RSTEODR-HYOT

While fresh toma­toes are a thing of beauty, it is the abil­ity to main­tain their vi­brancy when canned or bot­tled that makes them the per­fect sim­ple sauce for all sea­sons

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Delicious. On Sunday -

FOR­GET those Span­ish galleons loaded with gold – the most valu­able trea­sures brought back to Europe by the great ex­plor­ers were the ed­i­ble ones.

These in­cluded pota­toes, corn and choco­late, though for me it is the de­li­ciously sweet and tangy tomato that is the MVP on this team. No won­der it is still known by its orig­i­nal Euro­pean name in some parts – the golden ap­ple.

FIRST BASE

I reckon Ital­ians make the best tomato sauce, the per­fect base that can be end­lessly cus­tomised. The se­cret is cook­ing down a base of two parts diced onion with one part diced car­rot and one part diced cel­ery. Known in Italy as a “sof­frito”, it adds com­plex­ity of flavour to a can of toma­toes.

Swap in diced fen­nel for the cel­ery if us­ing the tomato sauce with seafood and feel free to add any gar­lic once the onions have soft­ened. If you add the gar­lic too early you risk burn­ing it and that will make the sauce bit­ter.

Once this base is soft­ened, you can deglaze the pan with a lit­tle sherry, wine or vinegar. Once the boozi­ness has burnt off and you’ve scrubbed any burnt bits back into the sauce, add the toma­toes.

FINE-TUN­ING THE SAUCE

The fi­nal trick is to ad­just the sauce. I like to sea­son with a lit­tle salt, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of sugar. This cheat quickly adds a lit­tle more com­plex­ity.

COOK­ING IT OUT

I love this sim­ple sauce cooked out a lit­tle so as to main­tain its bright­ness, then per­haps splashed over a quick ri­cotta gnoc­chi, (see my recipe at de­li­cious.com.au). The recipe is ba­si­cally 400g fresh firm ri­cotta mixed with just enough flour to hold to­gether (about 35g).

Freeze leftover sauce to spread on pizza. Ideally, slowly cook it a lit­tle more to in­ten­sify its savouri­ness.

ANGER MAN­AGE­MENT

There are so many other ways to cus­tomise this sauce.

Throw in chilli – either dried flakes or fresh – to make the sauce “an­gry” as in “arra­bi­ata”.

Add crispy fried bacon to make your sauce “all’am­a­tri­ciana”.

Stir it through hot penne with a hand­ful of torn basil and torn moz­zarella, so the cheese melts stringy be­tween the quills of pasta.

Other ideas that rely on pantry sta­ples in­clude adding a tin of drained tuna, a lit­tle sugar bal­anced with lemon juice and some tar­ragon to the sauce, or cook­ing it down with an­chovies, capers and olives to make a put­tanesca sauce.

This tomato sauce is also great to roast fish in or as a dress­ing for slow-roasted lamb shoul­der. Gar­nish gen­er­ously with chopped pars­ley and lemon zest.

BOLOGNESE DAYS

I add diced bacon and loads of gar­lic when cook­ing the onions to make the core of my bolognese.

Re­cently, rather than cook­ing the toma­toes out in the sauce, I’ve been adding half the tinned toma­toes and most of the tomato paste shortly be­fore serv­ing, which gives the bolognese a lighter, brighter edge.

CUS­TOMISE IT

You can eas­ily change the ac­cent of this sim­ple tomato sauce by hit­ting it with dif­fer­ent flavour com­bi­na­tions.

For Span­ish, add slices of chorizo or lit­tle meat­balls with red cap­sicum and smoked pa­prika. Crushed co­rian­der seeds, cumin seeds and a dash of orange zest will fake the flavours of North Africa, es­pe­cially if fin­ished with toasted al­monds, cur­rants and a swirl of yo­ghurt.

Or make it In­dian by fry­ing gar­lic and ginger to add to the base, then spik­ing the sauce with some of your favourite garam masala.

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