I think of sauce as jewelry.
It adds that extra bling to lift something from ordinary to extraordinary.
Like fastening a bold, statement necklace over the neckline of a plain black dress, adding a fabulous sauce to a mundane chicken breast or steamed broccoli turns it into something special and worthy of taking notice.
That’s what I love about “The Sauce Book” (Kyle) by Paul Gayler, former executive chef of the Lanesborough Hotel in London. The book, of which I received a review copy, includes 300 sauces from all over the globe. Find everything from the classic Bearnaise (for steak) and Porcini Cream Sauce (for veal or chicken or gnocchi) to Peruvian Aji Sauce (for shrimp), Wasabi and Ginger Dressing (for shellfish), and Toffee Sauce (for ice cream).
I was drawn to the Agliata, an Italian sauce that is sort of like pesto’s distant cousin.
It’s a simple pounded or pureed sauce made with toasted walnuts, garlic, flat-leaf parsley and a generous amount of olive oil. But it also has stale bread in it that’s been soaked briefly in chicken stock, along with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
The sauce is quite creamy and rich from all the walnuts, which get an even more pronounced nuttiness from being toasted. The balsamic vinegar is what really makes it different, lending a slightly sweet, fruity characteristic that you definitely don’t get in pesto.
In the book, Gayler provides a few recipes to use the various sauces in a complete dish. In this case, he tosses the agliata with warm strands of linguini before topping with crisped pieces of red mullet or red snapper.
It’s a dish easy enough to make on a weeknight. Open a bottle of white wine to go with it, and you’ll feel like it’s the weekend already.
(Makes 3/4 to 1 cup)
2 slices of stale white bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 cup walnut halves, lightly toasted
1 3/4 ounces flat-leaf parsley, leaves only (a small handful)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Soak the bread in the stock for 2-3 minutes, then squeeze out the excess moisture, using your hands.
Put the bread in a blender along with the vinegar, walnuts, parsley, garlic, and some salt and pepper.
Using the feeder tube and with the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil until you have a thickish paste-like sauce.
Adjust the seasoning and serve. Agliata will keep, covered, in the fridge for 1 day.
Linguine with Red Snapper and Agliata
1 pound red snapper or red mullet fillets, patted dry
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Fresh lemon juice
1 pound of linguini
Put a large pot of salted water to boil on the stovetop for the pasta.
Cut red snapper fillets into pieces, about 2-inches by 1-inch; season with salt and pepper.
In a saute pan on medium-high heat, add olive oil and butter. When butter has stopped foaming, add fish pieces to the pan, cooking about 1 minute on each side before flipping over. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over them; remove from the heat.
Add linguini to the boiling pot of water. Cook until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Toss hot pasta with agliata, adding a little of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen up the sauce if need be.
Divide linguini amongst four plates. Add fried red snapper pieces over the top, and serve.
Adapted from “The Sauce Book” by Paul Gayler
More Pasta Dishes to Try: New Style Ragu all Bolognese
And: Sicilian Pesto