Wednesday 24 November 2010

Simple Tomato Sauce

As promised, here's my recipe for a simple tomato sauce.   Despite it's simplicity, a good tomato sauce is endlessly versatile and can be the making of a dish.   Serve it on it's own with pasta,  as an accompaniment to grilled fish or homemade burgers, as a pizza base or with the Olive Polenta and Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables recipe I posted recently!

In the late summer months, I make this sauce with lovely sun-ripened tomatoes from my organic greenhouse. I fry a chopped onion or some shallots and a crushed clove or two of garlic in some good olive oil. When they've softened, I add some roughly chopped tomatoes, simmer the pan over a low heat without a lid until all the juices have reduced and I'm left with a naturally thick sauce. 

Then I put the whole mixture through a vegetable mouli to remove the skins. It's much easier than skinning them beforehand.  The beautiful smooth sauce goes back in the pan with some freshly ground salt and pepper and a handful of torn up basil leaves.  Simple yet intensely flavoured, without the need for any other ingredients and with a natural sweetness that tinned or bought tomatoes never have.

Unfortunately, for most of the year, the British climate can’t provide enough sunshine or warmth for homegrown tomatoes so we have to rely on imported ones which can be a total disappointment with tough skins, no flavour and often rotten before they’re ripe.  Goodness knows how they ever end up in this condition when home-grown ones last for ages!

The only answer is to make a sauce using either half fresh/half tinned tomatoes or just tinned tomatoes on their own though they can be rather acidic. If you ever find any tinned tomatoes without citric acid in the ingredients,  snap them up!  To balance the acidity, you can always add a pinch of sugar. 

There are absolutely no rules when it comes to making tomato sauce and there are any number of variations depending on what you have available. When you're using tinned tomatoes in the winter, I think it's worth adding some extra flavour, like an outer stem of celery that's lurking in the fridge,  a green pepper if you happen to have one handy, a bay leaf or a nice handful of fresh basil leaves.  Adding a teaspoon of sundried tomato paste or some chopped sun-dried tomatoes gives an extra intensity.  If you're making a sauce to eat with pasta,  adding black olives, grilled or baked courgettes, mushrooms or thickly sliced red peppers makes a perfect variation. 

Here's the basic recipe for a Simple Tomato Sauce.


15ml (1tbsp) olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, skinned and crushed
400g (14oz) can tomatoes, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp sundried tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan.  I use a wide-based non-stick saute pan with a glass lid. 

Add the onion, garlic and celery.  Cover with a lid and cook for a few minutes, then add the chopped green pepper. 

Cook over a medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes stirring occasionally.  The vegetables need to soften but don’t let them brown.

Add the tinned tomatoes with it's juice, the sundried tomato paste and some freshly ground salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.

Continue to cook gently without a lid for about 15 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened.


If using, add your extras such as halved black olives,  grilled courgettes and peppers, fresh basil leaves etc. 


Save the oil drained from a tin of tuna and use instead of olive oil. It adds a lovely depth of flavour.

If your tomato sauce has cooked too long and gone very thick, add a spoonful or two of the water you've cooked your pasta in. 

VARIATIONS ON A THEME  ....  some extras

A Red or yellow pepper, deseeded and cut into pieces 
Drizzle with olive oil, cook until golden under a hot grill and stir in at the end

1 Courgette, sliced or cut into wedges
Add to the sauce before the tomatoes or cook under a grill as above

50g (2oz) Sun-dried Tomatoes in olive oil, drained and chopped
Add at the same time as the tinned tomatoes

Mushrooms, quartered or sliced 
Add to the sauce before the tomatoes or cook under a grill as above

15-20 Black Olives, stones removed and cut in half
Add towards the end of the cooking time 

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