In The Kitchen // Sauce
Artisan sauces take pizza menus beyond the red zone

At the dawn of the pizza age, tomato sauce –– or crushed plum tomatoes –– was what a customer would expect to find on the pie that was put before them. Over time, though, it was simply a matter of trying out new ideas. The fact remains that red sauce and tomatoes are never going to go away –– updating your menu is a simple matter of changing them up. For example, adding crushed red peppers to a basic 7-11 or 6-in-1 tomato spices up any pizza. Garlic adds another flavor dimension to a red sauce. My point is don’t throw out the idea of red when it comes to pizza and pasta. On the other hand, why not expand the repertoire? (Many operators have taken a look at green, as in a pesto sauce for pasta and pizza. And I, for one, am a big fan of a chicken/pesto pizza.) Then along came the idea of white pizzas. Many Chicago pizzerias now set out a separate menu section for “red” and “white” pizzas, but use the same ingredients for both categories. Recently, at a new restaurant in Chicago called Wellfleet, I had a white clam pizza that was almost as good as those I have eaten in New Haven, Connecticut. The idea of fresh clams, garlic, olive oil and thyme is one that was borrowed, in a way, from linguine with clam sauce and put to work on a pizza crust.

Another approach to a white sauce that I like is a garlic cream sauce (crushed garlic swirled into a white sauce). Keep in mind, though, that a white pizza needs to get amped up with a little color to add some drama and eye-appeal. When it comes to pasta and white cream sauces, Primavera works a certain kind of magic. The one ingredient that makes a white sauce for pasta zing is cheese. Whether it is Parmigiano or Romano or Asiago, the possibilities are endless. I make a pasta dish using but three ingredients — cooked crumbles of Italian sausage, heavy cream and grated Parmesan cheese. In fact, it’s the one pasta dish that my wife requests the most often. Another way to approach a pizza or pasta dish is to make a béchamel sauce with cheese (technically a Mornay sauce). This sauce can be made well ahead and kept order ready. For pizza, simply brush the crust with the sauce and bake. And if ever there was a sauce magic made in taste heaven, it is pasta with a béchamel sauce. If, as a chef, I had one sauce in my “back pocket” it would be a béchamel sauce. Try the recipe below:

Béchamel Sauce
Yield: 1 cup (Scale up in direct proportion)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1¼ cups milk, heated
Salt Freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don’t let it brown — about 2 minutes. Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat. To cool this sauce for later use, cover it with wax paper or pour a film of milk over it to prevent a skin from forming.

Pasta with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
Yield: Serves 4 as a first course
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup whipping cream
2 ounces (½ cup) Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8-12 ounces cooked short pasta (gnocchi, rigatoni, penne) In a large sauté pan set over medium heat, melt the butter (do not brown). Add the whipping cream and raise the heat to medium-high. Add the Gorgonzola and bring the sauce to a steady simmer to reduce slightly (about 3 minutes) while creaming the small crumbles of Gorgonzola into the sauce with the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the sauté pan from the heat. Transfer cooked pasta to the sauté pan and set the pan over medium heat. Toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add the Parmesan and toss again. Serve at once.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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