Home-made Tomato Sauce

yummy pasta sauceI am shuffling sideways into this blog, glowing with embarassment.  I have a confession to make:  I recently bought, and used, a proprietory jar of pasta sauce.  I know.  I feel like I have let you all down; I am so, so, sorry – please know that I am suitably contrite.  It’s just that I thought it would be a quick, cheap way to feed the family.  It was quick.  It wasn’t any cheaper than home-made and the flavour was downright disappointing.

I buy very little processed food and when I do I check the labels carefully and there was nothing nasty in this jar of tomato sauce; nothing unpronouncable, nothing I don’t have in my own cupboards at home.  So I really don’t understand why it tasted so synthetic.

I take some solace in the fact that I am not the only one taking short cuts:  According to Statistica over 57 million people in the UK used a bought pasta sauce last year (2014).  Not bad in a population of around 64 million.

I don’t suppose I can convince all of them to make their own sauce but I hope I can convert one or two of you lovely scufflers.

Bowl of homemade tomato sauce

The recipe below makes lots of lovely tomato sauce so you can put some in the freezer and then it will not only be tastier than a bought sauce but will also be just as quick. This home-made sauce is also really versatile:  If you make a plain sauce, as I have, you can give it a flavour boost when you serve it.  Use it as a simple pasta sauce by adding fresh basil and parmesan; as a pizza topping by adding thyme or rosemary, in a chilli con carne by cooking fresh chillies and spices with the meat, in a vegetable shepherd’s pie; in an aubergine bake…  The list goes on.

I have included celery and carrot because I think using this classic mirepoix base adds lots of flavour (not to mention some extra veg) but you can leave them out if you prefer.  I also use bouillon powder to season but you could always use a vegetable stock cube or even just some salt and pepper.

If you grow your own lovely, flavoursome tomatoes this is a fantastic way to preserve them but, for most of the year in Britain, fresh tomatoes lack the depth of flavour needed so I have used tinned in this recipe.

Whatever you do with it I urge you to try it – just once.  Go on – you know you want to.

Ingredients

2 large White Onions

3 large Cloves of Garlic

1 Bay Leaf

1 stick of Celery

1 large Carrot

4x 400g Tins of Tomatoes (you can use chopped if you wish)

2 tbsp Tomato Puree

2 tbsp Bouillon Powder

2 tbsp Olive Oil

Method

Place a deep frying / saute pan over a gentle heat and add the olive oil.

Finely chop the onion, garlic and celery and add to the pan.  Peel the carrot and grate it directly into the pan (grating the carrot lets it cook away almost completely leaving only the flavour – great for fooling kids who don’t like veg!).  Add the bay leaf, stir and cook gently until all the vegetables are soft and translucent – do not allow to brown.

Add the tomatoes, bouillon powder and tomato puree and bring to the boil.  Break the tomatoes up with a spatula, cover and simmer very gently for an hour.  I realise that this sounds like a long time, and you can reduce it, but long gentle cooking gives it more flavour.

If you are using the sauce straight away add your extra flavours and off you go.  If you want to keep some for later it will store happily in the fridge for a few days or you can pour it into plastic boxes and freeze it.

 

Cod Bilbaina

People are a little afraid to eat cod these days believing it to be environmentally irresponsible but sustainably sourced cod which is long-line caught is fine to eat (according to the Marine Conservation Society).  However, if you prefer not to you could happily substitute any of the lesser used white fish.

The most important thing you can do is make friends with your fish monger who can tell you everything you need to know about the fish you buy.

This recipe uses sherry and sherry vinegar, which may seem a bit extravagant, but they really do add a distictive Spanish flavour to the dish.  Remember to use a dry sherry – your grandmother’s Harveys Bristol Cream just won’t do!

Ingredients

4 cod fillets – evenly sized and about 4 cm thick

1 tbsp Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper

For the Tomato Sauce

12 small plum tomatoes or cherry tomatoes

4 Cloves of Garlic

2 tbsp Olive Oil

2 Bay Leaves

2 tbsp Sherry (Fino or Manzanilla)

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

Method

Pre heat the oven to 180 °C / 350 °F / Gas mark 4.

First make the sauce

Place a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Cut the tomatoes in half (lengthways), peel and thinly slice the garlic and place in the pan with the bay leaves. Cook for 3-4 minutes until just soft. Add the sherry and sherry vinegar, season and allow to bubble for 2 minutes until reduced. Set aside but keep warm.

Heat a large, ovenproof frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Put the cod pieces in the pan, skin side down, and fry for 4 minutes to crisp the skin. Remove from the heat and place the pan in the oven for a further 4 minutes until the cod is just cooked through.

Serve the fish immediately with the warm tomato sauce.