really quick and easy and less intensely fishy.

I would also say that tinned tomatoes are one of the things in the supermarket where it is best to buy the more expensive ones because you really notice the difference and it is such an important part of the sauce.
posted by ninebelow at 8:05 AM on August 4, 2010

My go-to sauce for stir fries is a sweet and sour sauce. Just mix everything together and add to a hot pan with the rest of your ingredients, and cook for several minutes until the sauce thickens and reduces to your liking.

1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp pineapple juice
1/4 cup of cold water mixed with 2 tsp cornstarch
a clove or two of minced garlic

For pasta, I often make a simple cheese sauce:

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 cup shredded cheese

Make a roux with the butter and flour by melting the butter over low heat and stirring in the flour. Add the milk and bring to a boil, stirring often, until the mixture thickens a little. (It should still be looser than you want the final result to be, though, because it will thicken more when you add the cheese.) Then turn the burner off and stir in the cheese little by little until you have a smooth sauce. Taste and then add whatever other seasonings you like (I like garlic and black pepper, and maybe some herbs).
posted by spinto at 8:19 AM on August 4, 2010

Stir-fry: Garlic, ginger, soy sauce, a bit of chili paste (sambal oelek). Simple and works. Get your soy, chili and possibly even your ginger from a (SE) Asian market; if you haven't dared visit one, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the prices.
posted by holgate at 8:48 AM on August 4, 2010

Nobody has mentioned butter and garlic sauce, so here's that:
Sautee some minced garlic in a mix of butter and olive oil. This goes fast, and if you burn your garlic, you're better off starting over. Drop in your cooked pasta (spaghetti, linguini), and a little of the pasta water. Add some grated parmesan or romano, and a bunch of minced parsley and stir. Season w/ salt if needed. This is better than the sum of its parts.
posted by Gilbert at 10:26 AM on August 4, 2010

My stirfry sauce is pretty much the same as holgate's. Sambal Oelek, grated ginger, pressed garlic, soy sauce. Sometimes a bit of brown sugar or honey, and broth.

Another great flavor to add to stirfry sauces/marinates is spring onions. Put a few (trimmed and washed) in a blender with soy, some hot chilies, ginger and garlic. I'll often do this for tofu marinades, then strain the marinade and use it as a sauce in the stir fry.

For all stir fry sauces, the key is to have some cornstarch dissolved in water (or broth, or soy) standing by. Have your veg/meat going, toss in the main bit of sauce, then the dissolved corn starch. Try 1 tsp starch, to 2T water. Bring it to a boil and it'll get nice and thick.

This pasta dish often gets cooked when I haven't been to the grocery store in a while: small can of tuna (in oil), lemon juice, pressed garlic, capers, red chile flakes, 1 serving pasta of whatever kind you like, plus pasta water.

Start your pasta water, and cook pasta when it comes to a boil. Meanwhile, fry up the garlic and chile flakes in oil (if you buy nice tuna in olive oil, might as well use that), then add everything else. When the pasta is slightly underdone, move it into the sauce pan and simmer together. If things look a bit dry, add some pasta water or oil.

Not all cupboard ingredients, but delicious: Eggplant Pomodoro. I do canned tomatoes, so the only thing thats fresh is the eggplant. And it's vegan, until I cover it with parmesan.

Not so much healthy, but try making a béchamel sauce then adding roasted peppers. Sweet or spicy, your choice. Put it in a blender with any herbs you like. Cheese is optional, and in my opinion not really needed. Baby spinach can be nice too. If you're doing this with skim milk, you can kinda pretend it doesn't have butter in it.
posted by fontophilic at 10:31 AM on August 4, 2010

I think the best thing i learned in cooking Italian is that you don't really NEED a pasta sauce "recipe." There are a couple of bases - tomato, olive oil/butter, cream, maybe pesto (which, like risotto, is actually a METHOD not a recipe) - and once you're comfortable with those and which pasta shapes and types each is best suited for, you're good to go with whatever you have around.

For instance, you mentioned that you like bleu cheese - crumble some good Gorgonzola into a cream base with some herbs you think will taste good with your cheese (parsley? Dried oregano?), and you're good to go. Zucchini overflowing your garden? Chop it up in chunks and dump a big handful into your tomato base to simmer until it's tender. Leftover spinach salad taking up space in the fridge? Zap it in the food processor with some olive oil, some good Parmesan, and some nuts to toss with a short cut pasta.

Knowing the bases and adopting a fearless attitude are the keys. NOONE doesn't like pasta (ok, no one i want to KNOW doesn't like pasta!) and so long as you are adding ingredients you already like, how bad can it be?!?

In addition to "learn the bases," here's a couple of other tips that might help:

1. Finish cooking your pasta in it's sauce - a minute before it's done, empty the water, return the pasta to it's pot, and start adding in the sauce. The pasta will start soaking up the sauce flavors and taste a million times better.

2. The FEWER the ingredients, the BETTER the sauce. Let your diners really TASTE the bleu cheese or the zucchini or whatever; don't distract with little pinches of every dried herb in your cupboard.

3. Along the same lines: add flavoring ingredients like a Depression-era grandma - little by little, just enough, until you can taste the effect. You can always add MORE dried oregano, but getting it back OUT if you've been aggressive with the shaker can is impossible.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 11:04 AM on August 4, 2010

Not a recipe, but my favorite sauce trick: grate tomatoes on a box grater. You basically end up with crushed, peeled tomatoes in no time at all. Since it's summer, I end up making a sauce with one grated tomato, one grated zucchini (courgette), and one grated clove of garlic. I don't even really cook it - just toss it over the drained pasta in the pot a minute before serving.
posted by judith at 11:45 AM on August 4, 2010

Creme fraiche is a great substitute in most creamy pasta sauces - and half fat is a little better for you! A quick example: stir a couple of tablespoons into sauted vegetables (leek & mushroom is nice) then let it bubble for a minute or two before adding cooked pasta.
posted by dogsbody at 12:14 PM on August 4, 2010

My stir fry looks pretty much like most of the others, except for the addition of sesame oil and Srichacha. I love that stuff.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:30 PM on August 4, 2010

1. Finish cooking your pasta in it's sauce - a minute before it's done, empty the water, return the pasta to it's pot, and start adding in the sauce. The pasta will start soaking up the sauce flavors and taste a million times better.

Along these lines, it can be a good idea to keep a small amount of the pasta water aside before draining it. Adding a little back to the sauce can help the sauce coat the pasta better. Obviously you don't want watery sauce, so just add a little at a time to the hot pasta and sauce mixture if you feel it isn't incorporating well. Absorption and loss through steam should help avoid wateriness, as long as you use the still hot reserved water straight after draining the pasta.
posted by galaksit at 2:11 PM on August 4, 2010

- Just herbs, any herbs.
- Add any greens (kale, chard, spinach, etc.) to the pot of water at the end.
- A tablespoon of cream, butter, and parmesan.
- For many sandwiches, replace bread with pasta.
- Any cooked vegetable.
- Walnuts and bitter greens.
- Diced tomatoes and herb or olives.
- Tuna with lemon and or olives and capers, maybe some parsley or mint.
- Fry an over easy. Put into cooked pasta and stir.
- Broccoli, lemon, hot pepper flakes.
- Arugala, walnut, and asiago cheese "pesto".

- Check out the website Cooking with Patty.

Since people are including tips: Remember to add a couple tablespoons of salt to your water before boiling. Also, as Bittman says "No matter what your Mama told you, olive oil in water does not help keep pasta separate."
posted by xammerboy at 8:02 AM on August 5, 2010

Oh, amazingly delicious roasted red pepper sauce!

Seed and chop into chunks 4 red peppers, plus one onion and a head of garlic.
Put it all in a 9x13" pan, toss with olive oil, salt and black pepper.
Roast in a 350F oven for about 45 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Then, throw it into a sauce pan and use a stick blender to puree (this is the easiest way - you can obviously also put it into a blender or food processor). After it's blended, throw a handful or two of baby spinach into the sauce to let it wilt a bit.

Serve it over bowtie pasta (it's really yummy with whole wheat pasta). Mmmm!
posted by sabotagerabbit at 11:33 AM on August 5, 2010

A great japanese sauce for simmering stuff in:

1 1/3 cup dashi soup
5 tbsps soy sauce
3 tbsps mirin
2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp sake

Mix a packet of dashi soup stock in the water, bring to a low boil in the pan. Add the soy sauce, mirin, sugar and sake. Add your veggies first and cook until quite tender, then add your protein and cook until it's just done. Serve over rice. So simple, so tasty :)

If you use onions and beef, it's called gyudon. If you use onions, chicken, and some beated egg poured in at the very end, it's called oyakodon. I like to just use this as my stirfry sauce and put whatever I want in it :)
posted by lizbunny at 11:11 AM on August 6, 2010

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