Tag Archives: tomatoes

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.



Honey roasted cherry tomatoes. A thing of glory.



One of the things you should know about me and this blog, is that whenever I’m on a particular deadline, something hard and difficult, I write a blog post. So when people ask me, as they do “how do you find the time to blog?” it’s because I am nearly always avoiding doing something else and that something else is nearly always writing An Actual Piece.  All the professional writers I know have vast, varied, and sophisticated procrastination techniques. For me, if it’s not writing on this blog, it’s ironing or cooking or baking.

I turn to a write a blog post when I’m just about to start writing that actual piece. The last bastion of procrastination, when I’ve ironed everything that shows even a weak crease, baked up all the flour in the house into something cakey and menu planned the dinners until Christmas. So in that respect it’s like a warm up: a gentle stretching of a muscle that’s about to be really hammered in the main event. I like to think it serves a useful purpose.

My partner doesn’t quite see it like that. Living with a writer isn’t easy. It’s all “I’m on DEADLINE I’M ON A DEADLINE. DON’T DISTURB ME DON’T TALK TO ME I’M IN MY MENTAL SPACE” and then we faff and fuck about until suddenly, miraculously, the words spill out, via our fingers, onto the screen.

(n/b: the worse thing you can say to a writer is: just get on with it. This is like saying to your male sexual partner: just get an erection.)

Until that moment comes. Here I am talking about tomatoes. This recipe is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day. You may have the book. And you may have missed this unassuming, but actually vastly useful recipe. These make a great lunch: on toast, under a poached egg, or in a recipe that I will post next week (when I’m on my next deadline) which is a spin on what is really a very boring salad called tricolore. We try to make these when the oven is already on, and even if you don’t eat them immediately, they keep brilliantly for a few days in the fridge and just take minutes to warm up.


I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you to augment or reduce the recipe according to your needs.

500g cherry tomatoes (must be cherry toms, save those big bastards for something else)

2 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon of honey

3 tablespoons of olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C.

Halve the tomatoes and place them cut side up. When I do loads, I don’t place every single one cut side up unless I really do want to procrastinate. Choose your tin according to your tomato yield: you want the tomatoes to be close up and personal, not spread far and wide.


Crush the garlic with a pinch of salt, then beat it together with the honey, oil and pepper if using. Because I have thick set honey, I have to melt the honey first as otherwise this just gloops together. Spoon the  mixture over the tomatoes and roast for about 30 minutes. I find it frequently needs longer as you want them toms to be goldeny brown, and bubbling. I sometimes finish them off under the grill too.

Eat immediately or keep in the fridge. Note that if you use tomatoes that aren’t that sweet, this will really improve them. However, if you start with really sweet tomatoes already then these are GLORIOUS. They also  make a great addition to a full fry up. Now then, I really must get on.




Ribollita means ‘reboiled’. That’s not an attractive title is it? But the name belies just how wonderful this soup is: incredibly tasty, healthy, sustaining, satisfying. I urge you to try it. It’s what you’d call ‘hearty peasant food’ but to us, it’s dinner, or lunch. It’s a great way to use up old, hearty bread, a bit past its best.

We do use this to use up the older sourdough and it makes a large vat. I think it’d easily serve six.

2 tablespoons of olive oil

20g butter

1 red onion, slice finely

4 stalks of celery, chopped and de-‘stringed’ (don’t worry if you can’t be bothered to do this but we do)

3 chopped carrots

500g Swiss chard or cavolo nero. What you need to do here, with your hands, is separate out the stems and cut them into half a fingers length if they’re big, strip the leaves off and put to one side so you end up with two piles: the leaves and the stems. I can just imagine my nonna doing this whilst chatting to her women friends, putting the world to right

4 cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped. I HATE garlic crushers

A small bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped up small

400g can of good, plum peeled tomatoes.

400g borlotti beans

some old sourdough/hearty bread (I leave this out sometimes but it’s a great way of using up old bread, do NOT be tempted to put in crap white supermarket sliced for goodness sake)

So you heat the butter up in the saucepan with the oil, until the butter has just melted. If you add the veg to really hot oil, it will brown and you don’t want that, you want to soften it. Add the onion, celery and carrots and the chard stalks and give it about 20 mins. Cover it, don’t cover it, it doesn’t really matter. Then add the garlic, and parsley and cook for another five mins. Now stir in the tomatoes, there shouldn’t be much juice if these are quality tomatoes but add whatever there is. Break them up a bit and cook for about 10 mins. Now add the beans and pour enough water to cover the whole thing. Simmer for half an hour, 40 mins. Then add the leaves of the chard or cavolo nero and cook for another ten or so minutes. Add a bit more water if it looks too thick but I never have had to.

Season, add the bread and serve drizzled with olive oil if you want, but I never do.