Ultimate Pasta Sauce

Fresh vine ripened tomatoes for the ultimate pasta sauce

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.


Wilkin & Sons ketchup- the now-not-so-secret magic ingredient

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
Sea salt
Black pepper
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.


Peanut Butter Curry

Happy 2016 kids.

New year, new you, new yawn.

Here’s a quick recipe to satisfy anyone on a new year trip to go vegan or eat more veg or save money or just try something new. It’s easy, thrifty, filling and tasty but sadly not so photogenic!

Boomboom Peanut Butter Curry


Serves two

Vegetable oil
1tbspn medium curry powder. Asda actually make a really good own brand curry powder.
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
2 cardamom pods
Bay leaf
1 red chilli
3 cloves garlic
Black pepper
Sea salt
Freshly grated ginger (optional)
Large white onion
Large carrot
Large parsnip
Medium kohlrabi bulb
1 yellow pepper
Peanut butter

Roughly chop your veg then heat the spices and garlic (minced, please) in a little oil in a heavy based pan until the garlic starts to sizzle. Add the onions and the chilli with or without seeds to your personal heat taste. Hot heads should add the ginger now too I use about a 2cm square piece. Cook enough to soften the onions then add carrots, parsnip and kohlrabi. Give it a quick stir then dollop in a good amount of your choice of peanut butter. I prefer about 4 tablespoons of crunchy. Calorie conscious types may wish to opt for less, muscle bulkers a little more I would say no less than 2 tbspns. Add also about half a cup of cold water, a good crack of black pepper and a pinch of sea salt, Maldon sea salt if you can. Give it a good stir to distribute the peanut butter then bring to simmer. Put a lid on for five minutes then add the yellow pepper and continue to simmer until the carrots are cooked. Don’t over do it, mushy too-cooked veg loses a lot of nutrients and is also horrible.

Serve with rice, naan, cous cous, carb free horror noodles etc*

*if you aren’t on some kind of dry, fat free veganuary self hate trip add some cooked chicken (thigh fillets or breast) and serve with a nice fat glass of something from Brewdog to wash it down.

Variations: this will work with most winter veg try subbing celery, broccoli, swede or throw in some frozen peas at the end, I would avoid potatoes. A good squeeze of lime at the end and some chopped fresh coriander will give it a bit of bite if your prefer a zippy finish to your curry (leave out the cardamom and cinnamon if you plan on this). Add some natural yoghurt if you over do the heat.


20140416_200852Tabbouleh– a traditional Arabic salad based around bulgar wheat, tomatoes and parsley but you needn’t stop there. Onions, mint, cucumber, chilli, coriander- basically any fresh, flavoursome or crunchy raw ingredients. You can even swap the bulgar for couscous or rice but I don’t know why you would. For me, it’s the firm texture and nutty taste of bulgar that makes this salad so hearty and moreish.

I must say, I bloody love tabbouleh and this bloody love was recently rekindled when I came across Keith Floyd’s version for a celeb chef themed night at Food Club. You don’t see it around very often though- vegetarian restaurants maybe, hipster artsy cafes in galleries. It is a staple summer side on the table when my step mum is cooking/chopping and it got me through many dinners when I first started living alone and opted for making big dishes I could eat all week rather than cook a sad meal for one every night. Times have certainly moved on, but I still love tabbouleh, especially when there’s enough left to scrape into my lunchbox for the next day. Well why do I love it? Let me count the ways:

  1.  It’s fresh, tasty and due to the variation and possibility to add loads of ingredients, every mouthful is a bit different. And by this same philosophy, you have to love it because you can put pretty much anything you want in there.
  2. Bulgar wheat is an underused and yumtastic grain, with a friendly fibre and protein content that just feels good to eat. It’s tasty and savoury and really does flesh out salad ingredients into a satisfying dish for even the hungriest punter.
  3. It’s super quick and super easy to make, as below and as we’ve said before if I can manage it, you certainly can.
  4. As long as you have the basics- bulgar and tomatoes (yeah I don’t favour parsley, sue me) and some kind of dressing you can bang out a tabbouleh-like dish that will suffice.
  5. It is the perfect accompaniment to many of my favourite dinners, namely roasts and BBQs.
  6. It is stupidly diet friendly due to being filling and full of veg. Lower GI and higher protein than a rice option plus bonus iron content. Watch the olive oil and it’s free on Slimming World and some other plans too.
  7. It makes as good a dinner as a lunch as a side dish. I wont rule it out for breakfast on a very hot day either.
  8. It just looks lovely and colourful and will cheer up your plate or buffet table.
  9. It’s vegan and easy to source the constituents organically so should please the fussiest of eaters, unless they are raw types or anti nightshades. And who ever voluntarily cooks for them?
  10. Despite being mega simple it is still a thrilling challenge every time as I strive to one day recreate, or dare I say exceed, my Step Mum’s version. I’m sure she leaves something out when she tells me what she does…..

Not convinced? Go make it yourself then and drop me a line to tell me how totally right I am! My favoured option as below.

Boom Boom Tabbouleh


Serves 3-4 as a side, 2 as a main course.
Prep time- 40 mins including cooling.

1 cup bulgar wheat
6 large tomatoes
8 spring onions
At least 1/2 cup of fresh corriander
At least 1/4 cup fresh mint
1 large clove of garlic
1tbspn olive oil
1tbspn lemon juice
1/2 tbspn white wine vinegar
Salt & pepper

Start with your bulgar wheat- simply bring 2 cups of water to the boil in a pan, take off the heat, dump in the bulgar wheat, cover, and ignore for 20 minutes. If all the water is absorbed, the bulgar is ready! By rule of thumb it should be tender with a little bite but no discernable crunch. Drain any excess water if needs be- it wont absorb any more after about 25 mins.

I like to spread the still warm bulgar around the bottom of the largest mixing bowl I have to help it cool down.

Now, additions: everything needs to be finely chopped. Not Wednesday-afternoon-I-can’t-be-bothered-really-finely chopped: Proper Finely Chopped. Mere slivers of onion and wee flecks of herbs. Trust me. Start with the mint and stir into the cooling bulgar, I find the residual heat helps to pull out the flavour from the mint. Then, for no real reasons of science I go for the onions then tomatoes and finish with the coriander. Give it all a thorough but gentle mix.
You can make the dressing separately or just throw it in and make adjustments to taste. I like to leave the garlic (minced) to sit in the olive oil for a while before adding to mellow out the flavour a little. If your herbs are fresh it doesn’t need a lot of dressing but the extra crispness from the vinegar and juice make a nice background note, and help it to stay pretty if you aren’t serving straight away. Plenty of black pepper and (Maldon) sea salt and you’re ready to go.

Speaking of serving straight away, this is always my recommendation but if time or company means you are making in advance, cover it well and refrigerate. Same applies to leftovers. Still speaking of serving, serve it with whatever you want but in my house we love it with some roast chicken.

Variations: Abound! Put in lots of parsley if you like it, about half a cup as well as the mint and corriander. Use white or red onions or a mix of all, cherry tomatoes will suffice, add cucumber or peppers or a very finely minced red chilli for some kick. Lose or up the garlic or experiment with sweeter spices such as a dash of cinnamon or even a very slight touch of vanilla (I learned that one by accident). 


Veganstock! It’s like Woodstock only the people are selfrighteously clean about everything! I jest, I jest. To make your vegan stock you first need to catch 4 Vegans and hang them to cure in a cool dry place and oh alright fine I shall be serious.

foodbinOK. Some time in the new year I was delivered one of these hideous green beasts along with a letter from the council telling me I’m not allowed to put food waste out in the bin any more and instead need to stash it in said hideous beast for two weeks at a time until the bin men take it away and do something composty with it. I had two issues with this. The first is that I don’t have a handy garden to keep my green beast full of rotting food in, and no I really don’t want to keep it in my kitchen because it’s already overcrowded in there and also IT IS ROTTING FOOD. The second reason is more one of pride in that actually, I do not have an awful lot of food waste TVM. I am from a greedy and thrifty pedigree, I believe in a clean plate and what rare leftovers I have are always recycled if they hang around long enough to not be hoovered up by the ever hungry Mr. I recycle my paper and glass and plastic and clothing with a rapturous fever but oh no, Mr Colchester Borough Council this is not enough now I have to start sifting through my egg shells and scrag ends and keep them in this ugly pot in my hallway for you? No. I will not. And I do not, the bin makes a handy ice bucket when I have company however. The point of this story is not my refusal to recycle my miniscule amounts of food waste without some kind of refund on my council tax, but rather that this episode did put me in mind of recycling and the afore mentioned scrag ends.

Flash back to my vegan research days, when I heard tell of a little trick played by many a vegan to up their vitamin intake- Veganstock *insert fanfare here*
It is now I must confess that Veganstock is actually just vegetable stock, made at home from the plethora of inedible veggie ends found in any honest vegan kitchen. As I discovered to my horror in my Vegan Challenge, nefarious suppliers of stock cubes can add all kinds of crap to alleged vegetable stock including milk products, an obvious vegan no-no. To easily avoid this added ingredient pitfall, make your own stock! Many web forum hardcore vegan types profess to making this stuff to drink at leisure which is not quite my bag, baby, but I had fancied a go at a face off between Kallo cubes and my own creation.

I was pleased with the results.

It isn't that hard, you just need to organise one freezer drawer and remember not to chuck out your ends!

It isn’t that hard, you just need to organise one freezer drawer and remember not to chuck out your ends!

So, to make your own veg stock you need to first clear out a shelf in the freezer and fill it with a stash of empty plastic boxes- I found the mushrooms boxes and little asparagus trays perfect (more recycling points here too). Then quite simply stop throwing away your scrag ends! To be more specific I mean the little vegetable trimmings that don’t make it to your plate- carrot ends, the stringy bit on the end of your beans, onion tops and garlic ends (skin and all) and the like. And don’t stop there- cabbage stalks, the hard bits on sprouts, pepper stalks, that nibby bit of the tomato we always cut out, all of that stuff. Just chuck it straight in the freezer.
Depending on your general veg consumption, in a week or more you will have enough frozen scrags to fill a stock pot, so get them out of the freezer, take a second to marvel at how weird they look all hard and sparkly with ice, then use them to fill your stock pot.
Add additional flavouring to your own taste- I like to throw in black peppercorns, a bay leaf, some coriander seed and one dried piri piri plus some seasalt. You can put in dried or fresh herbs or any spices you have laying about the place. Cover it with cold water, put a lid on and boil for a good 90 minutes. Now, let it cool off for a bit then pass through a reasonably fine mesh sieve- giving the veggie bits a good squish to get all the liquid, and all the flavour out.
20140112_174136Now, throw out the squished over boiled scrag ends, and take a minute to feel good about yourself that you have reduced the size of these scrag ends and therefore eased the burden on your poor local council waste depot.
The left over liquid is your stock, and if it is anything like mine it’s pretty good stuff! Obviously the flavour will vary depending on the mix of veg that went in but you should always get a rich, dark stock with some actual depth to it beyond the general stock cube world of slightly salty nondescript herbs. It’s fab, and easy to do and from one batch I tend to get about 3L of stock which keeps in the fridge in an old drinks bottle (more recycling!!!) for a couple of weeks.

Yes, vs about a quid on a packet of stock cubes it is a bit of faffing around but I really think it tastes better and you have the peace of mind of knowing exactly what is in there. You don’t have to go all super clean and vegan and drink it by the pint by the way, I personally find it peps up a chicken stew something beautiful!

I said chicken. I’m going to get some vegan hate mail now.

It was worth it.

Pumpkin Soup


Ooooh, look at that bad boy! We all know the value of a pumpkin as a potentially artistic candle holder but a startling amount of people don’t know what to do to fulfill the outrageous and exotic option of actually eating the bloody thing.
No, they aren’t desperately easy to handle but with patience and a good paring knife you’ll pop that soft yellow fresh out easily enough and may even be surprised at how tasty it is, not unlike butternut squash. Oh, right now you’re interested…..

For a really easy option, simply slice into thick wedges, brush with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and paprika and roast in a moderately hot oven for about forty minutes. Delicious with a hot roast chicken. If you have a little more time or interest, try the below for a lovely thick winter warmer.

Boomboom Pumpkin Soup

Serves two as a main course

Half a medium pumpkin, peeled with seeds discarded.
Two medium red onions
four cloves of garlic
Stalk only of a broccoli- none of the head
Five closed cup or chestnut mushrooms
Good vegetable stock
Red chilli pepper
Tsp Ground mace
Quarter tsp Ground ginger

Dice all your veg.
Fry off onions, chilli (seeds in or out to taste) and garlic in a little olive oil until soft then add pumpkin and cook for a few minutes before adding the broccoli, mushrooms, ginger and mace. Cook for a further two to three minutes, cover in stock and simmer for thirty minutes or until the pumpkin starts to disintegrate. Blend with a stick blender or liquidise then season well with black pepper and smoked sea salt if you have it. Serve with crusty bread on a cold all saints day.
So simple actually that I just wrote this from my phone app as an experiment, so apologies for any errors in format!

Chilli Non Carne

The musical fruit.

Ye Gods I’m going to start getting hate mail from the local butchers soon but here goes, it’s Vegetarian Day according to Google. I have unintentionally fallen into line with this by coming home and knocking up a big pot of spicy beans. This is because I still have stock to use up from the whole vegan experiment and have a busy couple of days coming up where it will be useful to come home and have a re-heat dinner on hand rather than actual cooking.

A chilli really is one of those staples you should have mastered by the age of twenty one, or considerably earlier if you ever lived in University halls. It’s easy, it’s hearty and unless you have some very dishonest grocers in your area, it’s damned cheap too. Versatile to boot, because now as my chilli bubbles away on the hob I’m torn as to what my carbohydrate accompaniment of choice will be. Rice, couscous or jacket potato? While I consider the attraction of each option, you can think about these fun health related facts about the two main constituent chilli ingredients.

Chilli peppers: high in vitamins A, C and K, magnesium, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and folate. The ancient Incas were so wary of the potent effect of chillies to warm up the human spirit that they were banned at funerals. Wowza.

Kidney beans: high in B vitamins, great for diabetics and contrary to popular belief unlikely to kill you if you don’t prepare them properly. They’ll give you a gut ache from hell though, so if in doubt buy canned!

I don’t hold to a set recipe beyond the two above ingredients- without fresh chillies and some kidney beans, it aint a chilli. You’ll find your own preference with it, so much so that I’m struggling to put down a full recipe because it’s so changeable. But here goes.

Vegetarian Chilli
Serves 4

Sunflower oil for frying
One large white onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 green chilli pepper
Whatever fresh veg is on hand- I like carrots, mushrooms and courgette
1 can red kidney beans
1 can baked beans
1 small tin of sweetcorn kernels
1 carton passatta
tsp cocoa powder
tsp sugar
Tbsp cider vinegar

It’s hard to mess this one up (unless you are so busy on a blog entry that you leave it on the stove on high and manage to weld the chilli to the pan base because it’s on too hot). Start by frying off the onion, garlic and chilli until the onions soften. Add now the cocoa powder and other vegetables. Most veg will work but mushrooms really are a winner, I’d avoid sweeter root veg like swede or parsnips. Cook off the veg mix lightly then throw in your beans and passata, sugar and cider vinegar. Stir well, remember to turn down the heat when it starts to simmer and leave for about half an hour. Put in fresh herbs of your choice at the end- I like some thyme but coriander or parsley will work as well. If you want to go with rosemary, chop very finely and add with the passata.

Spicy steamy beany goodness. Just don’t leave it bubbling this violently or you end up with blackened mush. Not good. Trust me, I know.

Keep it hot, serve it up with rice. Or baked potatoes. Or couscous. Or rice.

Variations: One chilli will give a medium hot result here, add more if you like your dinner more burny than warm. I will say though that a little too hot is preferable to a little bit bland so rather than err on the side of caution put all the chilli in and have some soured cream on the side to cool it down if needs be. Some sweet red peppers or fresh plum tomatoes will richen the texture of your sauce. If you can’t go without the carne used minced beef or pork and add at the beginning. Canned tomatoes will work if you don’t  have passata but I find the end sauciness is impaired if you go down this road.

The Vegan Diaries- a post script

A Beefeater dinner, ironically compiled of pork ribs and chicken.

<—–I ate this last night, and it was bloody marvellous. I don’t regret a single mouthful- I’ve been the to the gym four times this week and celebrated a relationship milestone so yeah, guilt free treats all round. But now I’m facing the start of another week and as I sit here in front of the TV enjoying a cheese on toast dinner I have to ask myself- what the hell is this Sinbad crap on Sky 1? Yeesh. I also have to ask myself if I feel as good as I did on Friday night. I don’t, but that’s no great surprise really as it’s been two days of yoghurt and cheese and omelette and chocolate and a fair amount of wine not to mention crappy cold wet weather and standard Sunday Night Slump. You know, that insidious depression that seeps into you as you realise that all you have left to do with the day is wait for it to be Monday. Horrors.
But taking all of this into account I’m still inclined to remember a previously mentioned clean feeling that was present towards the end of my vegan week. You know, after the headaches and intense tiredness and other moans and groans I had. My actual insides felt good. They don’t feel bad now, but they don’t feel as good as they did.
I enjoyed a meaty feast last night, but I didn’t miss it before. I’ve had a silly amount of cheddar for tea tonight but only because it was in the fridge and needed using up. I’ve had several opportunities for ice cream this weekend, and passed on all of them. No really I did.
I wont go on about my issues with milk, it takes too long and angers a lot of people. In short, I’m not an advocate of a high dairy diet. Meat is, essentially dead things and although I don’t feel an enormous moral compulsion that it is wrong to eat dead things, I can’t help thinking that maybe I don’t need to do so all the time. If I don’t really miss it, and possibly feel a bit better without it, then does avoiding it help everyone in a round about sort of way? I’m not going to deny myself, long term denial leads to shame spiral binges in my experience, but I’m going to cut down. More than I first thought. I might even eventually become a full weekday vegan.
It will start tomorrow morning, with a black coffee and go on to a chickpea salad lunch and a veggie stew dinner.

After that, well we shall have to see.