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Red Sauce

Salsa (tomato sauce base)

This delightful sauce has so many possibilities and uses.  Pasta sauce, pizza base, sauce for Polpetti, sauce for uovo strapazzate, for  uovo al forno, fried pasta, for topping oven-baked fish, with a dash of hot sauce for dips, and for unabashedly dipping your fresh hunk of bread into whilst you are cooking it.  I was once caught short with my guest list for dinner when the gazpacho was merely transparently grazing the bottom of the dish, looking more like a coulis than a soup.  My main course demanded my Salsa so I had a deep panful of it simmering away.  I scooped some out, put in another pan, added hot water and let the whole thing come back to the boil.  I put the gazpacho into the mix and no one was the wiser (save for my unique take on Gazpacho in that it was hot ,“Well it’s so cold tonight, I thought I’d to hot tomato soup instead!” , lied the hostess blatantly)

Short Cut for busy Women.  When time is short, you can just make Soffritto – rather than hunt for carrots and celery.  Do the onion in the olive oil and then the garlic (you can use garlic olive oil instead, at a pinch), pour in the tomatoes and whatever herbs you have, salt and pepper and then a dash of balsamic vinegar.  If you do it this way, you have no need to wait patiently until it reduces, just use it when it starts bubbling.

To puree or not to puree: You can choose whether to puree this sauce.  NB If you are making polpetti, leave it with all the cut vegetables in and don’t puree.  If you leave the peas in when you puree, it ends up looking like a strange sort of baby food so it’s better not to put peas in if you want to puree .  The time to puree is when the vegetables have just been tossed and glossed in the bottom of the pan and before you put the tomatoes in.  If you forget, you can do the whole batch once it is cooked but I think ladling hot sauce into a blender and then into another receptacle is a bit of a faff.  Unless you are cooling the sauce to freeze, it is scalding hot, so do remember to do small amounts each time and then leave the steam lid off your blender whilst you whizz things together.

The stewing together of onion, garlic and olive oil is called Soffritto.  We always begin this dish and many others with this traditional base, but for Salsa I put the celery and carrot in before the garlic because I don’t want the garlic to get above itself and burn.

Sugo  means ‘gravy’ in Sicily, and they make this using puree, which is much drier than salsa.  This is readily used in many recipes, but generally for putting on pasta.  The salsa is a little more multi-functional, probably because it is less labour intensive to produce, using less tomatoes.

One medium onion

4 cloves of garlic

One medium carrot

1 stick celery

Approx. 1000 g tomatoes fresh or tinned (if you are using tinned, do one tall jar of passata  680 g and one  400g tin of tomatoes)

Table spoon of sugar, whatever kind you have to hand.

Handful frozen peas (optional)



Salt and pepper

Oil a heavy saucepan (you will need a lid later). Turn the heat up to medium high.

  1. Chop the onion, garlic, celery and carrot very finely
  2. Place the onion in the saucepan and toss it until it looks transparent.
  3. Put in the celery and carrot.  Toss for a few minutes.
  4. Put in the garlic and toss for a couple of minutes.
  5. Put in the tomatoes and stir well.
  6. Pour in some Marsala – a couple of tablespoons or so.
  7. Turn the pan down when things begin to bubble.
  8. Put the sugar in and stir.
  9. Put the salt and pepper in, basil, oregano and any other herb you have to hand. If you do this, make a note to yourself so that you can do it again if it tastes good.

Let the sauce simmer now, with the lid on if it is spitting.  The lid off is fine.  You can leave this sauce to reduce for as little as one hour or as long as you wish.  I would recommend three hours or so, with a bit of stirring now and again to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom.

There is nothing quite like this sauce, and you almost need Dean Martin singing to you whilst you create it.  It is not only delicious as it is, but also very forgiving and lets you make big mistakes and small.  It is such an amenable thing that you can substitute the ingredients as you wish.  If you have no celery, leave it out, same goes with the carrot.  If you have a glut of carrots, use two instead of one – and write a Note To Self of what you did in case it turns out to be fabulous and you want to do it again. The Marsala (which you can substitute for any fortified wine like port or sherry) is optional but my hand often strays to pour a glug or two into many of these recipes, so it might be something you choose to invest in.

Uovo Strapazzate al pomodoro  (scrambled eggs in red sauce)

 One of my favourite things to eat at any time of the day is eggs on toast.  Poached or scrambled, I’m not fussy.  When I have been running around too much and have not been taking time for myself, I curl up on the sofa and reread one of the many books I love.  I think that a dependable good read is without price.  If my husband spies me like that, he cooks up his one speciality – scrambled eggs.  He takes great pride in doing this one thing well and I do so appreciate it (even though I know I am going to have to clear up his detritus afterwards).  But each time he ate my scrambled eggs he would ask me why they taste better.  After a little while I divulged my mother’s trick, just simply add a handful of Parmeggiano with the beaten eggs and tip the whole thing into a very hot olive-oil slaked skillet.  Ecco cosi!

This recipe combines English with Sicilian with bravura.

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