Move over, red sauce

Pasta? Check.

Parmesan cheese? Check.

Tomato sauce? Maybe not.

There are plenty of other ways to surprise your palate on pasta nights.

The secret is learning to perfect sauces made not in a pot, but in a pan.

“I can cook a meal as fast in a sauté pan as you can in a microwave,” says Tom Pantley, chef at Toscanos Cafe and Wine Bar in Puyallup. “We do a lot of pan sauces, which are quick to put together and usually cook in five to seven minutes. We do cream sauces, butter sauces, olive oil sauces and even tomato sauces. We combine them with meat, chicken, seafood or vegetables.”

At home, you can save time by cooking plenty of pasta ahead of time.

“Rinse it in cold water, put it in a plastic bag and stick it in the refrigerator,” he says. It can be reheated either in a pan or microwave up to several days later.

Then you can top your premade pasta with a quick pan sauce.

Try this idea:

Slice some broccoli lengthwise, so it has flat edges. Sear it in a pan with olive oil. It will taste slightly spicy, and more exciting than steamed broccoli. Add onions, garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and a bit of white wine.

Warm your premade pasta by mixing it in the pan with the seared broccoli, and you have a meal that takes practically no time.

Some of Pantley’s pasta sauces rely on olive oil and heavy cream. They’re not exactly heart-healthy – at least the cream is not. But Pantley notes that in a traditional Italian dinner, pasta isn’t always the main event. It’s often offered as an accompaniment to a grilled meat or seafood entree. So the volume of cream sauce consumed would be less.

Pantley suggests trying pan-prepared sauces on something other than pasta.

“You can put it over rice, you can try it on barley,” he says.

He likes a variety of pasta sauces slathered over polenta – the cornmeal mush that serves as a staple in place of pasta in Northern Italy.

To grill polenta, prepare it according to package directions. Mist a baking dish with cooking oil spray, pour in the polenta and allow it to cool and harden. Then slice it, barbecue it, and cover it with your choice of pasta sauce. You can also brown sliced polenta in a frying pan.

“Once you learn the basics,” says Pantley, “you can go in any direction you want to go.”

Debbie Cafazzo


Pasta with Vodka Sauce

1 small tomato, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup thinly sliced onion

1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup vodka

Garlic, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the onions and tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes begin to soften and the onions start to become transparent.

Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the vodka. Reduce the heat, bring the pan back and add the garlic and parsley.

When the garlic is starting to soften, add the cream, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Bring the sauce to a boil and continue boiling until the volume reduces by one half.

Add the cheese, remove from the heat and toss into hot pasta.

Rigatoni with Rosemary and Eggplant

1 eggplant

3 large tomatoes

1/4 cup sliced onions

2 cups chopped Swiss chard

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped rosemary

1/4 cup dry white wine

Garlic, to taste

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

Slice eggplant into 1/2-inch thick rounds and slice each round into 3 pieces.

Place the eggplant on a baking sheet. Sprinkle salt on the eggplant and let stand for about 45 minutes. Wipe away the liquid formed on top of the eggplant with a paper towel.

Drizzle half of the olive oil on top of the eggplant and place in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes. When the eggplant is roasted, remove from the oven and set aside.

Cut tomatoes into quarters and remove the seeds. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan and add onions. When onions begin to become transparent, add tomatoes and rosemary.

As the tomatoes soften, add the garlic. When the garlic begins to brown, deglaze the pan with the dry white wine. Add the roasted eggplant, salt, pepper red pepper flakes, and 1/2 cup of water. Continue to cook on high heat until sauce begins to thicken. Add Swiss chard and cook long enough for sauce to thicken and chard to wilt. Toss into hot rigatoni pasta.

Angel Hair and Prawns with Butter, Basil and Cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

8-10 medium sized prawns

4-6 basil leaves, cut into thin strips

Dry basil, to taste

1/4 cup rose wine

Garlic, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 tablespoon softened butter

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

1/2 cup frozen peas

Cooked angel hair pasta

Heat olive oil in a sauté pan. Place the prawns in the pan and brown lightly on both sides. Deglaze the pan with wine, and add garlic, dry basil, salt, pepper, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a little water. Cook on high heat.

When prawns are cooked and sauce has reduced, add basil leaves, peas, and cheese. Stir until cheese dissolves. (This will happen quickly.) Let the pan cool slightly and stir in the butter. Toss into hot angel hair pasta.

Rigatoni with Toasted Garlic and Olive Oil

Chopped garlic, to taste

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup vermouth

1/4 cup diced onions

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried basil

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a medium-size sauté pan, and then add onions.

When onions begin to brown, add garlic. Allow garlic to brown slightly, then deglaze the pan with vermouth.

Add basil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and about 1/4 cup of hot water.

When sauce begins to reduce, add the diced tomatoes.

Toss in hot rigatoni pasta.

Source for all recipes: Toscanos Cafe and Wine Bar

What’s cooking

Learn to prepare a five-course Italian meal, then enjoy eating it with your classmates.

When: 5 p.m. Oct. 18

Where: Toscanos Cafe and Wine Bar, 437 29th St. N.E., Puyallup

Cost: $55 per person. The cost includes tax and gratuity, as well as wine samples, recipes and instruction.

To register: Call 253-864-8600

Info: www.toscanos