SUNDAY SUPPER: A Dangerous Liaison!

I sometimes post about my Sunday Supper preparations.  I think people should make something good and eat together on Sundays.

However, I have been feeling dreadful for a few days and the thought of food has left me … less than enthusiastic.

That said, I had received an email recently making the kind suggestion that when I make a tomato sauce for pasta, to think about putting a little of the water used to cook the pasta into the sauce.  I was assured that it produces beneficial effects.

Yes, I know about that one.  And I don’t do it very often.

And here it how it works… when it works, that is.

The addition of a little of the pasta water is a kind of liaison.

A liaison is a thickening agent which increases a sauce’s viscosity.   In other words, a liaison prevents water and other things in the sauce from moving around. 

Liaisons thicken sauces by suspending solids in them (which is what the starch method does), or by emulsifiers (a liquid suspended in another liquid, which is how you make hollandaise), or air in the liquid.  Or even a combination of these, as in Bearnaise sauce.

So, the starch in the pasta water might (if there is enough starch in the water) help to thicken a loose or runny tomato sauce.  The rows of sugar molecules in starch unbind in the liquid and recombine in larger bunches.   And everything sloooows … dowwwwwn.   Using tomato paste to thicken your sauce works because you are adding lots of particles to the liquid.

So, you need to use your wonderful tomatoes from you garden.  You make sauce for your spaghetti.  But, drat it, your sauce separates and gets runny even though you think you have cooked it down enough.  Perhaps starchy pasta water can help a little bit in a pinch.

Of course the danger of using pasta water as a liaison is that it might not have enough starch in it to thicken your separating tomato sauce.  You have just made your problem worse.  

Another approach is to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce itself.  That’s sure adds starch in a hurry!  And it also helps the sauce to penetrate into the pasta.  Remember: pasta will taste partly like the liquid you cook it in. 

So, try cooking your pasta in a mixture of water and a little salt or vegetable broth or some other broth, use starchy water to thicken loose tomato sauces with great discretion, and perhaps finish your pasta in the sauce itself.

With that I hope my appetite will return soon.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Fr. Z's Kitchen, SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Dear Padre.
    I do understand…prayers for your return to full health.
    Sometimes I cook for the others here, with no appetite; I do it because that’s my “job”.
    I’ve been “putting up” all kinds of fresh vegetables (freezing them)…and my appetite is less than usual.

  2. catholicmidwest says:

    Fr. Z,
    I hope you are feeling better.

  3. wanda says:

    Hope you’ll soon be well, Fr. Z. If your malady is similar to one in my neck of the woods, by the 3rd evening/4th morning, you should be turning the corner.

    Prayers offered.

  4. JBlevins says:

    My best thickener is File, it adds a nice flavor to the sauce and thickens very well.

  5. Jaybirdnbham says:

    Sounds like you need some home-made chicken soup, Father. Maybe one of your nearby friends can make you some.

  6. kelleyb says:

    If I lived close, I would bring you a pot of Art Stew. That’s the name my kids call my chicken pot. God bless….I pray you are feeling better soon. Have you had a chat with your Dr.? If you still feel like this Monday….CALL

  7. Grabski says:

    Another great post. Thank you for ALL you do!

  8. Supertradmum says:

    Prayers coming today. I suggest bringing your appetite back by drinking some Vigna di Terre Rosse or Warre’s Port, with Stilton and Bath biscuits, which is what I would do if I could to get over loss of appetite.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    PS When I lived in London, I used to buy Quinta do Noval, which was, to my mind, the best, but I do not know if it is available in America. Bon Appetit, somehow…

  10. susanna says:

    Don’t forget a nice multivitamin.

    and here’s some eye candy:

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    Fr Z,
    I hope you get over whatever you have very soon. When you do, please reschedule the blognic in Kazoo!

  12. mike cliffson says:

    Dunno if you’re still in Rome. You give no explanations, one presumes some sort of gyppy tummy.
    Tiresomely , as one gets older (Im 60 and a grandpa) typically even younger men with goat’s stomachs ( not universal but the lord does seem to supply a resistant digestion as a practical part of the charisma, sorter thoughtful, really,but not a lifetimeblank cheque) start to find travel, irregular meals/mealtimes, brsque climate/timezone changes, rich food,srong coffee/tea/wine/beer on empty stomach, even resistance to whatever the local tummy bug may be, all on the wane.DV not your case! But if 24hrs simple fasting & /or arrowroot only hasn’t done the trick, consider doctors and medication.

    Re thickeners:
    spaniards have a penchant for really finely powdered dry breadcrumds as they blandover less of the flavour than other starches do. Some english use golden (ie toated) breadcrumbs ditto.
    Sopmespanirds and south americans thicken with root purees (ie carrots), ie for spaget bolog.
    Italians in family (eldest’s godmother) turn up noses in scorn, but I like it.

  13. The-Monk says:

    The best and the really only best thickening agent for good sauce (in New Jersey they call it “gravy”) is to “cook the sauce down.” This means simmering the sauce for several hours with the lid on the pot. Then, simmer the sauce for another several hours with the lid off. The water dissipates and the sauce condenses. Concurrently, the fats in the liquid emulsify, thickening the sauce. I always use one or two beef bones when I am making sauce because the marrow, when mixed into the sauce, breaks down, emulsifies, and not only thickens the sauce but also adds great flavor. But, you already knew this, didn’t you?

  14. Andy F. says:

    There is a happy medium to be found here in tomato paste AND Arrowroot starch.

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