The combination of pasta and tomato sauce is one of my favourite things, and I make it a lot. I probably make Felicity Cloake’s “perfect” sauce the most but not every time. Another favourite is the one I told you about here.
Whenever we eat this I’m transported back to when my boys were young. I would make it for them at least once a week; clean plates were guaranteed. Of course one could easily pick up a tub of sauce from the supermarket, and sometimes on busy days I would do this, but in truth it doesn’t take long to prepare your own. I’d like to think that’s what Italians would do. In fact I happened to be chatting on the phone to an Italian friend when making tomato sauce yesterday, and he gave me a few tips. You see I had bought some fresh San Marzano plum tomatoes in my local Waitrose and wanted to make my sauce with these instead of the usual tinned tomatoes. I’m sure in Italy this sauce is made with fresh tomatoes a lot of the time, but until relatively recently we couldn’t even buy fresh plum tomatoes here so we all use tinned. I knew the San Marzano was considered to be a superior tomato and a quick Google search revealed that it’s also sweeter and less acidic than other plum tomatoes. I normally add a little sugar when cooking tomatoes but didn’t in this case: they were sweet enough.
My friend Antonio said there was no need even to cook them: I could just chop them up, add a little olive oil, basil and seasoning, and add them to hot pasta. I will do that next time but I had already chopped an onion which was softening in some olive oil in the simmering oven. His next tip was to slightly undercook the spaghetti, drain it and then finishing cooking it in the sauce. He also said to add some grated parmesan at the same time as adding the pasta. I will describe everything I did below.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
700g fresh San Marzano plum tomatoes, chopped (no need to peel)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
About three basil stalks, chopped
Salt and pepper
A handful of basil leaves
Grated parmesan, to taste
Add the olive oil and chopped onion to a sauté pan or wide saucepan and heat gently on the simmering plate
Cover and place in the simmering oven until the onion is soft
Add the basil stalks and garlic and cook for a minute on the simmering plate before stirring in the tomatoes, red wine vinegar and some salt and pepper
Place the pan in the simmering oven for about an hour but it could well be ready before that and will not come to any harm if you leave it for longer than that. I covered my pan for part of the time but am not sure it makes much difference
Meanwhile cook your spaghetti according to packet instructions but for 1 or 2 minutes less than prescribed
Drain and add it immediately, with some of the cooking water still clinging to it, to your sauce
Add some grated parmesan to the pan
Toss it all together for a couple of minutes with the pan on the simmering plate; the pasta will absorb a little of the sauce and finishing cooking
To serve, add the basil leaves, shredded if large, and have some more grated Parmesan on the table for whoever wants it
Rocket dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper is the perfect accompaniment, as is this bottle of Valpolicella.
Who doesn’t love a meal which can be cooked in just one tray or tin? With this one by the great Ottolenghi, flavour and texture are not sacrificed for simplicity. The recipe was in his Guardian column (third recipe down) recently and I couldn’t wait to make it. I’ve already made it twice and am certain it’s going to become a staple in this house.
I have made one-pot pasta dishes before, where the pasta and the sauce ingredients are all cooked together in water in a large pan on the hob, so I was delighted to find this one because cooking everything, including the pasta itself, together in one roasting tin in the oven seemed so perfectly suited to Aga cooking. Even the rocket is stirred in rather than served separately. There is also a scrumptious salsa and I would urge you to take the extra few minutes to make this.
I found it slightly trickier than usual to decide which Aga oven(s) to use for this dish. Ottolenghi’s instructions for a conventional oven are 240ºC for the initial meat-browning stage and to turn it down to 200ºC after that. I found that if I put it in the roasting oven for both stages the pasta browned too quickly, even if I did as instructed and turned it in the sauce a couple of times to keep as much of it as possible submerged. I’ve shown at 7. below what worked for me. You might find a different oven permutation suits you better.
If you can’t find paccheri, Ottolenghi suggests using rigatoni or tortiglioni. I bought my paccheri from Ocado.
1 litre chicken stock
30g dried porcini mushrooms
750g minced pork
350g Cumberland sausages, casings removed
2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsps tomato paste
⅓ tsp chilli flakes (how precise Ottolenghi is!)
1 tbsp fennel seeds
15g sage leaves, roughly chopped (I used a little less than this because we’re not keen on a strong sage flavour)
75ml olive oil
60g Parmesan, grated
Salt and pepper
3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
500g oyster mushrooms, left whole or roughly torn into large pieces
100ml double cream
70g rocket leaves
35g capers, roughly chopped
15g parsley, finely chopped
1 lemon, zested: add the zest and juice to taste
3 tbsps olive oil
Add the porcini mushrooms to the chicken stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil on the boiling plate. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly
Place the mince, sausage meat, Worchestershire sauce, tomato paste, chilli flakes, fennel seeds, sage, 3 tbsps of the olive oil, half the Parmesan, 1 3/4 tsps salt and some ground black pepper in the full size Aga roasting tin
Blitz the celery, onion and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped and add to the roasting tin and mix it all together
Bake in the middle (with the tin hanging from the third rung from the top) of the roasting oven for 30 minutes until brown and sizzling
Using a fork, break up the meat to get rid of any clumps, then stir in the porcini mushrooms and stock, the oyster mushrooms, pasta, cream and remaining 2 tablespoons of oil
Make sure to stir in the pasta very thoroughly and that it is mostly submerged in the sauce
Return to the Aga but this time to the baking oven to cook for about 45 minutes. Take it out a couple of times to stir the pasta in the sauce. Alternatively, if you have time, place it in the roasting oven or baking oven for 10-15 minutes before transferring it to the simmering oven for an hour or more (depending on when you wish to eat). As we Aga owners know, it will not come to any harm
Meanwhile make the salsa by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl and adding a grinding of black pepper
Stir in the rocket and remaining Parmesan before serving. You could also sprinkle over some extra Parmesan shavings
Ottolenghi says to pour the salsa over the whole thing but I chose to serve it in a bowl to be passed round the table.
(The first time I made it there were only three of us so I roughly halved the quantities and used the half size Aga roasting tin, which is the one you can see in these photos.)
I make meatballs fairly regularly: Italian ones with garlic and herbs in tomato sauce, Thai ones with ginger, chilli and lime in a broth and Scandinavian ones with nutmeg and white pepper in a sour cream sauce. These are just the basics; there are so many variations, I feel I could spend my life making delicious meatballs without serving the same ones twice. And I haven’t even mentioned the accompaniments: pasta, noodles, potatoes or bread? I feel a whole series of blog posts coming on.
When a recipe I spotted recently promised to give me Italian-style meatballs like they make in New York, I couldn’t wait to try them. The meatballs proposed by chef Stephen Harris in the Telegraph are, as he says, quick to make and to cook. While they are not the best I’ve made, they’re pretty good and do conjure up that New York/Italian vibe.
For 2 people
500g beef mince
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (optional)
1 ½ tbsp olive oil and some for drizzling
100g baby spinach
1 x 400g tin tomatoes
About 30g parmesan and a squeeze of lemon
In a bowl mix the mince with about 5 pinches of salt and the thyme leaves if using
Roll the mince between your palms into 10 x 50g balls
Heat half a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the meatballs, turning them until they’re brown all over. They will not yet be cooked through to the middle
Remove the balls to a plate and heat another half tablespoon of oil in the pan and add the spinach leaves, cooking them until wilted
Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil and stir in a little more salt
Add the meatballs, turn down to a simmer and cook. If you’re using an Aga, you don’t need to cover them: just place the pan in the simmering oven for about half an hour or longer if you need to. If using a conventional hob, loosely cover the tin (with a lid or some scrunched up foil) and simmer for about 10 minutes
Drizzle with a little olive oil, add a squeeze of lemon and serve with grilled ciabatta (see below) and a rocket salad
Split half a ciabatta lengthways
Take a ridged griddle pan if you have one (or a regular frying pan if you don’t) and pre-heat it in the roasting oven
Place it on the boiling plate and add your ciabatta slices and toast on both sides
Rub the pieces of ciabatta with the cut sides of two halved cloves of garlic and drizzle over some olive oil
If I was making these again, I’d add breadcrumbs soaked for half an hour in milk to the meat mixture. I find this makes the meatball texture softer and less rubbery. But that’s for another day. In the meantime, these will do fine.