Revealing how to make the perfect creamy pasta sauce at home

I have a soft spot for suburban red sauce joints. You know, places decorated with old Campari posters and old Chianti bottles in woven baskets. In these restaurants, the offerings are flatly skewed towards the American part of Italian-American. (One of my longtime favorites pops up a basket of Texas garlic toast at the start of the meal, for example.)

Inevitably, there is a type of pasta with creamy tomato or roasted red pepper sauce on the menu. Although not entirely original, I tend to love these dishes. It’s convenient and decadent, and if you have a few cooking essentials under your sleeve, it’s also easy to make at home.

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I say “some cooking basics” because while these sauces are easy to prepare, they aren’t as simple as adding a cup of cream to a marinara sauce. This is a surefire way to end up with a crunchy, crunchy sauce that’s topped with curdled milk proteins—the opposite of the thick, hearty sauce you’ll want to enjoy.

Ready to get started? Here’s everything you need to know to make the perfect creamy pasta sauces at home:

Pay attention to your body temperature

Dairy and non-dairy products that are high in fat, such as heavy cream and coconut cream, are less likely to curdle over heat, so much so that you can boil them straight away and they will likely simply thicken.

However, there are still some best practices to follow when bringing dairy products to temperature in your pasta sauce. First of all, don’t just throw cold milk or cream into the pot. Alternatively, smooth it out by adding a few tablespoons of warm pasta sauce Holy first. Once it’s warmed up to room temperature, feel free to add it to the sauce.

When you reheat the sauce, do so gradually. Instead of immediately blasting the pot or pan over high heat, start gently with low heat and move from there if necessary.

Watch out for acids

Cream and acid have a love-hate relationship, which can be hard to navigate given that some of the most common pasta sauce ingredients—including tomatoes, wine, and lemon juice—are full of acids.

A common way to prevent creamy ingredients from curdling is to stabilize the sauce by starting with a roux, which is a mixture of equal parts flour and fat (often butter). Heat the roux over low heat, stirring the mixture until it turns a slightly brownish color, which is an indication that it will no longer taste like raw flour only. Then add the cream to the roux, whisking constantly until the mixture takes on a nice velvety texture.


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This technique is the basis for alfredo and cheese sauces, but you can use it when making sauces that contain an acidic ingredient, such as tomato and basil sauce or creamy white wine and Parmesan sauce.

Whisking a few teaspoons of cornstarch into the milk before adding it to the sauce can also be a spare for the roux, but the sauce won’t get as thick.

A note on non-dairy cream sauces

Some non-dairy milks and creams react better to heat than others – as shown when you add cold non-dairy milk to a hot cup of coffee. Soy milk tends to separate when exposed to high heat (which is a fun fact, which is actually how tofu is made), while some brands of almond milk can take on an almost metallic taste when heated.

Oat milk has a great flavor and will thicken up with a little perseverance. Coconut cream achieves the right texture right away, but the taste may not be quite what you’re looking for in a pasta sauce. The dairy-free heavy whipping cream is a silky lifesaver.

However, one of my favorite non-dairy ways to get a thicker, creamy sauce is to simply add a tablespoon or two of dairy-free cream cheese to the sauce in the last minutes of cooking. It plays well with acid, does not coagulate and gives a wonderful flavor and texture.

Don’t forget garlic! Here are some of our favorite garlic-infused recipes:

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