For many years, I relied on the convenience and (relative) tastiness of jars of shop bought pasta sauces. One of the first dishes I cooked was a bolognese with a jar of one of these sauces and I remember being absolutely thrilled with myself. I had succeeded in cooking my very own dinner without poisoning myself. These days, I never use mass produced pasta sauces. This is not because I decided one day that they tasted unpleasant, rather my first foray into DIY pasta sauce making was something of an epiphany. It was so very, very easy and tasted a lot, lot better than anything from a jar. It’s also much better for you as many of the shop bought sauces contain a lot of sugar and salt. When you make your own, you can control exactly what goes into it. You can also make a great big batch of it in one go and freeze it in portion sizes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can make delicious variations with the addition of an extra ingredient or two. You can add cooked smoked bacon or pancetta, olives, cream cheese, chilli, grilled peppers or mushrooms. Even on its own though, this sauce is really versatile. Use it as your sauce for bolognese, lasagne, meatballs or over breaded escalope of chicken or pork with spaghetti. Without meat, use it on cooked pasta with lashings of good quality Parmesan and fresh herbs. This recipe will give you enough sauce for about four or five good sized portions.
800g chopped tomatoes (2 tins but you can use fresh or a combination of the two)
2 tablespoons tomato purée
1 large onion, chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 and a half teaspoons sugar
Few glugs of olive oil
A big handful of fresh basil, chopped. You can use a teaspoon of dried basil instead but fresh herbs make the world of difference
Salt and black pepper to season
1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onions. Gently fry them for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, water, sugar and tomato purée. If you’re using dried basil, add this now (about one teaspoon) Fresh basil is added nearer to the end of cooking.
3. Cook slowly for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce looks a bit dry during this time add a splash of water.
4. Season to taste and add your fresh basil. Blitz the sauce with a blender if you don’t want any lumps of chunks.