Today: An all-season pasta sauce made from your pantry, spice rack, and cheese bin -- in the time it takes water to boil. (It's also vegetarian and easily made vegan, if you're into that sort of thing.)
A vegan, three vegetarians, and several omnivores walk into a dinner party. Your dinner party. There's no punchline here, just a puzzle: What do you feed them? You want the meal to feel graceful and balanced, and put nobody in a corner.
Cookbook author Eugenia Bone has just the thing: Foriana Sauce. "This is my father’s recipe," Bone writes, "One I often serve to vegetarians, who almost always have an epiphany when they taste it on spaghetti."
(It's also served this way on Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples, during Lent. "Another example," Bone told me, "of a fast that is a feast.")
It's not that pasta was all that difficult to make meatless, but duplicating meat's substance and savory pull is another thing. This is a sauce that captures the same attention that bolognese does, without having to reach for tricky soy or wheat look-a-likes. Garlic and nuts are so much better.
It comes together faster than just about any pasta topping -- faster even than simmering Marcella sauce, or rendering bacon for carbonara or amatriciana. (It is not faster than straight butter and parmesan, but we don't serve that to guests, do we?) Foriana is the only civilized sauce I know that can be done before the water's even boiled.
The nuts, garlic, and oregano go in the food processor just till they clump like granola, then you heat them together in a big skillet with olive oil, softening the garlic while you loosen up the flavors in the nuts and the piney dried oregano. Finally you stir in white or golden raisins, and finish with a bunch of pecorino.
A note on pine nuts: they are expensive, but this is a good way to stretch a $10 container of them. If you want to be even more thrifty, double the walnuts or substitute another, like blanched almonds.
Bone tosses it with spaghettini, which is quite beautiful. It can also work well with shapes that cup and hide pockets of nutty sauce, like rigatoni or orecchiette. With farfalle, it would be a bit like a toothier kasha varnishkes.
But here's the kicker: the life of this sauce doesn't end with pasta.
Bone originally published her father's recipe in Well-Preserved, a book treasured by home-canners and other do-it-yourself types.
It would be easy to assume the book covers only jams and pickles, but traditional water bath canning isn't the only way to save food for later. Bone also explores freezing, curing, smoking, and, perhaps most exciting: smothering in a protective layer of olive oil.
By covering with a thin layer of oil to keep out "spoilers", as she calls them, this sauce will safely keep in the fridge for 10 days. Then, whenever you're ready for it, you can just spoon out what you want, leaving as much oil behind as you like.
Not only does it keep for other uses, it just gets better and better as the aromas of garlic and oregano are lured out into the oil and nutty bits. The uses for this stuff are endless. Bone stuffs pork chops with it and stirs it into a seafood stew. I've mixed it into grain salads and spooned it on lots of bread.
Now you're ready for almost any diner who might amble through your door, and they will all feel welcome. Lactose intolerant? You're cool. Throw that cheese on the side. Gluten-free? Boil up a separate pot of brown rice pasta. Nut allergic? Find out which nuts -- maybe you can make an easy swap.
If not, then -- and only then! -- you can admit defeat, go back to tomato sauce, and save Giobbi's super sauce for another party and another crowd.
Adapted from Well-Preserved by Eugenia Bone (Clarkson Potter, 2009)
Serves 4 with sauce to spare
For the Foriana Sauce:
1 cup walnuts
1 cup pine nuts
5 tablespoons sliced garlic (about 10 large cloves)
3 teaspoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons olive oil plus more for covering the jars
1/2 cup white raisins
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the Spaghetti:
1 cup Foriana Sauce (1/3 above recipe)
3/4 pound spaghettini
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese (serve on the side to make the dish vegan-friendly)
Fan of Well-Preserved? Stay tuned for Eugenia Bone's new preserving cookbook, The Kitchen Ecosystem (Potter 2014).
Photos by James Ransom