Entertaining, especially during the holiday season, can be challenging. Not only do you need to spend time wrapping gifts, baking cookies, getting the house and yourself ready, but you need to make meals! A dinner menu can be expensive. Just look at the cost for a beef or pork roast; you can easily spend more than $20.00 – $30.00 just on the entree. Save money and time by making several pasta sauces before the holidays, freeze them and defrost them, as needed, for entertaining over the busy holiday season.
You can make Italian pasta sauces with or without meat ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen for many months. Pasta cooks quickly. Toss it with one of these great sauces, below, and you have a quick delicious meal your guests are sure to appreciate. All you need to round out the menu is a simple appetizer, a bottle of wine and an easy dessert.
I keep an assortment of dry pastas and frozen fresh pastas, on hand, to help with stress free entertaining during busy times. You just need to decide what type of pasta you want to make for a dinner party and fit the sauce to the pasta type. The texture of pasta will often determine the type of pasta sauce that can most effectively be used — thicker or shaped pastas can withstand heartier sauces, while thin pastas have better results with lighter sauces.
Good pasta sauces enhance the delicate flavor of the pasta without overpowering it. There are many types of pasta sauces, from the light and simple marinara sauce to the thick and rich Alfredo sauce. Traditional sauces are made from a base of tomatoes, vegetables, herbs, cream, meat or cheese. Some types of pasta sauces combine several ingredients to make a more complex sauce. Bolognese sauce, for example, includes meat, tomatoes, cream, wine and fresh herbs.
Types of Sauces
Marinara sauce is a simple, basic sauce made from tomatoes and olive oil. The tomatoes are seasoned with garlic and fresh basil. Some recipes also add other ingredients, such as onions and parsley. Fresh tomatoes are ideal, but you can use canned, peeled tomatoes instead.
Bolognese or Meat Sauce or Ragu
Bolognese sauce is named for its origin in Bologna, Italy. Traditional Bolognese sauce includes two or more types of meat chopped into small pieces. When cooked, the meat blends in with the other ingredients, seasonings and herbs. A variety of vegetables, including onions, celery and chile peppers, can be added to the tomatoes and olive oil. Seasonings include nutmeg, basil, oregano and bay leaves. Some cooks add cream or milk to give the sauce a rich flavor.
Alfredo is a rich, creamy white sauce. You can use heavy cream, or substitute half and half or whole milk for a lighter version. The cream is mixed with butter and grated Parmesan cheese. The sauce is seasoned with pepper and, sometimes, nutmeg. Alfredo sauce is usually served on fettuccine noodles.
Puttanesca is a strong, spicy red sauce. The spicy flavor comes from the garlic, dried chili peppers, anchovies and capers added to the tomatoes. You can make the sauce hot or mild by adjusting the amounts of spices.
Pesto is a delicate sauce made from a paste of ingredients such as olive oil, pine nuts, fresh basil and garlic. Pesto sauce can be served with grated cheese. Pesto is a more healthful sauce because it contains only unsaturated fats.
Some types of alcohol, including wine, are a flavorful ingredient for certain pasta sauces. Madeira sauce, for example, uses Madeira wine. Marsala sauce includes the namesake wine as a key ingredient. Its base is made from tomatoes, mushrooms or fruit.
Here are some of my favorite prepare ahead sauces for entertaining:
Pork and Sausage Ragù
Yields about 2 quarts
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 lb. boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped (2 cups)
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 3 cups strainedPomi tomatoes
- 3 dried bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/2 lb. sweet Italian pork sausage (3 links)
Heat the oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Season the pork generously on both sides with salt and pepper and sear the meat on all sides until well browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer the pork to a deep platter.
Reduce the heat to medium low and add the garlic and onion to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, 7 to 8 minutes. Return the pork to the pot, raise the heat to medium high, and add the wine. Let it bubble for a minute or two and then add the tomatoes, Italian seasoning and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low to maintain a gentle simmer.
Remove the sausages from their casings and break the meat apart over the pot, allowing it to fall into the sauce in small clumps. Cover the pot and simmer gently, adjusting the heat as necessary, for 30 minutes. Uncover and turn the pork shoulder; then re-cover and continue to cook at a gentle simmer, turning the meat once or twice more, until very tender, about 1-1/2 hours.
Transfer the pork to a cutting board with tongs and let cool for a few minutes. Using two forks, shred the meat and return it to the sauce. Cook over low heat until the meat and sauce are heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Chill the sauce overnight and, the next day, remove any fat that has congealed on the surface of the sauce. The ragù can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat gently before tossing with the pasta, such as pappardelle.
Makes 6 cups
This is a great vegetarian sauce, very complex and satisfying, It’s excellent for pasta, baked in a lasagna or poured over polenta, cooked into risotto-or as a condiment for grilled steak or fish. The mushrooms you can buy at the supermarket will make a fine sauce-if you have access to fresh wild mushrooms, it will be even better. In either case, dried porcini provide an important flavor for this sauce. I like to serve this over fettuccine.
- 2½ pounds fresh mixed mushrooms, small and firm
- 1/2 ounce dried porcini, soaked in 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary, a tender stem about 4-inches long
- 1 sprig fresh sage, with 4 big leaves
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup shallots, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 1 cup dry Marsala
- freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups hot beef or vegetable broth
Squeeze out the soaked porcini and slice them into pieces about 1/4-inch wide. Strain the soaking water and keep it in a warm spot.
Clean, trim and slice the fresh mushrooms into moderately thin slices, barely 1/4-inch wide.
Tie all the fresh herb sprigs together with piece of kitchen twine or enclose the leaves in cheesecloth.
Put the oil and butter in the big skillet (or other saucepan) and place over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the onions and shallots and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and stir well. Heat the onions to a slow sizzle and cook for 6 minutes or more-stirring often-until they’re soft, wilted and shiny, without any browning.
Pour all the mushrooms into the pan-both the chopped porcini and sliced mushrooms; spread and toss them in the pan. Sprinkle in another 1/4 teaspoon salt, drop in the herb bouquet, toss briefly, raise the heat a bit and cover the pan. Cook covered for about 3 minutes,shake the pan now and then, to sweat the mushrooms.
Uncover and continue to cook over fairly high heat, stirring frequently, as the mushrooms shrink and the liquid evaporates, 5 minutes or more. When the pan is dry and the mushrooms begin to brown, clear a hot spot, drop in the tomato paste and heat it, stirring, for a minute or so, then stir it into the mushrooms.
When everything is sizzling and browning again, and just starting to stick, pour the Marsala all over. Stir constantly as the wine thickens and evaporates. When the mushrooms again start sticking to the bottom, pour in the warm mushroom water and 2 cups of the hot stock. Bring to a boil, stirring up any caramelization on the pan bottom. Lower the heat to keep the sauce bubbling gently all over the surface and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes, occasionally stirring and adding stock to keep the mushrooms nearly covered in liquid; expect to add 1/2 cup or so. Adjust the heat to keep a steady bubble but not too rapid.
Uncover the pan and cook for another 20 minutes, maintaining a simmer and adding stock as needed. When mushrooms are thoroughly tender and the saucy liquid thickened-but not too condensed-the sauce is done. Remove the herb bouquet and discard it (after you scrape off all the good sauce). Taste and add salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Use the sauce immediately or let it cool. Store it in the refrigerator for a week or freeze, for use within several months.
Italian-American Meat Sauce
Makes 8 cups
- 3- 28 oz.containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 3/4 cups dry red wine
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 4 cups hot water
Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the ground beef and pork and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the meat changes color and the water it gives off is boiled away, about 10 minutes. Continue cooking until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, basil and oregano then pour in the wine. Bring to a boil and cook, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the pot, until the wine is almost completely evaporated. Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the hot water and tomato paste until dissolved. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to a lively simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce takes on a deep, brick-red color and thickens, 2 to 3 hours.
The sauce can be prepared entirely in advance and refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. This sauce works very well with spaghetti or short pasta, such as penne.
Spicy Tomato Sauce
Makes enough for 2 lbs. pasta. Good over bucatini pasta.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 oz. pancetta, small dice (leave out if you have vegetarian guests)
- Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 carrots, minced
- 1 onion, minced
- 2 teaspoons crushed red chili flakes
- 2- 28-oz. container Pomi strained tomatoes
- Kosher salt, to taste
Heat oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta; cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 6–8 minutes. Add pepper; cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Increase heat to medium-high; add garlic, carrots, and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 6 minutes. Add chili flakes; cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and flavors meld, about 1 hour. Season with salt; keep warm. Store in the refrigerator or freeze.
Lasagna Sauce with Little Meatballs
This is a favorite in our family, especially for Christmas. Prepare the meatballs in advance and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 days, or freeze in a ziplock bag for up to 1 month. Use this sauce in place of your regular tomato sauce in your favorite lasagna recipe.
- 1 lb ground beef or turkey
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup Italian dried bread crumbs
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- salt & pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1-28 oz container Pomi chopped tomatoes
- 1-6 oz can of tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- salt & pepper to taste
For the meatballs:
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degree F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
In large bowl mix together the ground meat, cheese, oregano, bread crumbs, egg, water, salt & pepper. Pinch off small grape-sized pieces of the meat mixture and roll into balls; arrange on prepared baking sheet. Bake just until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towel lined platter to drain excess fat.
For the sauce:
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant (30 sec-1 min). Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and whisk until thoroughly combined. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened. Take off the heat and add the meatballs to the pot, cover and keep warm while pasta is cooking.
- Food is Love: Pasta with Sauce and Meatballs (foodandwinehedonist.com)
- From Slow-Cooked Bolognese to No-Cream Wild Mushroom: 10 Sauces For Your Pasta – Kitchn Recipe Roundup (thekitchn.com)
- Ragù alla Bolognese (Beef Ragù) (writesandbites.com)
- #1 Pasta Pronto (yelbonifacio.wordpress.com)
- Turkey Bolognese – Thanksgiving Leftovers #3 (andreasgardencooking.com)
- Old World Food and Wine Pairing: Bison Bolognese Sauce (zindiva.wordpress.com)
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