Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

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 IMG_3587 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.







Green Beans And Vinaigrette


Look away now if you don’t approve of buying those packs of fine green beans imported from Kenya and Zambia because of the air miles involved in getting them here.  We like them in this house so I do buy them.  In the last few weeks Waitrose has been stocking homegrown ones which seem a little fatter but are full of flavour.

One of my favourite ways of serving them in the summer is as a salad in a classic vinaigrette.  I cook the beans, drain them, plunge them in cold water so they retain their colour and drain them again.  And then I toss them in the vinaigrette which I make as follows:

  • Put a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in your salad bowl
  • Add a little salt, freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 tsp of sugar
  • Add 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar
  • Using a small whisk mix this a little and then slowly pour on extra virgin olive oil, continuing to whisk all the time.  I cannot tell you how much oil I use.  It emulsifies gradually and somehow I just know when it’s enough.  I taste it too of course: if it’s still very tart I might add a little more oil

You may prefer to make your dressing in a jug or small bowl, or in a jam jar by placing all the ingredients in it, putting on the lid and giving it a shake.  I find it easier to make it in the salad bowl and have got used to knowing how much dressing I need for the amount of salad I’m making.  Sometimes I vary it; for example, I might omit the mustard and add red wine vinegar instead of white, a little crushed garlic and some chopped flat leaf parsley; or, to avoid a too strong taste of raw garlic, I’ll peel and flatten a clove slightly and leave this in the dressing but remove it when it’s time to serve the salad.  This provides a mere hint of garlic flavour.

Making the dressing in the salad bowl takes me back to one of my first stays in France as a teenager.  I was 15 and went to stay with the family of Sophie, whom we had hosted the previous year.  Sophie lived in the heart of Burgundy country in a stunningly beautiful house which seemed to me like half a chateau.  She must have found our house in England very small.  It was a very hot summer and all meals were taken outside with rarely fewer than about ten people at each sitting.  Sophie’s father ran his own business and always came home for lunch, sometimes bringing a couple of colleagues with him.  We girls occasionally helped their maid, Lily, in the kitchen and that is where I learnt to make vinaigrette.  Another memory is Sophie’s father taking his lunchtime red wine (Burgundy, obviously) with ice cubes.  My father was astonished when I told him this.  I returned from that holiday with much improved French, new friends and feeling very worldly wise.

Summer “Cooking”

Maybe I’m just making excuses to be lazy but the summer weather means I haven’t felt much like baking or cooking recently.  It hasn’t even been consistently hot and sunny but here in Bristol, even on the wet, grey days, it’s been muggy: not the sort of weather conducive to standing next to a hot oven for a few hours.

The solution is either to get your husband to barbecue or to prepare salads and light dishes requiring minimal cooking time.  I have managed to achieve both of these and thought I’d share with you some of the recipes we’ve enjoyed.

First up, this courgette tart, which was an excellent way of using up some superb homegrown courgettes a friend had given us.  The recipe is by Rose Prince and appeared in the Saturday Telegraph magazine a couple of weeks ago.  You will see that she recommends making your own rough puff pastry but I went for second best and used shop bought pure butter puff pastry.  I was not that successful at getting my courgettes to form “ribbons” but it didn’t matter that much.


Next, burgers.  This was a very last minute supper.  It was a lovely warm evening and so we shelved our original supper plans and youngest son popped to Waitrose to buy some ground beef (not too lean) and burger buns.  All I do to make burgers is add ground black pepper and an egg, mix well and shape.  I don’t add onion or salt or garlic.  This way you can really taste the beef and get additional flavours from the sauces and other toppings you serve alongside (eg gherkins, ketchup, bbq sauce, mustard, cheese, lettuce, sliced tomatoes).  Sometimes we sandwich our burgers in ciabatta but, to be honest, the regular burger buns with sesame seeds work perfectly.  On this occasion, in addition to the toppings listed above, I found some red Romano peppers in the fridge which I halved, deseeded, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt for my husband to grill on the barbecue.  J invited his friend round to join us and by the time we were ready to eat it was nearly dark so we lit some candles and tucked in.  Impromptu evenings like this are very often the most enjoyable.

Once again, my latest favourite cookbook, Honey and Co., came up trumps when I wanted a simple fish recipe the other Friday.  The recipe in the book used sea bream but I could only get sea bass fillets; I doubt there’s much difference.  I just roasted the fish fillets (one each) in the Aga roasting oven for 8-9 minutes with a little olive oil and seasoning and squirted on some lemon juice at the end.  The salad ingredients are as follows (for 4 people):

  • 4 small Lebanese cucumbers or 1 long one
  • 250g red grapes
  • 4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked and chopped
  • 1 small bunch dill, fronds picked and chopped
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g pain yoghurt (I used Greek style)

Peel the cucumber to create a zebra-striped effect, slice in half lengthways and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds.  Chop into crescents and place in a large bowl.  Wash and halve the grapes and add with the chopped herbs.  Season with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil and mix well.  Spread two tablespoons of yoghurt on each plate and pile some salad on top, ready for the fish when it’s cooked.  Et voilà.

Salade Niçoise

Salade Niçoise is one of my favourite summer salads.  On summer holidays in France I would always order it.  But what is it exactly?

Last weekend I decided to make it when my son W and his fiancée were home, but realised I’d never used a recipe and always just made it up as I went along.  Browsing some of my cookery books, magazine cuttings and Google, I realised that there were many different versions of this salad.  I consulted Twitter too: there were as many people declaring potatoes were definitely not to be added as there were those who insisted on them.  What to do?  The wonderful Felicity Cloake had of course done the research in this article in her “How to make the perfect” series, but her “perfect” recipe was not my perfect one.  In reading about the salad, I was surprised at how many chefs, including Felicity, did not include tuna.  For me, this salad is one of the best vehicles for tinned tuna.  I was also surprised that green beans were not a regular addition.  I liked the raw broad bean idea but it would be more time consuming for this fairly lazy cook.  (I also didn’t skin or deseed my tomatoes: what of it?)

In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be a an agreed upon, universal recipe for Salade Niçoise but what does it matter?  Make a salad with the the ingredients you like and which you have to hand.  On this particular occasion, mine was made with new potatoes which I added to the vinaigrette (some say mustard is a no no but I’m not one of them) while still warm, green beans, cooked and refreshed in cold water, tomatoes, tinned tuna, black olives, anchovies (essential) and hard boiled eggs.  I also added cucumber but this was a mistake: too watery.  It may not have been authentic, but with crusty ciabatta to mop up the dressing, it made for a delicious Saturday lunch.  And next time I make it, it might well be completely different.


A No Aga Day

There is nothing sadder than an Aga which isn’t on.  Today my Aga has been cold and consequently – I know it’s silly, especially since it’s summer, allegedly – my kitchen seemed a rather uninviting place.  The Aga was turned off last night to give it a chance to cool down before its annual service today.  It’s just been switched back on and with a bit of luck will have enough heat for me to cook supper on it tonight.

Some Aga owners (sensibly) turn theirs off during the summer months and use their alternative oven.  The trouble is, I don’t have an alternative oven.  It was a deliberate decision when we had the Aga installed in our new kitchen ten years ago to be a full-time Aga cook and also not to use up space unnecessarily; instead, I have plenty of cupboards!  Admittedly it can feel too hot if ever we have a spell of proper summer weather (ie not often) but our Victorian house has large sash windows which can be opened wide, and also, the Aga can be turned down and still be used.

It’s a pity the Aga service hasn’t coincided with some really hot weather like we had a couple of weeks ago, when it would have been a relief to have a cooler kitchen. It’s grey and wet out there but mild: it’s definitely summer rain we’re experiencing.

Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t tell you a little about what I’ve been making in the kitchen lately.  It’s the season for salad and soft fruit, neither of which necessarily requires cooking.

A delicious salad in my new favourite book, Honey and Co., is fatoush.  As far as I can tell, there exist many versions of it, but this is the first one I’ve come across which includes pomegranate.  If I was making it today I’d have to add the pitta without toasting it, because I don’t have an electric toaster.



  • 1 pitta, cut in half to make two thin pieces
  • olive oil
  • 1 head of Little Gem lettuce
  • 250g mixed tomatoes
  • 150g feta
  • 2 sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves picked (if you don’t have any fresh, use a little dried oregano in the dressing)
  • 2 tsp za’atar
  • 2 heaped tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds


  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • a little freshly ground black pepper


  • Peel the garlic, place it on a chopping board and press down on it with the back of a knife until it’s crushed but still in one piece.  Mix it together with the other dressing ingredients in the bowl you want to serve the salad in, and leave to infuse for about an hour at room temperature
  • Brush the pitta pieces with a little oil, place them on a baking tray at the top of the roasting oven for a few minutes until they’re golden and crisp.  You can do this under a grill or in a regular toaster too.  Break into bite-size pieces
  • Separate the lettuce into leaves and cut these into strips
  • Cut the tomatoes in two or three different ways (slices, wedges, chunks) to give the salad some texture.  Crumble the feta but not too much
  • When you are ready to serve, remove the garlic clove from the dressing (it was only there to add a hint of flavour) and add all the salad ingredients to the bowl and toss them gently together



At the 21st birthday party we went to recently, our hostess served this strawberry dessert which was absolutely delicious.  This is not a precise recipe; I’ll leave you to adjust quantities to your liking.

Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar with a Mascarpaone, Fromage Frais and Vanilla Cream

  • Hull and halve or quarter your strawberries, depending on size, and place in a bowl with some sugar and balsamic vinegar.  I used a couple of tablespoons of balsamic and just a sprinkling of caster sugar for about 600g strawberries.  Leave these to infuse for a couple of hours.
  • Serve with the cream made up of 50% mascarpone and 50% fat free fromage frais, and a little vanilla extract and some caster sugar to taste
  • Serve the strawberries in individual bowls with large dollops of the cream on top

Apologies for not having a photo of this dessert but here are some strawberries anyway.



Pomegranate Molasses Chicken with Bulgar Wheat Salad

Pomegranates have been featuring regularly in our meals at home recently and this week I read this about their possible anti-ageing properties, which was interesting and encouraging.  And the great Ottolenghi gives us these useful tips about them.  I love his books, Plenty and Plenty More, which my sons gave me for Christmas the year before last, but it is true that the recipes are often quite complicated with long lists of ingredients.  This is fine if you have time and the inclination but there are days when you have neither but still want to eat well.  This is where two other favourite Middle Eastern recipe books of mine come in: Persiana and my newest book, Honey & Co.  I have cooked quite a few things from the latter in the last few weeks and every single one has been a gem and just right for summer (such as it is) eating.

I commend one to you in particular which is so good I made it twice in a week.  It’s:

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken with Bulgar Wheat Salad


  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thigh fillets

(serves 4)


  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 green chilli, sliced
  • 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad

  • 200g bulgar wheat
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 50g shelled pistachios, roasted and coarsely chopped (half reserved to sprinkle on top)
  • 75g currants
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 50g fresh pomegranate seeds (1 tbsp reserved to sprinkle over the top)
  • 1 small bunch mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 small bunch flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped


  • Mix the marinade ingredients together and use to coat the chicken all over.  Cover and keep in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours to marinate.  You can do this overnight.
  • Preheat conventional oven to 200ºc/180ºc fan
  • Place the bulgar wheat in a large serving bowl/dish with the salt and oil, pour over the boiling water and cover with cling film for 5 minutes
  • Uncover and fluff up the bulgar using a fork
  • Add all the remaining ingredients except those you have reserved to use as garnish, and stir well
  • Place the chicken thighs on a large roasting tray lined with bake-o-glide and season with salt and pepper (non Aga users: fry on the hob for a few minutes each side and finish off in the oven)
  • Roast near the top of the roasting oven for about 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through
  • Serve the chicken on top of the salad and sprinkle with the reserved pistachios and pomegranate seeds



Pasta Salad


Salad can be many different things: a side dish or a main meal; vegetarian or containing meat; cold or warm.  This delicious pasta salad works both as a (vegetarian) meal in itself and as an accompaniment to barbecued meats.  Youngest son and I had it for supper the other night when my husband was at a meeting.  We nearly didn’t have any supper at all.  Just as we were sitting down to eat I dropped my glass of water on the granite work surface and it shattered into millions of pieces.  I was still finding tiny shards of glass the next day, including in my sandal, even though I had vacuumed and swept very thoroughly.  Fortunately though, I’d moved the bowl of salad to the table before dropping the glass so we were able to eat our supper without tearing our insides to shreds.

We ate this with some roasted asparagus spears.  At this time of year, my kitchen is hardly ever without British asparagus.  You have to make the most of the short season.

Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Basil and Black Olives


  • 175g dried pasta
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and sliced
  • 225g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4-6 spring onions, sliced
  • 8-12 black olives, pitted and halved
  • 8-12 fresh basil leaves, torn


  • 2 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
  • 2 tbsp oil (from the sun-dried tomato jar)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
  • pinch of sugar
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Basil leaves to garnish


  • Cook pasta until al dente, drain and refresh with cold water.  Turn into a large bowl and toss with the oil
  • Add sun-dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, olives and basil.  Toss
  • Make dressing: put sun-dried tomatoes, oils, vinegar, garlic and tomato paste in a blender (I used my mini food processor) with the sugar, salt and pepper and blitz until fairly smooth


    Mini food processor

  • Pour dressing over the pasta and toss well.  Ideally leave it for 1-2 hours for the flavours to infuse
  • Garnish with basil







To roast asparagus:



Snap off the bottoms and lay the spears in rows on a roasting tray.  Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle on some sea salt.  Put the tray in a hot oven (near the top of the Aga roasting oven) for 10 minutes, giving it a bit of a wiggle after 5 to move the spears around a little.  You can eat them hot like this, or let them cool then add a little lemon juice and black pepper, and maybe some shavings of parmesan to make another delicious salad.