Tag Archives: pasta

The very best tomato sauce for pasta.

In Italy, August is the month of  ‘i pomodori’. Where they make pasta sauce for the whole coming year. The tomatoes are boiled, ‘passati’ (literally ‘passed’ through a sieve), reboiled and bottled. There is a lovely video here which shows you.

Because it’s quite a job, it tends to be done with everyone pitching in. It’s very low-tech (or used to be). Because the raw materials are the sweetest tomatoes the salsa you get (or passata) is incredible.

I never hoped to reproduce that in the UK, but my mother makes a very keen contender in her kitchen, in central London. She has even made it in my kitchen. I have tried to replicate it, I have watched her do it. I have bought the exact same ingredients as her, but it’s never the same.

If I have frozen salsa, and I serve it up on some pasta at a later date, my children can tell, immediately, if it’s ‘Nonna’s salsa’ or mine. They say her secret ingredient is salt, and love. And it’s true I tend to under salt things. For this I didn’t and went large with the salt.

It was a secret shame of mine, that I couldn’t make salsa as good as hers or any of my Italian relatives. Not because there is any shame in it really, but because, well, I cook a lot and you’d think this simple thing would not be beyond me. I tried cooking with plum peeled tinned tomatoes, chopped tomatoes,  fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatoes (this does work very well but is another layer of work), passata, all of the above and added tomato puree to it…but nothing came close. It all tasted too ‘new’ and didn’t have that complex taste, it always had a ridge of acidity, and none of the thickness of my family’s salsa.

“You needa to cooka it for a long time,” my Ma says – to take the acid out of the tomatoes. But whenever I tried I burnt it.

This year, I decided I really needed to step up. My mum and all the female relatives who hold the secret to good salsa are all…getting on.

So this is what I did. It’s so simple I am embarrassed I never tried it before and you will be disappointed there is no real secret recipe. Well there is. The secret is it’s really simple.

Warning, you really need a slow cooker and I think this goes some way to compensate for the fact that you are not using super red, sweet tomatoes from southern Italy. I have this one and it is a wonderful bit of kit which I use regularly and thoroughly recommend.

You take:

A jar of passata, I use Cirio’s Passata Rustica, 680g

One onion

A big pinch of sea salt

A clove or two of garlic if you like, chopped

Some very good olive oil (the better the better) – don’t skimp, this gives the sauce flavour

That’s it. Don’t add water or anything else. You finely chop the onion and fry it in the olive oil. I do this in my slow cooker as it has a saute function. When soft, you add the garlic if using and cook for a minute or so. It is at this point I add the salt but you can add it at any point, even at the very end, but give it a good stir through.

If you can’t saute in your slow cooker, and have been doing this on the stove top in a pan, you now add the onion, garlic and any remaining oil to your slow cooker. Then the passata.

Put down the lid and you cook it in the slow cooker, on low, for hours. At least six but 12 if you can. Then you take it out, cool it, use it all at once or store it in glass jars in the fridge (it keeps for a good few days) or freezer.

You can easily double/triple etc this recipe so you can make a batch up every few weeks and store it in the freezer so you are always good to go. And you will always have super-wonderful home made salsa for your pasta or pizza or whatever.

You can add herbs later but honestly, you just don’t need to. Yesterday I did as above, but cut up some sausages and stuck them in (lightly sauted first but you don’t need to) – you could also put meatballs in. I cooked it overnight for 12 hours and it was superb on pasta for lunch.

 

 

Pancetta, thyme and chestnut pappardelle

This is a delicious, easy, stand-by meal. The ingredients all have at least a week’s life-span (the majority a lot longer) so you can get them in, and when you want to eat something delicious but fast, you can.

I use fresh pasta for this. Dried pasta has a lower glycaemic index, but there is no greater lie in all the world, than the cooking times advertised on the front of dried pasta packets.

Although chestnuts make it festive, you could cook this at any time of year and if you were to do some prep before hand (not that you really need to) you’d have this on your plate in minutes. It’s a great thing to throw together for friends who you weren’t expecting to stay to lunch/dinner, or when you fancy something really flavoursome and delicate. It’s so much better than you think it’s going to be.

Adapted from Delicious magazine.

Serves 4 for moderate appetites, two if you’re greedy pigs.

Ingredients

300g fresh pappardelle pasta – fret not you can also use tagliatelle or spaghetti or really, let’s face it, any pasta. But pappardelle is a great shape for this recipe. And using fresh just makes the whole thing faster and easier.

1 tablespoon of olive oil (not virgin)

1 onion, finely chopped

200g ready cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped

A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves taken off the woody stems

100g thinly sliced bacon, not too much fat on

a garlic clove, finely chopped

200g frozen petit pois. Make sure they are petit pois and not normal peas and you cook from frozen

a jar of 20cl Isigny Creme Fraiche  any other creme fraiche would do but I really love this one and the glass jars make great little storage pots, not least, they perfectly hold one cupcake.

Method

If you are using dried pasta, put it on to cook now because we know those cooking times are all damned lies. If using fresh pasta, don’t put it on yet but have a pan of water boiling away in the background.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (at the end everything will end up in it) and fry the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the bacon strips and fry for 5 mins, then add the garlic, chestnuts, petits pois and thyme.

(Put the fresh pasta on to boil for the 3-4 minutes it needs.)

Fry for a further 3-4 minutes. Drain the pasta then stir the creme fraiche through the stuff in the frying pan and finally add the pasta. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

 

Chorizo, courgette gnocchi

The picture in Easy Living
 
My version. This is why professional photographers are used.

Gnocchi – aka potato dumplings – are big in northern Italy. My paternal grandmother, from Parma, used to make them and I would help her by swooshing them along the prongs of a fork, which is how you get the pattern on them if you make them at home. She made it look so easy so of course I thought it was easy.

It isn’t. I don’t try to make them now as it’s so dependent on things like ambient temperature, how much water the potatoes take up. Well that’s how I’ve found it anyway. Hard and with unpredictable results. So gnocchi is not something I try to make.

I got the recipe from Easy Living magazine. It’s here.

I used Del’Ugo fresh gnocchetti * – only 350g instead of the 500g asked for which I thought was a bit TOO MUCH. I would also, next time, add a third courgette if you’re making it for three people. At first the julienned courgette looked like lots, but it renders down nicely and I like my veg.

This dish is so easy but so delicious. I thoroughly recommend it.

*It’s been pointed out to me that these particular gnocchetti don’t contain potato but wheat! So be careful in case this matters to you. I bought them cos they had a higher than average protein content.