The California Dish

Food, like love, should be entered into with abandon, or not at all

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year: Sun-dried Tomato Basil Cream Sauce & Clue

It was Mrs. White in the ballroom with the lead pipe!

Who doesn't love a good game of Clue? I have fond memories of pulling this game out of the closet as a young kid and trying desperately to figure out who did what and where before my sister sharked us all and correctly solved the crime! Recently, I was thrifting (my favorite hobby) and found a brand-new game for only 50 cents. I was super excited to see that Hasbro has upped the ante on their new release and included little three-dimensional characters to slide (or hop!) around the familiar game board.

Every Thursday night, for 2 years now, I have been hosting a weekly dinner party for a group of gals I am honored to call close friends. We laugh, we cry, we de-stress. We share, we connect, and we go deep. We feed our stomachs, our souls, and our guilty pleasure and (my!) ridiculous obsession with Fox's Fringe and Bones. In the best of times and the worst of times our weekly gatherings have remained a constant source of support and affection. Last night we ate Sun-dried Tomato Basil Cream Sauce and played Clue.

Every week plays out the same way. On Monday or Tuesday I decide on a dish to cook and send out a quick text with the details. As each gal RSVP's, I reply with an ingredient to bring. I figured out a long time ago that spreading out ingredients over 5 people is a lot easier on my pocketbook and it satisfies both my culinary creativity and everyone's stomach! It was the only way to do a weekly dinner party on a college budget and it works.

I have roasted chickens with rosemary tucked under their crispy skins, rolled out homemade gluten-free pasta, whirled pesto in the food processor for gourmet pizza, whisked melted chocolate and eggs into decadent brownies, and tested many gluten-free recipes on my obliging friends. Thursday nights are a good thing.

I was Mrs. Peacock, and I accused Professor Plum in the Conservatory!

This week I had a special request to make one of my classic and signature dishes: Sun-dried Tomato Basil Cream Sauce over pasta. I'm not even sure what defines a "signature dish," but this dish is one of my most-requested recipes. It is damn good and definitely worthy of a New Years Celebration!

Sun-dried Tomato & Basil Cream Sauce With Gluten-Free Rice Noodles

Eating in Italian Restaurants

Trying to eat Italian food in a restaurant is a big of a challenge for someone with a gluten intolerance, which is ironic because I hear that it's pretty easy to eat gluten-free in Italy. (They have one of the highest rates of Celiac disease in the world and now screen children at five years old for gluten intolerance. Awareness, acceptance, and accommodation are apparently normal in Italy now.) However, us Americans still have a way to go in learning how to accommodate those with food allergies.

When I do brave an Italian restaurant, I usually call ahead to find out if they have a gluten-free menu available. A phone call will tell you a lot about how knowledgeable and accommodating an establishment is. I often order sauces over a bed of polenta or steamed vegetables in place of pasta if gluten-free pasta is not available. I avoid chain restaurants because I find that the only gluten-free options are high-end grilled entrees like steak -- when everyone else expects to pay $10-14 for a bowl of spaghetti, I expect to spend $20-30 for a cuisine the restaurant doesn't specialize in. So, for the most part, I get my pasta fix at home (or in Thai Restaurants - Pad Thai! Yum!)

As a side note - if you live in the Grass Valley, California area, I can highly recommend a delicious Italian restaurant. Villa Venezia Restaurant is located in a peach-rouge Victorian house and owned by a delightful family. "Papa Pasta" visits every table and ensures you have everything you need, and they are very accommodating to those with food allergies. The prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is incomparable, and the food is incredible every single time I go there. 124 Bank Street. (530) 273-3555.

French & Italian Cream Sauce Basics

Cream sauces can be made in two ways - in the French roux style, or in the Italian heavy cream style. The French cream sauce is usually constructed using a roux, which is a mixture of 3 parts flour and 2 parts fat (usually butter or meat drippings). Roux is cooked in a sauce pan until the raw flour taste is gone. If you whisk cream (or a mixture of milk, half-n-half, or cream) into roux you have cream sauce. If you whisk milk or broth into a roux you have a lighter cream sauce or gravy.

Italians make cream sauce without flour, by cooking cream down until it gets thick and soupy. It is usually higher in fat, more expensive to make, and I don't think it keeps well if reheated the next day (the cream separates). Some American Italian restaurants use a roux cream sauce recipe, while others, like Villa Venezia, use only cream.

A Note on Buying Cream: Whipping or Heavy?

When you peruse your dairy section, you'll notice that there are two or three different kinds of cream available: Heavy Cream, Light Cream, and Whipping Cream. The difference is the fat content so flip the container around and look at the fat grams. I personally tend to use the lightest available (whipping cream) as it will have enough fat to create a smooth and thick sauce without making every bite drip with guilt. But really, who am I kidding? In case I haven't said this already, this is no diet sauce.

The Recipe: Sun-dried Tomato Basil Cream Sauce

3 Cloves of Garlic minced or finely chopped (you can use less, but this is surprisingly not an   overpowering amount)
Olive Oil (feel free to use oil from the sun-dried tomato jar--it's very flavorful!)
 3/4 Cup Julienned Sun-dried Tomatoes (oil-packed are more flavorful so use those in this recipe)
1 Pint Whipping Cream
1 Cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese
3/4 Cup Basil (loosely packed, sliced in thin chiffonade* pieces)
Sea Salt & Freshly Cracked Pepper 

*Chiffonade is a a technique for cutting herbs. Stack your basil leaves and roll them. Thinly slice your roll and little piles of basil chiffonade will tumble onto your cutting board.

1. In a small, stainless steel saute pan drizzle about 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and heat to medium. Add minced garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes (be careful not to let garlic burn). Turn heat down to low-medium and add sun-dried tomatoes to pan. Let them soften and gently heat through so their flavor starts to release into the pan, about 2 minutes.

2. Add whipping cream and raise heat to medium. You need to watch this sauce and you want the temperature to come to a slight simmer so that the cream will reduce and condense without burning. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon.

3. After about five minutes, the sauce will start to reduce and turn a slight pink color from the tomatoes. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes. Trust your instincts here. You can't really ruin this sauce by undercooking it (it will just be thinner), but you can ruin it by burning it so be careful to stir. Taste the sauce and note the texture, consistency, and flavor. If it has any hint of raw cream flavor, keep cooking. If the sauce tastes like the sun-dried tomatoes have made love to the cream, it's done.

4. When the cream has reduced, add the basil and stir. Sprinkle the cheese over the sauce while stirring and turn the heat off. When the cheese has fully melted and incorporated into the cream, it is time to taste. Parmesan cheese can be salty, so you want to taste and season after you add it. I think I add about 1/2-1 teaspoon salt (but this will depend on the cheese you use). One or two quick twists of freshly cracked pepper are enough.

I toss this sauce over gluten-free brown rice pasta. I like Tinkyada Brown Rice pasta - it's not mushy! You can also drizzle this over chicken, vegetables, or dip chunks of bread into it as an appetizer. It's rich, so I would serve it with a leafy salad, or along with vegetables. Enjoy!


  1. You are quite the story teller (and writer)! Thanks for your blog and thoughts.


  2. You maka me soooo hungry!
    So where's the cookbook????


  3. Girls Night! Sign me up. Simple pleasures are the source of all good things.

    I tried your cream sauce...wonderfull!!!! Good thing I am not on a diet right now for sure.


  4. I love the idea of a weekly dinner party! And I think I'm going to make this pasta tonight, so thanks for the recipe. (Found you via Will Write for Food. I'm also just getting started.)