Cream sauce: bane of existence no longer. ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

30 March 2007

Cream sauce: bane of existence no longer.

I finally had a night where all things coincided. I had fresh cream. I had beautiful handmade ravioli. I had fresh parsley. I had pasta in cream sauce.

Cream sauce is not as hard as you think, although it is harder than opening most jars of cruddy factory-made alfredo. Except, you know, those jars of alfredo whose lids have been screwed down so tight you practically break the industrial glass itself trying to wrench the thing free. That aside, those jars are full of grode. A real cream sauce has three ingredients: butter, flour, and cream. A real cheese sauce also has cheese. Then you can add some seasonings if you want. That is it.

I am less strenuous in my criticism of premade pasta. I like premade pasta pretty well. This time, I just happened to want GREAT pasta. So I went to the store and found a container of handmade cheese and spinach ravioli with the refrigerated pasta. I buy this stuff from a local company called Saporito. Their main office is in Redwood City, three towns away, so they can deliver fresh pasta to stores practically every day. Also, check out the ingredients: flour, egg, ricotta, spinach, and nutmeg. this is almost exactly what I would do were I making the ravioli myself. Except, you know, I would probably also end up with ravioli filling all over the pan. With their stuff, I do not.

So. Ready?

Ravioli in cream sauce

2 people's worth good ravioli
pint cream (or milk for part)
parmesan or romano cheese
black pepper
maybe a little salt
fresh parsley

Fill a pot with water and cook your pasta at an appropriate moment.

To start the cream sauce, warm a deep pot over medium heat. Make sure you have a whisk that is acceptable to use in this pot; people with metal whisks and nonstick pans, beware.

So. Add a couple tablespoons of butter and swirl it around to melt. When the butter is all melted, add a couple spoonfuls of flour. Whisk it into the melted butter; it should start to foam with the heat. Proportions for a good cream sauce vary; I would say to use slightly less flour than butter, but I also don't measure, so. Let the flour and butter cook together for a few minutes to cook off the floury taste; this is now called a roux, which is really just a sauce thickener.

When the flour and butter have started to turn a bit golden, after about five minutes, add your cream. You can sub milk for part of it, or even all of it, if you aren't feeling particularly decadent. Just try not to use all skim milk; that's not really equipped to carry a sauce like this. You need some fat.

Immediately whisk the cream into the roux. Continue stirring as the cream heats. You're supposed to just stir constantly, but this makes it take longer to heat. It also prevents burning or boiling, though, so take that into account, and do what makes you most comfortable.

After maybe five or ten minutes, depending, your cream mixture should start to thicken. It will look shinier, and will coat the back of a spoon. At this point, start grating cheese into the mix. I like romano on everything, as you may have noticed, so I generally use romano here. However, any good grating cheese is worth trying. Add the cheese a little at a time, stirring to melt it evenly into the sauce. You can add as much or little as you want (or have). After you've added the cheese, the stirring becomes much more important, so watch that sauce! Don't let it burn or boil!

Season the sauce liberally and well with fresh ground black pepper. I also like fresh parsley. Salt is iffy, as cheese has lots of salt in it already, but you can add a pinch if you want.

Serve pasta with generous amounts of sauce, and a green salad to keep your heart from stopping. Good bread is also very welcome here; it makes it easier to get every last drop of sauce. Drink a crisp white wine, like sauvignon blanc or pinot gris. We had some madeira, which also worked. For dessert, you want fresh fruit of some kind. Go out in the backyard with glasses of cut strawberries doused in the end of your bottle of wine. It will be delicious.

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