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A wonderful chef I know served time across some Parisian hotplates night and day, seven days a week, for two-and-a-half years as saucier. Safe to say he knows sauce and evidently the key to a good one is simple: time. With a few hours of simmering the simplest of ingredients can create the most glorious flavour. This 'time' concentrates and rounds out flavours, it thickens gloriously as it reduces, and it allows the ingredients to become intimate bedfellows.
So if we are all in lockdown mode, or preparing for it, perhaps we can embrace the small luxuries, the benefit and luxury of time. Time pottering about the kitchen giving something on the stove the odd stir.
This is my quarantine sauce. It is dead simple and useful for any number of dinners, some of which I have suggested below. This mother recipe makes about 4 cups, after it has reduced, but quantity will vary depending on how long you leave it on the stove.
If time isn't on your side, don't turn away, I have options:
- It would work just as well shoving all of the ingredients in a slow-cooker, set to low and left overnight to do its thing while you slept.
- Alternatively, reduce the quantity of ingredients by half and throw it on the stove while you jump through the shower after work and pour yourself a wine. Just amp up the seasoning to accommodate the time difference (balsamic vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and miso, if using).
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 tbsp thyme leaves (or dried oregano, Italian herb mix or dried parsley)
6 x 400g cans crushed tomatoes
2 cups white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp white miso (optional)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1. Place a stockpot or pasta-size pot over medium heat. Add a generous lug of olive oil and add the onion, celery and garlic. As soon as you hear a sizzle, turn heat to low and let them sweat for 10 minutes or until translucent.
2. Add the thyme and cook for another minute or so, then add the tomatoes, wine and stock. Give it a good stir then add the brown sugar and vinegar. Cover with a lid and simmer for 4 hours, checking on it and giving it a stir every hour or so. (Note: cover with a lid for at least half of the cooking time. To speed up the rate of reduction, remove the lid after two hours, for all or part of the remaining cooking time.)
3. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. Stir through the miso, if using, and cook for another 30 minutes, until the mixture intensifies in colour and consistency.
4. Depending on how broken down your vegetables are, use a stick blender and give it a quick whiz to break down any larger chunks. Store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.
Makes about 5 cups (after 4 hours' cooking time; quantity will reduce if left on stove longer).
Pasta with quarantine sauce, tuna and olives. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Pasta with quarantine sauce, tuna, olives and chill
Add 1 tin tuna and ½ cup quarantine sauce per serve to a saucepan and place over low heat. Let it warm through before adding a handful of olives. Give it another stir and let it simmer, while you cook some pasta according to packet instructions. Serve pasta topped with sauce. Sprinkle over fresh chilli or chilli flakes, to taste. Season with parmesan, salt and pepper and sprinkle over a bit of flat-leaf parsley, if you have it on hand.
Chicken pepperoni and quarantine sauce
Add some chicken thighs (about two per serve) to a frypan, with about 100 grams of sliced pepperoni and fry until lightly browned. Pour over enough quarantine sauce to cover. Simmer for 15 minutes or so until chicken is cooked through. Season generously with salt and pepper. Throw a few basil leaves at it if you have them, and serve.
Quarantine sauce chilli
Brown off 500 grams of beef mince with 1 chopped red onion. Add a can of rinsed black beans. Pour over enough quarantine sauce to cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Serve in tacos, make enchiladas, or top with corn chips, chopped avo, shredded cheese and chopped tomato for one big free-form bowl of taco.
Add 2 cans of white beans, 2 cups quarantine sauce and 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes to a frypan. Place over low heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Throw some mozzarella at it. Throw some basil leaves and salt and pepper at it after that. Warm a bit of flatbread for scooping. Dinner done.
A few other options for quarantine sauce
- Use it as sauce for pizza.
- Use it to simmer a few pieces of barramundi with any fresh herbs or curry leaves that might be lurking in the back of your freezer. Serve over rice.
- Roast some chunks of eggplant in olive oil and dried oregano in the oven. Plop in a pan with quarantine sauce. Add chilli and cook for 15 minutes or until the eggplant is soft and breaking down. Plate. Tear over some mozzarella or feta, if you have it on hand.
- Roll some mince (any will work) into meatballs with dried herbs from your cupboard. Brown in a large frypan. Pour over quarantine sauce and simmer.
- Use as the base for baked eggs.
- Thin it out with some extra stock to turn into a soup. Serve with a cheese toastie.
- Make my sausage, kale and tortellini pasta bake