The dish I’m going to share with you today is definitely not in the “traditional food” category. Pink sauce is something we’ve always made at home simply because it tastes so freaking good, but it certainly is not something the majority of the population eats on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Or even in a lifetime.
I wonder who came up with this great combination… it’s such a great discovery, in my opinion, how cream enhances a regular tomato sauce. I’ve never been a huge fan of tomato sauce. I mean, I like it, of course I do. But I would rather have many other pasta sauces first, and wouldn’t choose it if I was left in a desert island forever and only had one thing to bring with me as food. When the cream is added to the sauce, however, the story changes dramatically for me.
I add cream to my tomato sauce almost every time, except when its Puttanesca-ish, (with capers, black olives, and such ingredients), or when I’m in one of my extra healthy moods and eat my sauce raw. When I go out to restaurants in Peru, I don’t always find a lot of options in the menu (this is not the most vegetarian-friendly place on the planet), and when available, some kind of pasta with pink sauce ends up being my choice a lot of times. I’m especially fond of it when they add wine or vodka to the Italian entrée, or as has become “in vogue” in the past few years, peruvianize it with a bit of pisco, our national grape spirit.
So last week I made one of my all-time favorite quick dishes for when you don’t want to lose your mind thinking about lunch, but still want to eat something delicious and comforting: spaghetti with pink sauce, pisco, and chili. I don’t remember exactly the day when my mom taught me how to make this, but I do remember it was a lifesaver during all those years living abroad on a student’s low budget. I passed the recipe on to my friend Erika last year when she was moving to Barcelona, and she was equally pleased, as were her house guests for dinner parties. I think you will be too.
It’s easy to find ají panca paste in many stores abroad (or online) nowadays, and so is pisco, more popular around the world each day. So if you want a Peruvian rendition of this simple yet incredibly tasty dish, it will really be worth your while to make the extra effort and get these ingredients. The pisco and ají panca paste you are left with can be stored and used for other recipes, or for when you make this one again. And trust me, you will.
Spaghetti with pink sauce, pisco and ají panca (Serves 4)
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 8-10 juicy tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 1 cup pisco
- 2 tablespoons ají panca paste
- Salt and Pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 lb spaghetti
- Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
*Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat and saute the onions and garlic for a few minutes. When they’re starting to brown, add the ají panca paste and keep stirring for an extra minute or two.
*Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and increase the heat to high. Let them cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. (The sauce should be very watery at that point).
*Add the pisco, and keep stirring every now and then. In the meantime, boil water in a pan. When it’s ready, put some salt and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.
*The sauce will be ready when it’s thick but not dry. At this point you can remove the bay leaves, season with salt and pepper and add the heavy cream. Mix well, and check if it needs some extra salt, as the cream neutralizes it a bit. Do not let it boil.
*Mix with the pasta, and serve (you can add some grated Parmesan cheese if desired).