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Pass the gourmet pasta sauce, per favore

By Elan Head

April 29, 2006

Like a lot of people, I grew up on bottled pasta sauces like Prego and Ragu.

They were good, economical and convenient, and helped my overworked mom get dinner on the table night after night.

I still have a soft spot for those ubiquitous brands. But in years since, with no kids of my own (yet) clamoring for dinner, Iíve stayed away from bottled pasta sauces as a rule.

My default spaghetti sauce is made from canned tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. Not only does it taste better than oh, say, 90 percent of the bottled sauces on the market, itís almost as easy to prepare.

Sure, Iíve been tempted by the recent profusion of gourmet pasta sauces in the supermarket.

But every time my hand has reached for a 15-ounce bottle of boutique sauce, itís been stayed by the $10 price tag.

Well, last year I received samples of two new pasta sauces by mail.

They were from Lucini, whose olive oils and vinegars I had tried and enjoyed.

And since the pasta sauces ó Rustic Tomato Basil and Hearty Artichoke Tomato ó were already in my kitchen, I gladly gave them a whirl.

Know what? They were really good. I couldnít resist pressing a clove of fresh garlic into each, but even without the doctoring, they were flavorful and appealing.

Moreover, at $7.99 per 25.5-ounce bottle, they were spendy but not exorbitant ó priced well in line with their quality and convenience.

So count me on the gourmet pasta sauce bandwagon.

Lucini makes five flavors of pasta sauce. In the Kyrene Corridor and surrounding area, you can find Lucini sauces at many Fryís and Wild Oats locations. Iíve also seen Lucini oil and vinegars at Whole Foods.

The sauces are great as-is over pasta (particularly the chunky artichoke-tomato sauce, which has enough texture and flavor to stand on its own).

If, like me, you canít resist some tinkering, sautť a pressed garlic clove in some olive oil in the pan you use to heat the sauce. Stir in a few drops of balsamic vinegar just before serving.

For a good, healthy, one-dish meal, mix chopped cooked vegetables ó like broccoli florets ó into the sauce before serving over pasta.

Or use the sauce to simplify a more elaborate meal. Lucini was kind enough to send me a few recipes, and I took a shine to this one: Scallops with Lucini Spicy Tuscan Tomato Sauce.

Hereís what you do. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.

When the pan is hot, season 12 large scallops with salt and pepper and sear for two to three minutes per side. Remove the lightly browned scallops to a plate.

Now add one teaspoon of olive oil to the pan. Add two minced garlic cloves and two tablespoons of minced fresh rosemary. Sautť for two minutes over medium heat; do not allow the garlic to brown.

Add two cups of Lucini Spicy Tuscan Tomato Sauce and heat through. Donít allow the sauce to boil. Serve the scallops over the sauce, garnishing with a fresh rosemary sprig, if youíd like.

This serves two to four as a main dish; six to 12 as an appetizer.

Bottled pasta sauce has come a long way, hasnít it?

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