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Smoked Salmon PastaSmoked salmon and penne in Alfredo sauce. Photo by Eugene Bochkarev | IST.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.

 

 

August 2009

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Pastas

Cucina Fresca Pasta Sauces & Pastas

Page 1: Pasta Sauces Better Than We Can Make

 

CAPSULE REPORT:  Along with Sauces ‘n Love, this is our favorite brand of fresh pasta and pasta sauces—refrigeration required. We like the sauces better than the sauces at our local restaurants. Retailers and restaurateurs should hasten to taste them and consider if they’re offering the best they can to their customers. We like nothing better than making a great pasta sauce...but we can’t make any this good! Don’t overlook our favorites, the Basil Cream Sauce and the Tomato Vodka Sauce. This is Page 1 of a two-page review. Click on the black links below to visit Page 2.


Overview

There are certain places in America that are becoming culinary tourism destinations, and deservedly so. The Ferry Building in San Francisco is one, especially on Farmers Market day. Seattle’s Pike Place Market is another. There, among other goodies, you can buy Cucina Fresca’s pasta sauces: sauces so good, you could drink them from the jar. But then, you’d have nothing left to put on the pasta...or the chicken, seafood, tofu or whatever you enjoy saucing. (Honestly, though, we did eat the sauce from the jar, and did a very good Canis familiaris imitation of making sure not a speck was left.)

Cucina Fresca began making handcrafted pasta in Pike Place Market more than twenty years ago and has been a local success—it’s moved twice to bigger digs while still producing its all natural line in small batches. Today, the company delivers its pasta, ravioli and sauce to more than 600 local restaurants and grocers in the area. It may be easier to make satisfying pasta than satisfying sauce. We don’t have to go too far to lay our hands on good ravioli. Sauce is another story entirely.

If only every restaurant in our area served sauce as good as Cucina Cucina Fresca Puttanesca SauceFresca’s—especially at $18.50 a plate! Alas, few measure up. As we’re lacking recipes and ingredients as good as Cucina Fresca’s, what’s the logical choice? Given restaurant markups and iffy results (we’re pretty demanding), it makes sense to put in a nice order and enjoy the seven varieties of Cucina Fresca at home. It also translates to easy entertaining—your guests will be impressed.

Everything made by Cucina Fresca smacks of fresh ingredients, and the finest, from premium, vine-ripened plum tomatoes to extra virgin olive oil to the organic basil and oregano and sea salt. The cream is rBST-free, the cheeses the finest aged Asiago and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Chef Brad Glaberson, owner of Cucina Fresca, is our hero: His ingredients are so fine, he never uses sweeteners to add flavor to his products.

Cucina Fresca Sauces

Cucina Fresca makes both tomato and cream sauces. Each is better than the next, and sauces that are boring in other hands—marinara and Alfredo—shine here. Most of the sauces are not just for pasta, but can be used with most proteins (chicken, fish, veal, tofu), steamed or fried vegetables and polenta, as bread dippers and wherever your imagination leads you. Chef Glaberson has many tempting recipes on the website, most of which transcend the simple “top pasta with sauce.” But if you just want to top pasta with sauce—our favorite comfort food—he provides turnkey comfort in spades.

Red Sauces

As with anything, there are many levels of quality. Here, the tomatoes are so naturally sweet that no sugar is added to the sauces. (Look at labels: If there’s sugar in your tomato sauce, it means that the tomatoes aren’t top-quality, vine ripened.)

Marinara Sauce. This is the classic tomato sauce served with spaghetti and meatballs; atop pizza, veal and chicken Parmigiana; as a dipper with fried zucchini and other dippables. With most marinaras, alas, the main characteristic is “red”—and worse, red with sugar thrown in to provide flavor that the other ingredients aren’t good enough to generate. With Cucina Fresca, lush tomatoes are joined by flavorful onions, fresh basil, garlic and oregano. It is a much-appreciated marinara.

Puttanesca Sauce. This rustic, spicy pasta sauce is a Neapolitan favorite, borrowing Kalamata olives from Greece, across the Adriatic Sea. Capers, crushed red pepper, garlic, parsley, and yes, anchovies (don’t worry—you won’t taste them) add to the riot of flavors. The Neapolitans use it on grilled fish, fresh from the ocean; you can also spread it on fresh bread or crostini.

Smoked Tomato Sauce. The richness in this sauce comes from smoked paprika, a Spanish-inspired recipe. It is versatile with pasta, fish, meat, stews—there’s even a recipe on the Cucina Fresca website that uses the sauce as a base for a soup. The touch of smokiness is a nice change; we served it with pasta, smoked mozzarella bocconcini and fresh basil.

Tomato Vodka Sauce. The cream makes this sauce pure velvet. While there is vodka in the recipe, it doesn’t show itself, which is fine with us—we don’t like vodka sauces that taste like a shot has been poured in at the end (remember, alcohol evaporates during cooking). If you want to heighten the flavor, you can add a tiny bit at the end—try orange-flavored vodka—but we’d recommend enjoying this gorgeous sauce as is—a creamy tomato base seasoned with fresh basil and thyme, garlic and onions, and heightened with some crushed red pepper.

Spaghetti Marinara Spaghetti Marinara with shrimp and fresh basil. Photo by Riccardo Beenen | IST.

Cream Sauces

Alfredo Sauce. Here’s another sauce that can be very rich, but also very bland. In Cucina Fresca’s hands, it’s worth every calorie. Read the history of Alfredo sauce.

Basil Cream Sauce. We’re absolutely in love with this sauce, fragrant and flavorful with organic basil, velvety with cream and accented with Parmesan cheese. Perhaps the most versatile sauce on the menu, we can think of nothing—meat, fish, veggie—this won’t complement. We would buy it by the quart; this little 8-ounce container is frustrating!

Pesto Sauce. We didn’t sample this one, but have no reason to doubt it’s as good as all the others.

For a look at the pastas, click on to the next page.

Continue To Page 2: Pastas

Go To The Article Index Above

Cucina Fresca Alfredo Sauce
Cucina Fresca Basil Cream Sauce

 

 

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