I make a lot of sauces with fresh tomatoes in the summer when they’re cheap and plentiful or tinned ones at any time of the year. For pasta dishes, curries and daals, it’s worth batch cooking and freezing so that you’ve always got the base for something delicious on hand. It’s the culinary equivalent of having money in the bank! In the early days of lockdown, it was difficult to buy the usual 400g size tins of tomatoes and a friend of mine managed to buy a massive catering size tin but then didn’t know what to do with it all. She does now! So, I’ll explain how to make a batch base (a very therapeutic lockdown activity!) that you can then use for a number of dishes like the pouring sauce for my meatloaf recipe, a Spanish salsa brava to top a classic tapas dish of crisp fried potatoes, and an onion and tomato masala for delicious Indian curries and daals.
The base: you will need one large white onion, 120ml light olive oil, 2 large cloves of garlic made into a paste, 1 teaspoon of salt and 20g of tomato purée per 400g tin of tomatoes for the base sauce.
- For an Indian onion-tomato masala: 20g of fresh ginger paste and 1 teaspoon of hot chilli powder per 400g tin of chopped tomatoes.
- For salsa brava: 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes, 1/2 teaspoon of Tabasco, 1 teaspoon of smoked hot Spanish paprika (Pimenton Picante).
- For a pouring sauce: 1 tablespoon of double cream, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.
- For a pasta sauce: the variations are endless – added crispy fried pancetta and chilli for an arrabbiata sauce OR a tablespoon of double cream and torn basil leaves, OR flaked tinned tuna, OR fried chorizo chunks, paprika and chopped red peppers.
If you’re making a big batch (more than 3 x 400g cans), a preserving pan is perfect if you have one. For smaller amounts, I use a deep-sided non-stick wok or a sauté pan with a heavy base.
- Peel and slice the onions and make the garlic paste (use a fine grater, a garlic press, a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a large blade knife).
- Warm the pan over a medium-high heat setting. Add the oil, let it warm for a few seconds, and then add all the sliced onions. You need a lot of oil, don’t be tempted to use less. They should simmer quite rapidly in the oil but be careful not to allow them to burn or crisp by stirring them frequently and add a splash of water if they look like they are sticking. The aim is to cook the onions for at least 30 minutes so that they become deep brown and caramelise – that’s how you’ll get the wonderful flavour that quick cooking will never achieve.
- Once they are meltingly soft in texture and nicely browned but not burnt, add the garlic paste and keep stirring for another few minutes. Next, add the tomato paste and salt, cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add the tinned tomatoes, stir well and cook for another 20 minutes or so – you may need a little longer for a really big batch. The tomatoes need to break down and caramelise in the oil. If it sticks, add a splash of water.
- You should now have quite a thick, concentrated and rich tomato sauce. Allow it to cool completely and then freeze it into useful quantities to cook again later as is, or split it into smaller quantities made into all the different sauce types below. If you want to use it during the week, put it into a clean container and refrigerate. It will keep for a week.
When you want to use it, take it from the fridge or defrost it first.
- For the onion-tomato masala, reheat it in a pan and add the ginger and chilli powder and use as the recipe requires.
- For the salsa brava, blitz it until smooth with a stick blender, add the vinegar, chilli, paprika and Tabasco – cook through gently in a pan for 15 minutes and then pour over crispy fried chunks of potato for patatas bravas, a tapas classic.
- For the pouring sauce, blitz it smooth with a stick blender, warm gently, add the cream and a little water so that it’s a pouring consistency. Serve with meatloaf.
- For the pasta sauce, keep it chunky or blend it smooth, add your choice of ingredients such as the tuna or pancetta. Serve with your favourite pasta.
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