The other night at a chain restaurant, I scanned the menu and was amazed to see that 90 percent (or so) of the pasta dishes came with “Alfredo” sauce, or “parmesan cream sauce.” And what was more amazing was that this gloppy, thick sauce did nothing to enhance the dishes’ ingredients while simultaneously driving the fat content sky high.
What a scam. I think American diners have decided that cream sauce is one of those gourmet recipes that’s not worth trying at home. But being comfort food junkies, we keep ordering it in restaurants and meet up with a gelatenous mess that really disguises pasta’s attributes.
So, I’m going to share the secret. It’s easy. Yes, it’s still rich and not for everyday, or maybe even every week, consumption. If you’re going to make sauce, marinara and puttanesca are much healthier. But cream sauce is so much quicker and easier.
The other secret – water. More specifically, pasta water. Don’t throw it all out when you drain your pasta. That salty, starchy goodness is going to be the backbone of your cream sauce.
So, give this a go. I use half and half in my cream sauce to lighten things up even more. It doesn’t cook down to the same thickness as full cream, but then, that’s why you have bread – to sop up the remainders.
Pea and Pancetta Pasta with Cream Sauce
4 servings spaghetti, penne or fusilli
8 oz. pancetta, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil (optional)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup half and half
2 cups frozen sweet peas
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Cook the pasta in generously salted water, according to directions. When draining cooked pasta, reserve 1 cup of cooking water.
In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, brown the pancetta. Remove pancetta to a platter.
Turn heat to low. Add olive oil if there is not enough drippings from the pancetta to coat bottom of pan. Add garlic to pan and saute until fragrant. Stir in the reserved pasta water and cream, increase heat to medium and bring the sauce to a simmer. Simmer for five minutes, stirring frequently.
Add peas and nutmeg and simmer for three more minutes.
Remove pan from heat and add cooked pasta and pancetta. Stir to coat and serve immediately, sprinkled with grated parmesan.