I remember going to uni as a naive 18 year old and being utterly horrified by the general gravitation of my cohorts in academia towards jarred, mass produced and frankly horrible pasta sauce. I understood that they were cheap, and convenient, and easily stored at room temperature in the back of a cupboard where they were less likely to get pinched than they would from the communal fridge but still, come on guys, can’t we just make some pasta sauce?
They all thought I was mad. They probably still do. And maybe I am, but I was raised by a multitude of cooks who can all turn out a mega pasta dinner in their own way and they don’t do it with a tub of Dolmio. There are a lot of signature dishes out there. My Mothership does a veggie bolognese-ish spaghetti second to none. My Step Mum spent most of the 90s turning out the hands down best cannelloni that ever was (as a side note hey, Helen, what happened to this?!?!?!?!). My Uncle taught me a fail safe arrabiata on a family holiday some years ago that I have never tinkered with and whilst I’m sure even my biggest kitchen heroes have sunk to the odd convenience packet in their darkest hours, they are also living proof that a scratch made sauce beats the doughballs out of any mass produced, additive riddled jar from Waitrose.
At the risk of setting off the carbonara fans, I firmly believe that a solid tomato pasta sauce is something all cooks should have under their belt early on, like, certainly before they move out of their homestead to pick up bad habits in a shared halls kitchenette. So here’s mine- I’ll hold my hands up to say it isn’t quite as quick as unscrewing a lid and stirring but after much trial, error and penne based testing I can say this is easy and fail safe if you get half decent fresh tomatoes and the super special secret ingredient that is a bottle of Wilkin & Sons ketchup (you” thank me for this later if you’ve never tried it). This recipe makes enough for 4-6 healthy servings but it freezes really well so you can think of a huge batch as making the best of the long cooking time. I think it actually tastes better the day after you make it, but you can be the judge of that.
Boomboom Pasta Sauce
1kg fresh plum or vine ripened tomatoes
1 white onion, very finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch chilli flakes
2 tbspns Wilkin & Sons tomato ketchup OR 1 tbspn tomato puree
1tbspn apple cider vinegar
2 tsp caster sugar
Rapeseed oil for frying
Fresh basil leaves
Parmesan to serve (optional)
Fry the onions and garlic with the chilli flakes and oil on a medium heat in a sturdy, lidded and preferably non stick pan. When the onions begin to soften add the roughly chopped tomatoes- don’t faff about skinning them or separating out the seeds but do try to get the best quality you can afford, they are the backbone of this sauce afterall. Turn the heat down to low (barely a simmer), cover and cook for 30 minutes, checking regularly that it isn’t sticking to the pan however there should be enough liquid from the tomatoes to prevent this.
After half an hour, add the sugar and vingear and cook for another 15 minutes on low with the lid on. Add the ketchup or tomato puree now- I have to reiterate that the Wilkin and Sons ketchup is the super special secret ingredient here, I don’t know what they do with it but using any other ketchup will not cut it so if you can’t use W&S, go for a good quality puree instead. Give it another 10 minutes to simmer uncovered then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Ideally, in a wonderful world where you are super organised, leave the sauce to cool to room temperature then refrigerate overnight to really mingle all the flavours together. In the real world, when you want to eat now and have better things to do than plan a pasta dinner a day in advance, add 2 tablespoons of shredded basil leaves, stir, then serve with your pasta of choice and a good shaving of parmesan.
Variations- hot heads can up the chilli levels with either more flakes or a finely chopped red chilli pepper. At home I often add meatballs (lean pork or beef mince) at the same time as the ketchup/puree until they are cooked through, then serve immediately. You can use white or red wine vinegar instead of the apple cider.