The Humble Tomato

I didn’t really want to write about tomato sauce, I want to write about eggplant lasagne. Which is more awesome than I imagined, and I have snacked on it three times between lunch and dinner. It tastes good cold. My next post will be about eggplant lasagne.

I am writing about tomato sauce because Bigfoot pestered me into writing about it.

I figure: tomato sauce, who wants to read about tomato sauce. If you’re interested in tomato sauce, you probably already know how to make it and don’t need to hear my ramblings. Especially since I don’t have a proper recipe for you. If you aren’t interested in tomato sauce, you probably bought it from the supermarket last time you wanted it. In the form of tomato paste, or possibly Prego. No shaming here – in my memory Prego tastes pretty decent.

My point being, if you don’t feel like it’s worth the hassle, then to you it probably isn’t.

Why do I make my own tomato sauce then? And why always with fresh tomatoes?

These are the discount-almost-off type of tomatoes

Err. Sentimental reasons. Sort of. Also, I like the taste.

When I was in university, the dining hall food was awful. And by awful I mean really quite bad. Except for certain days, like spaghetti day.

If, because you were ill / not hungry / overly fussy *embarrassed face*, you didn’t want to eat the dining hall food, then you were allowed to exchange your meal allocation for 4 fruits. For some reason, in this university, tomatoes were classified as a fruit along with bananas and apples. To give them credit, I did see people chomp into whole tomatoes after meals so perhaps it was a cultural thing.

4 tomatoes + garlic + pasta made for a much better dinner than what I used to find in the dining hall.

I didn’t have a pot of my own back then, and the one I did borrow was lidless. And for some reason I thought that tomato sauce needed to be stirred constantly to prevent it from burning. Probably an indication that I had the heat too high, but it was therapeutic none the less.

Since then, I’ve figured this cooking business out a little bit better. But for me, on a cold evening, comfort food (with minimal effort) doesn’t get much better than a simmering pot of fresh tomato sauce.

It's so hard to make tomato sauce look attractive

Note: I used loads of tomatoes because of $1 (for a big bag of) tomatoes. Yay tomatoes!

Basic Tomato Sauce

I use variations of this in most recipes requiring some sort of tomato base, unless it’s tomato paste to be mixed into a sauce or something. Then I’d probably just buy tomato paste. 

Basic:
4 medium sized tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic

Balsamic vinegar – for balancing. I’ve done this with white vinegar too, but be careful and use only a tiny bit as it tastes harsh.
Sugar – again, for balancing.
Olive oil

Optional: onion (up to 1/2 a small one), chilli (fresh or flakes), anchovies, various herbs, various other vegetables to flavour the sauce.

This looks long but it is really just a few steps: add garlic, add tomato, simmer, season, simmer. The rest is descriptive.

  1. Prep:
    Grab a pot with a lid, and put in a little olive oil. I use about a teaspoon. Leave the lid off, and let the oil heat over a medium-low flame. 
  2. Garlic:
    Crush your garlic and roughly chop it. As you finish chopping, add it to the pot. Stir a little and make sure it doesn’t burn.

    • At this point you can add your extras:
      • I almost always add 1/4 to 1/2 a sliced onion, depending on the size of the onion. I also usually add a sprinkle of chilli flakes.
      • I recently discovered anchovies, and sometimes add one or two small ones.
  3. Tomato:
    While the garlic + extras are cooking, chop your tomatoes. Roughly chopped is fine, they don’t need to be too small. I don’t bother blanching off the skins, as I like my sauce chunky anyway.
  4. Tomato:
    As the garlic turns golden and onions (if using) turn translucent, drop in the tomatoes. Note that garlic can burn quite quickly, but as long as you put in a couple of tomatoes before the garlic burns it’ll be fine. Apparently this has something to do with the liquid coming out of the tomato, and is called deglazing. Once all your tomatoes are in, cover the pot and crank up the heat to med-high. Make sure your lid fits well, if not you may need to add water later. If you want you can add other random vege to flavour the sauce here too – a grilled (charred) capsicum is nice, chopped roughly.
  5. Simmer:
    That’s it! Now leave it alone for 15 minutes. You don’t even have to stir, just make sure it doesn’t dry out – if so, turn down the heat a bit and add a little water.
  6. Season:
    By now your tomatoes are mushy and the beginnings of awesomeness are blossoming. Time to balance the flavour.

    • When I lived in UK / NL /and now Australia, I generally use/d very little seasoning – half a teaspoon of balsamic, perhaps a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar or less. You can also add herbs, if you feel like it. Taste and adjust until it is to your liking. Also, a little salt helps if you like that (I usually don’t salt it much).
    • Sorry Malaysia and Singapore, I love your food but your tomatoes are sour. I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong at the beginning. I generally use half to one teaspoon of balsamic, and up to a teaspoon of sugar, but don’t add it all at once, taste and adjust slowly.
  7. Simmer:
    Close the lid of the pot and keep cooking on medium for as long as you want. The longer you cook it for, the longer the humble tomato has to turn into the soothing balm that is good tomato sauce. Keep an eye on it in case it gets dry.
    If you turn the heat down to low, you can pretty much leave it alone while you figure out the rest of your food-related tasks. If it gets dry, add a little water. If you need it thicker, leave the lid off (e.g., if you use it for pizza sauce).

Yet Another Lazy Pasta

Lazy pasta needs no introduction, it’s the staple of quick weeknight meals. Using only one pot and requiring only one ingredient to be chopped. If you eat it out of the pan, you don’t even need to wash a plate (I definitely don’t eat out of the pan *cough*). What more can you ask for on a busy day?

Well, I’d also ask for a single serving sized tub of chocolate mousse. Oh but yes.

This pasta is like the comforting old house slippers of the pasta world – easy, quick, warm, and makes you feel happy. I don’t think I’d want stilettos for dinner every night, but that’s another story.

Not so appealing, but beautiful all the same.

No shoes were harmed in the making of this dish.

Spinach and Cheese Pasta

A riff on this pasta, but slightly less sophisticated and more spicy. And based on what I had in the cupboard/freezer. Takes all of about 15 minutes to come together.

5 cloves garlic
A generous handful of spinach, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup grated cheese – I used cheddar is fine, if you use something stronger you can use a less. It’s really up to you.
2 teasp chilli powder – I probably used more than this
1/2 teasp basil
A pinch of salt

Pasta for one – I used macaroni

  1. Cook the pasta, set aside. Drain but let the pasta stay a bit wet – this helps the sauce come together later.
  2. Chop the garlic, and cook over medium heat in a little oil with a pinch of salt. After the garlic starts to brown, add the chilli powder and basil, and stir.
  3. Dump in the spinach (mine was still frozen and it defrosted in the pan). Stir until it warms up and wilts.
  4. Pour in the pasta and the grated cheese, stir until the cheese is melted and everything is nicely mixed together.

Shrek Pasta for Hot Days

Ok so this isn’t really Shrek pasta, I didn’t mash him up and put him in a bowl. Stop being so morbid. It just struck me that the creamy yet refreshing  avocado sauce was same shade as said ogre. You can’t un-see that colour. No, the red tomatoes don’t represent mashed donkey. You really are disturbing sometimes.

Yes, I know I’m scaring our very small readership. Sigh. But you know, that’s the deal when you don’t go back over your posts later for a sanity check, all kinds of rubbish gets posted. I’m sure lots of other websites operate that way too.

So, the deal is: it was a hot day, I wanted something cool and refreshing, and I was being lazy. And avocado pasta has a raw sauce. Raw sauce! It’s almost a pasta salad! Pasta, and raw vegies? I’m certain it’s a pasta salad. That means you can eat more and it’s considered healthy because it’s not pasta, its salad.

I try to delude myself because I haven’t been going to the gym recently.

Avocado Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes 

Borrowed from Eats Well With Others

2 small avocados (or one medium/large avocado)
1/2 a lemon – I used a whole tiny lime as I didn’t have a lemon. I think it’d be even better with lemon, though the lime did an upstanding job considering its lime-y-ness
4 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup basil – I used about a 1/4 of a cup of dried basil, I’m sure fresh would be fantasticker, but I didn’t have any
2 portions of pasta – portion size is really up to you, I’m not telling you how much I used *burp*
A handful of pine nuts – if you have them 🙂
Salt, black pepper, and chilli flakes to taste
A large handful of cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved

  1. Boil your pasta how you like it. Drain, but not too dry! Keep the pasta a bit wet so that the sauce will mix in easily.
  2. Toast pine nuts in a dry pan until they’re a bit brown and taste nice. Don’t burn your fingers picking them off the pan, yes I do that.
  3. Blend the garlic in your chopper/food processor.
  4. Add the avocado, peeled of course, in to the chopper. Whiz it for a bit until it’s a paste.  Add the basil and whiz again.
  5. Tasting time! Add lemon to taste. I used a whole lime, which is probably about the same as the juice of half a lemon, or slightly less than that.
  6. Add salt, pepper and chilli flakes to taste, then blend until it’s mixed in. As a guide, I used about a quarter of a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper (ha ha I wish, mine’s from a bottle), and about a teaspoon of chilli flakes. As you can see, I like it spicy but not salty. Adjust to your liking.
  7. Mix the sauce into the (hopefully still warm) pasta, and add the pine nuts that you casually toasted earlier.
  8. Add as many tomatoes as you like, but do share with your co-eater.

You can also add a little hard cheese if you like, just before eating, but it really isn’t necessary.

There’s a joke in here somewhere about, ogres, onions, and how this pasta doesn’t have onions in it. That’s probably in bad taste though so I’ll just leave you to enjoy your pasta salad 🙂