1. Use Fresh
Great pasta sauce starts with great ingredients, and as you would expect, the fresher the better is generally a good rule to go by. That said, pasta is really useful for using up left-overs and spare ingredients. In these situations, there are a couple of fresh ingredients that will make the biggest difference to your pasta sauce. The first is fresh celery. This has a much cleaner taste than when it begins to become tired, and that will go through the dish.
The second is the addition of fresh herbs right at the end of cooking the sauce. Oregano and Thyme are easy to grow and keep outside whilst a well cared for Basil plant can last from early spring to late autumn kept on a kitchen window. Adding a tablespoon of any – or even all three of these – at the end of the cooking will perk up any dish and bring it alive on your tongue.
2. Chop it fine
Great pasta sauce usually has great textures. One of the best ways of achieving this is to take a little bit of extra time to chop your vegetables as finely as possible – unless of course you are intentionally keeping them as larger chunks. Chopping vegetables finely like this enhances texture as the vegetables disintegrate into the pasta sauce, melting in your mouth to provide an almost velvety texture. Another benefit is that the smaller pieces result in a greater surface area, meaning that the vegetables release more natural sugars as they caramelise.
3. Order it right
Many pasta sauces start out with a sofritto – a mixture of celery, onions and carrots – and of course have the addition of garlic. However, rather than adding all of these ingredients to your heated olive oil at the same time, adding them in a particular order helps us achieve a better result.
Begin by adding the onions, cooking these until they caramelise and turn golden brown. Next, add the garlic. The onions and garlic underpin the flavour of the dish, adding an underlying sweet and bitter flavour. Adding the garlic after the onion should help ensure it doesn’t burn.
Finally, add the carrot and celery and cook until they soften. If these are added at the same time as the garlic and onion, their flavour will be slightly lost instead of penetrating through the rest of the dish.
4. Fry it hot
In the early stages of cooking a pasta sauce, people often cook it on a too low heat. It is crucial to cook your vegetables on a high heat early as this will get your vegetables to caramelise. The natural sweetness that comes from this provides the perfect compliment to the natural acidity of the tomatoes and getting this stage wrong can result in an unbalanced, acidic sauce.
5. Add pan-water
Getting the consistency of a pasta sauce right is really important. It should be slightly sticky so that it clings to the pasta but not too much so that it is cloying.
One of the best ways to achieve the texture you want is to allow your pasta sauce to cook beyond the consistency at which you would like to serve it, then add some starchy water from the pasta pan to loosen the sauce to the consistency at which you would like to serve it.
An additional benefit is that the starchy water binds the sauce together and improves the consistency. It is important to consider whether you have salted the water and make sure you season the sauce appropriately as a result.