Friday, 15 May 2009

In which I distract you with tomatoes

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I must admit (because like George Washington I cannot tell a lie) that I may have underestimated public anger over the expenses scandal. As more revelations come out in a demoralising drip drip drip, there is a depressing tawdriness in the air. I maintain my perspective point though: I still think that there are things which should inspire greater scrutiny, public indignation, even rage, like the fact that six British soldiers died in Afghanistan last week, on a mission that remains undefined. At the moment, it seems as if our young men and women are fighting simply to stop Afghanistan becoming a failed state. That is blood and treasure that I really care about. I mind desperately that £4.2 billion - billion - of taxpayers' money is being spent on a war that is signally failing in its mission. I care even more that the government can't get the right equipment to the troops, and that lives are being lost because of that. I persist in my belief that the majority of politicians are not corrupt, but I would like the political class to be questioned on what is really going on in Helmand Province. That would be a story I would pay to see on the front page.

But after a week of unremittingly bad news I am going to turn to more diverting matters. It is Friday, after all, even if the sun has gone in. Katharine Reeve over at The Food Digest has a rightly indignant post up about the absolutely disgusting nature of prepared tomato sauces. I have never understood why people would pay quite a lot of money for something which is so easy to cook it makes falling off a log look complicated. Making your own is cheaper, healthier, so much more delicious that there are not the words for it, satisying, and fills the kitchen with a delightfully enticing smell. Inspired by Katharine, I am offering my own version.

Tomato Sauce for Two.

Four fat tomatoes, roughly chopped
Two cloves of garlic
Small pinch of dried chilli flakes, optional
Big pinch of Maldon Salt
Olive oil
Basil leaves

Most tomato sauces involve onions, which must be softened, taking time. They also usually call for tinned tomatoes, or skinned tomatoes, but I like mine fresh and cannot be bothered with the skinning.

Finely chop the garlic; cover the bottom of a small frying pan with extra virgin olive oil and put on a very, very low heat. Cook the garlic, gently, gently, stirring about a bit, for a couple of minutes. It must not brown or it will grow bitter. Then throw in the tomatoes and the chilli flakes (should you choose to use them), turn up the heat to medium, and let it all cook for about ten minutes, stirring a little from time to time. I like my sauce with a bit of bite, which is why I don't cook it for too long. If you prefer a more soupy sauce, then go on for about twenty minutes, in which time the tomatoes will collapse and reduce and the flavours will intensify. Just keep an eye on it to make sure it does not catch.

When you are ready, throw in a pinch of Maldon salt and as many torn basil leaves as you fancy. (I say torn because the purists insist one must never cut a basil leaf on pain of death. I do admit that sometimes I do chop them up, or even snip them in with scissors. It's very naughty, but I find it quicker and easier than tearing.) Taste. You may like to add a little dash of very fruity olive oil at the end, for flavour. Eat with spaghetti or penne or whatever you wish.

Sarah also has her own lovely version of tomato sauce here.

Since we are talking of tomatoes, and it is the season for them, I am throwing in a bonus recipe. I made this last night for my supper, on a whim. I roast tomatoes all the time, but had not eaten them in this way before, and I must confess the whole thing was a roaring success.

Take as many tomatoes as you fancy. Slice them in half and put them in an ovenproof dish. Very finely chop a little garlic and sprinkle on the tomatoes. Then throw a few herbs on top - really whatever you want. I use parsley, or oregano (my oregano has gone crazy this year, so I am using it with everything), or basil. You could go mad and combine all three. They should be fresh, for preference. Then it's just a drizzle of olive oil and a good scattering of sea salt and into a medium oven for fifteen to twenty minutes.

I know I am always banging on about not letting the garlic burn. This is the one thing I make where the garlic will burn, because of the heat of the oven. I think in this case it works, because the slight nutty bitterness you get is offset by the glorious sweetness of the roasted tomatoes.

When the tomatoes are ready, take them out, arrange them lovingly on a nice white plate, and throw over some buffalo mozarella, torn into chunks. The contrast in taste and texture is what made this so delicious - the cool, slightly tart mozarella throws into relief that hot, intense tomatoes. It's a fabulous variation on the classic tomato and mozarella salad. It also looks very pretty, with the whole red and white thing going on. And it is a perfect supper for a tired cook, because the entire preparation takes no more than four minutes, with the twenty minute cooking time giving you a perfect moment for a nice glass of Orvieto.


  1. With you on ALMOST everything here.
    Just one thing, I'm trying to work out how one TEARS mozarella? Surely you'd end up with white blobs and mozarello juice all over your hands??

    I always make my own tomato sauce. It's a crime not to here in Greece, where tomatoes are as ubiquitous as oxygen (when I first arrived here soemone told me I'd be sick of 'em within 6 months. They were wrong). And although ALL the books tell you to skin the toms, I just chop 'em up, chuck 'em in and cook. And - though I say so myself - I've never had any complaints.

  2. You seem to be a girl after my own heart, with a passion for good fresh ingredients.

    Therefore, I wondered if you might be interested in my description of the Greek outdoor markets at

  3. She Means Well - am so envious of your heavenly Greek tomatoes.

    I know I seem mad to chop basil (terribly culinary crime) and then tear mozarella. It's an aesthetic thing. You just drain the ball of cheese, take it in your hands, and kind of rip it apart into rough blobs (technical term). I think it looks prettier than cut up. I am sometimes amazed by my absurd capacity to take pleasure in the small things. But really do use a knife if you prefer.

  4. Woops - meant of course TERRIBLE culinary crime, not terribly culinary crime. There is an Anonymous out there who gets very cross about typos, (LLG, you know who I mean), so I am not taking any risks.

  5. Oh NO. Meant Whoops not Woops. What is HAPPENING? Some terrible typing anti-matter is beaming down on me.

  6. She Means Well - have just seen your lovely description of the Greek market. I long for pictures now. How lucky you are. Rural Aberdeenshire not famous for its outdoor markets.

  7. Another contrast that's particularly good is fresh cherry tomatoes and herbs - basil in partic - with cold ricotta, with a tad of grated lemon zest, sea salt and black pepper over the top. I used to make this tossed with pasta. I made a variation of this with asparagus on Monday and it was a particularly fine supper. Our tomato plants arrive next week and this is one of the stand-bys I like to keep up my sleeve for a week night.

    Also, just while we're on the topic, last night I boiled some new potatoes till tender and lightly-ish crushed them and tossed them in extra virgin and salt. Sauteed some lamb chops, then into the pan while they were resting tossed some chopped mint, lemon zest, parsley and sorrel (a sad 8 leaves was all I managed to salvage from the anonymous sorrel-muncher), deglazed with juice of a whole lemon and a tad of water just to loosen then poured over the potatoes for them to absorb. And that was mighty fine too. A Nigel-based idea, but yum for new potatoes.

  8. Oh Jo - now my mouth is watering. Fabulous things to eat, thank you.

  9. I'm going to admit to being a bad person. I use jarred sauces. Mainly because often they are cheaper in offers than the currently pricey tinned tomatoes. I generally (but not always... sometimes I am to lazy)add herbs and onion etc, but it is, in my mind, just as good as the tinned variety.

    Of course, nothing beats the incredible flavour of fresh, ripe tomatoes. Preferably drizzled in olive oilm with basil, pepper and salt... mmmmmm

  10. Oh Mystery - you could never be a bad person. I am just an absurd old purist, is all. Which I have the luxury to be because I don't have four children and a husband to feed and can therefore indulge my own whims.

  11. I'm a terrible fiddler when it comes to food and can never seem to make a really simple tomato sauce, despite advice from Italian nationals whoese recipes are very similar to your delicious sounding ones.
    I can't help but keep adding things, especially lea & perrins worcester sauce and a glug of sherry. When the tomatoes are ready (a while off yet, they are only tiny wee plants right now) I shall endeavour to curb my fiddling!


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