A rich, delicious homemade tomato sauce is easy to make and in a different league to the jars of readymade stuff.
It's important to give the onions time to soften and turn golden to bring a base note of flavour to the finished sauce. And it\'s worth sampling different brands of tinned tomatoes as they vary in quality; look for deep red tomatoes in thick, rich juice.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes, or jar of tomato passata for a smoother consistency
Splash of red or white wine, optional
Few sprigs thyme or rosemary, or chopped parsley or basil leaves, optional
1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over a medium-high heat and add the onion, stir once then leave them alone for about 30 seconds to a minutes, until they are just starting to sizzle and turn brown on the bottom of the pan. Don't stir them constantly as they won't take on any colour, and you want the lovely golden-brown colour. Fry in this way for about five minutes.
2. Once the onions are softened and golden-brown you can add the garlic. Don't add it any sooner or it will burn and taste bitter. Fry the garlic for about a minute, until it smells sweet and fragrant, then pour in the tin of tomatoes.
3. Fill the empty can about a quarter full of water or wine, rinse it round so as not to waste any tomatoes, then pour this into the pan. Add herbs at this point if you're using them, apart from basil which should be added at the last minute to preserve its delicate flavour. You can add other soft herbs such as chopped parsley at this point, or at the last minute.
4. Bring the sauce to a boil then turn the heat to medium so that it is bubbling fairly vigorously and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rich and thick. The first time you use this method it's worth not wandering too far from the stove as it can quickly burn if too much liquid evaporates, so, if it's looking too dry, add a splash more water and reduce the heat slightly. If you're not in a hurry to eat then you can simmer the sauce more gently for about half an hour to get the same result.
5. Season the sauce with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir in any herbs or other ingredients you like. Some people like to add a small pinch of sugar to balance the acidity, but if you\'ve cooked your onions properly then they should add enough sweetness. The sauce keeps well, covered in the fridge, for two days. It also freezes well.
Variations: Once you've made the base sauce, here are my six favourite things to do with it:
1.Tomato and tuna pasta
Add a drained tin of tuna, some chopped olives and chopped parsley or basil, and a handful of frozen peas to the finished sauce. Heat through and serve with pasta or rice.
2. Mozzarella and tomato pasta al forno
Toss the sauce through cooked pasta with a roughly torn ball of mozzarella and some basil leaves, spoon into a baking dish, top with some grated cheese and bake for 15 minutes until bubbling and golden. You could also add ham, cubes of fried bacon, tuna or roasted vegetables such as courgettes, peppers and aubergines.
4. Simple seafood stew
To make a very simple seafood stew you can add some chunks of raw fish, a handful of prawns, maybe some mussels or calamari, or anything you like, to the cooked sauce. Add a splash of white wine or vermouth, pop the lid on and simmer for just a few minutes until the fish is opaque, the prawns are pink and cooked through and the mussels have steamed wide open. Garnish with a little chopped parsley or chervil and serve with crusty bread or rice.
5. Spanish-style chicken, chickpea and tomato stew
Saute strips of chicken breasts or thighs in a little olive oil until browned, add the tomato sauce with a generous pinch of sweet smoked paprika and a drained tin of chickpeas or butterbeans and simmer together for 10 minutes, or until everything is hot and bubbling (thighs may take a little longer). You could also add stir in some fried slices of chorizo, or add some sliced red peppers to the onions at the first step of the tomato sauce.
6. Moroccan tomato meatballs
Stir in a spoonful of harissa paste and a handful of fresh coriander into the tomato sauce to make a Moroccan-style sauce. Mix some minced lamb or beef with a finely chopped onion, some ground cumin and ground cinnamon and roll into walnut-sized balls. Fry gently until golden then tip into the sauce and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve on a bed of couscous, garnished with fresh coriander.