Tomato Sauce for Pasta

Tomato Sauce for Pasta

We’re slowly adjusting to being empty nesters. Mind you, university terms are not that long and our youngest will be home for the Christmas holidays in just a few weeks. One thing I’m struggling with though, is reducing the amount of food I buy: I keep overestimating how much we’ll need. I imagine that just when I’ve got it right, it will be time to step up the quantities again for the family returning home for Christmas. And so it is that yesterday I suddenly remembered the San Marzano plum tomatoes I’d bought and not used. I don’t keep tomatoes in the fridge because they lose their flavour. This means they need to be used within a few days of purchase. My tomatoes were fine but starting to feel a bit squidgy; it was time to make a pasta sauce. Pasta with a really good homemade tomato sauce is one of my favourite dishes to eat. We probably had it at least once a week when my children were growing up and I still make it often. I have tried lots of different recipes over the years. The one I probably make the most is this one by Felicity Cloake. But sometimes I just make it up as I go along according to what I have in the cupboard and yesterday I decided to make a sauce using roast tomatoes, based on my friend Kate Percy’s from her book Go Faster Food (you don’t have to be an endurance athlete to enjoy her recipes: I’m certainly not one).  Roasting tomatoes is a great way to use them up when they’re past their best and it also intensifies the flavour of disappointingly insipid ones.

Ingredients

  • 3 x San Marzano tomatoes (or other plum tomatoes)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 250ml passata
  • Pinch chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Glug of red wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp dried basil (or a couple of stalks of fresh basil if you have it)
  • 250g spaghetti or pasta of your choice

Method

  • (Pre-heat conventional (fan) oven to 140ºC or 170º if you’re in a hurry)
  • Place the tomatoes on a baking tray lined with bake-o-glide
  • Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle lightly with sugar
  • Place in the simmering oven for 3-4 hours until shrivelled and the aroma is intense
  • Tip the roasted tomatoes and all the residual juices from the tray into a saucepan or small casserole
  • Squash the tomatoes down a bit with a wooden spoon, add the passata, garlic, bay leaf, chilli flakes, a little more olive oil, red wine vinegar and basil
  • Bring to simmering point on the simmering plate and transfer to the simmering oven for an hour or two for the flavours to meld and the sauce to thicken. You can leave it uncovered if you want it to thicken in less time than that
  • (Or simmer covered on a conventional hob at low temperature for half an hour to an hour, removing the lid towards the end if you feel it’s not thick enough)
  • Meanwhile cook the spaghetti until it’s al dente
  • Check the sauce for seasoning and toss the drained pasta in it
  • Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some freshly grated parmesan

 

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Italian/New York Meatballs

Italian/New York Meatballs

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.

Ingredients

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

Method

  • 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

Grilled ciabatta

  • 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.