Oh, Mother Sauce

In culinary school you spend your whole first year learning the things that culinary instructors have been teaching for hundreds of years.  Classic is an understatement.  You dice carrots into impossibly tiny cubes, brown bones from animals bigger than children,  you learn what makes stock clear and how to keep a good edge on your chef’s knife.  I went to food school when I was old and had already done hard time in plenty of kitchens.  I came with good knife skills and a depth of food experience-I haven’t met many foods I won’t eat.  I discovered in school that I am way more of a food cook than a baker and I much prefer to make a steaming pot of minestrone over a batch of cookies any day. I suck at making delicate pastry and love a good rustic, free form loaf of bread.  I also discovered that I have a powerful nose.  Having a good sniffer is a key kitchen skill.

Last night I was browsing my first year text book for ideas for how to start my “Emilie in the Kitchen” project and got stuck in the sauce section, day dreaming about Bercy, Bordelaise and Lyonnaise-elegant, small sauces, appropriate for lavish dinner parties but things Emilie (nor I) will never use.  But taking a step back to the Five Mother Sauces provided a couple must have recipes for my young cook. Those Mothers are exactly what all cooks need, especially a good Béchamel and a basic tomato.  Béchamel for the purpose of keeping those rectangle boxes of powdery orange pasta thingies a rarity in the kitchen and tomato because a kid’s first bowl of spaghetti (think highchair, all exposed body parts covered in sauce) should be out of a pot, not a jar.  I have done the boxes and jars too, there are just times when dinner has to happen that way, but mastering a couple of Mothers will make it just as easy to make the real thing.

Mac and Cheese.

butter and flour
butter and flour

4 tbsp butter

4 tbsp flour

2-1/2 C  milk, heated with a half of an onion

salt and pepper to taste

1 C shredded cheddar cheese

two pan set up-simmering milk, roux
two pan set up-simmering milk, roux

1 pound elbows, farfalle, any kind of noodle

Put milk and onion (if using) in a small sauce pan to simmer.  Only heat until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan.  Melt butter in another sauce pan and add flour.  Use a wooden spoon to mix and keep stirring for a minute or two until it starts to smell a little nutty.  Discard the onion and pour the milk into the butter and flour mixture and whisk until any lumps are gone.  Add cheese and whisk until it melts.  Add sauce to cooked pasta and serve immediately.  You can also bake the mixture for 15-20 minutes.  You can put crushed potato chips or panko on top if you choose to bake the pasta.

There are a million combos of cheese you can add and seasonings too.  I sometimes add chopped tomatoes or ham and often add dried mustard or cayenne. I often double or triple the recipe and freeze  the sauce for later use.

more cheddar on top and browned in a hot oven
more cheddar on top, browned in a hot oven
add noodles
add noodles










Basic Tomato

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/4 C diced white onion

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 box Pomi strained  tomatoes

one parmesan rind

salt and pepper

basil, oregano, sliced

Saute onion in olive oil for about five minutes and add garlic.  Saute until both are soft.  Add tomato sauce and parm rind, salt and pepper.  Let sauce cook for about 20 minutes at low heat. Add any herbs in the last five minutes before serving or freezing.  You can add any number of things to this sauce.  I brown sausage or ground beef before starting with onions and garlic.   Capers and olives are good adds too, especially when you add a can of good Italian tuna. I thought that tuna was a odd add but it is a cheap way to enrich the sauce.  Delish.

The best tomatoes.
The best tomatoes.
Adding basil.
Adding basil.

Author: Eileen O'Toole

A quick service restaurant vet who loves food, teaching, learning and being a single Mom. Believes that waking up each day with a positive attitude and a smile on your face can change the world.

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