If you’ve read my blog long enough, you must know by now that I’m somewhat obsessed with slow cooked tomato sauces. There’s something deeply comforting about them, it reminds me of my mom’s bolognese during my childhood and for a chilly night, it on top of pasta just hits the spot. Actually, it was what I craved when I returned from Beijing last year!

Sunday Sauce

It was only natural then that I became absolutely fascinated with the idea of Sunday sauce, what I imagine must be the Italian-American equivalent of a Sunday roast. Another name for it that comes up is Sunday gravy but I’m not clear on the etymology of it. I then recently caught an episode of Two Greedy Italians in which Gennaro Contaldo made a ragù alla Napoletana, a slow simmered tomato sauce cooked with plenty of meat. This surely must be the origin of the Sunday sauce (I have no confirmation of this – this is purely speculation!). A few Saturdays ago, I spent the afternoon putting together my own Sunday sauce.

The Meat

This recipe takes about 2 and a half hours from start to finish. I’ve listed the meats that I used in my sauce but any pork, beef or veal cut that benefits from long, slow cooking would work here. Meatballs would also be lovely in here but I’d add them in for the last 30 minutes of simmering. This was fantastic; all the meats had given their meaty goodness to the tomatoes making for a rich, hearty sauce. At the end, you can even fish out all the meat and serve it separately  – or, y’know, just serve it all at once (it makes for a rather grand-looking lot of food). Or even serve it like a stew with some good bread on the side. The recipe makes quite a bit of ragù for two people but it keeps very well and heck, there’s nothing wrong with eating it all week (which we did).

With Pasta

Sunday Sauce (Ragù alla Napoletana)
adapted from Two Greedy Italians and uh… this scene from The Godfather.
serves 6-8.

3 tbsps olive oil
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves (optional), minced
about 500g Italian sausages, cut into large chunks
about 500g pork ribs, cut into individual ribs
about 500g stewing beef, cut into large chunks
200ml red wine
3 tbsps tomato paste
3 cans (400g each) of chopped tomatoes
a small handful of fresh basil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

This recipe is just stupid easy. Get yourself a large heavy pot. Heat it over medium heat, add the olive oil and let it heat. Add the onions and the garlic if you’re using it and cook until the onions become translucent. Add all the meat to the pan and stir occasionally, letting whatever’s at the bottom brown nicely. You could do this in batches but I found this worked just fine.

Dilute the tomato paste in some water and pour it into the pot along with the wine. Let it bubble away until it has been greatly reduced. Pour in the canned tomatoes, tear in the basil and add some salt and black pepper. Stir well – you want the meat to be all submerged. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat so the mixture is simmering. Half cover the pot and let simmer for 2 hours. Check occasionally – if it’s getting too dry, add some water. I found that I didn’t need to add anything since the pot was partially covered.

Adjust the seasoning to taste (even some sugar if you feel it needs it). Take out the meat and arrange on a platter. Boil up some pasta (I used fusilli but spaghetti is good too) and mix with some of the sauce – you may have more sauce than you need (not a bad thing). Serve the pasta as the first course and the meat second or just serve it all up together as we did.

My friends gave us a pasta machine for our wedding and I put it to use a few weekends ago!

The Machine

Rolling

Cutting

Drying

Thank you so much, Mirna and Rachel and Sasa and Chris! There’ll definitely be more runs with it – I’m going vary my pasta thickness (though what I made was a lovely toothsome batch) and experiment with other widths and perhaps some lasagne too. We thought to serve the fettucine I made with a very simple tomato and caper sauce – recipe below.

Homemade Pasta with Tomatoes and Capers

A Tomato and Caper Sauce to Toss with Pasta
serves 2.

a few handfuls of the loveliest tomatoes you can find – we used a mixture of “sungold” and “jolly” from the farmers’ market
1-1/2 tbsps salted or brined capers, rinsed well
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh basil

Leave the small tomatoes whole and chop the larger ones into a size similar to that of the little ones.

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and add the capers. Fry for a minute before adding the tomatoes. Stir occasionally until the tomatoes have just softened but not for so long that they’ve all broken down into sauce. You still want some chunks in there. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and tear over lots of fresh basil.

Toss with cooked fresh pasta for two.

Wasn’t the weekend glorious? Sun in the sky, light breeze to keep things cool – it was perfect for a picnic. The first of the year! We’re getting pretty good at packing picnics now; I remember a poor one we had years ago when we first started going out and we didn’t have napkins or plastic cups or anything to even sit on. We have two mats/blankets, even a few throw pillows, all manner of plastic cutlery and cups, napkins, …. and camera, of course!

Picnic

To keep things simple this time, I packed some cookies I’d baked the night before (recipe in the next blog post!), some strawberries, a few individual yogurts, and some sandwiches. We based these sandwiches on some we bought in Barcelona this past trip – we were going for a day hike and that morning, we stopped into the local bakery and picked up a few plain-looking sandwiches: they were small baguettes, one with ham, one with chorizo, and one with some other preserved sausage. They didn’t look particularly exciting but when we unwrapped them, we found that the bread was rubbed with tomato and olive oil which lubricated everything nicely and made that sandwich utterly fantastic. (Well, I was surprised while Blai and his brother were not. Apparently, it’s the usual thing over in Catalunya to make sandwiches from pa amb tomàquet, that very Catalan combination of bread with tomato).

A Pa amb Tomàquet Sandwich

This is again one of those no-recipe, more-of-a-description posts. To make these sandwiches, use a small baguette per person; we used those half baked ones that you get at the supermarket and baked them that morning and allowed them to cool before preparing the sandwiches. Slice them in half horizontally lengthwise. Take a couple of very juicy tomatoes, slice them in half along their equators and then rub the cut sides into the cut sides of the bread. Really squeeze those tomatoes and get all the juice and seeds and flesh that squishes out onto the bread. The bread shouldn’t be soaking wet but there should be enough that the cut side is stained red. Sprinkle with salt if desired (I usually leave this step out) and then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil (never skip this step!). If necessary, press the two halves together to prevent the oil from leaking everywhere! You now have pa amb tomàquet! It’s lovely eaten by itself or topped with some ham (open-faced) or with some cured sausage on the side but we’re here to make sandwiches!

Now choose your filling – we had some thinly sliced honey roast ham and sliced cheese. Don’t be too generous with these fillings! You want a nice balance between them and your pa amb tomàquet. A few slices will do. Wrap up your sandwich (we just used plastic wrap) and it will be good for when you’re ready to eat it! I’m not usually a fan of sandwiches but I am a sucker for these!

Can you tell I’ve been cooking more recently? Due to a number of factors, we just haven’t been going out as often in the last month and that’s meant more action in the kitchen. With the exception of last week (dang, that was a lot of Chinese takeaways!), I’ve been cooking more on weekdays too. And here’s a recipe that turns up quite often.

I’d say that when I buy cavolo nero at the farmers’ market, chances are I’ll use it for this spaghetti dish (as evinced by these other photos!). The combination of savoury sausage and greenery and tomatoiness is mighty tasty and it’s quick to put together for a weekday dinner. Leftovers also keep very well and make a fine packed lunch the next day.

Spaghetti with Sausage and Cavolo Nero 3

So look out for some cavolo nero at your local farmers’ market! Kale is also good here but it is more bitter than cavolo nero – it also takes longer to cook so you might want to blanch it before adding it to the sauce.

Spaghetti with Sausage and Cavolo Nero
serves 2

200g spaghetti (we used spaghettini)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 sausages, peeled and chopped roughly
chili flakes
splash of dry sherry or white wine (optional)
200g cherry tomatoes or 3 large tomatoes, chopped roughly
2 tbsps tomato paste
1 small bunch cavolo nero, washed, trimmed and chopped roughly
olive oil (regular for cooking and extra virgin for finishing)
salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat about 2 tbsps olive oil over medium heat. Fry the onion until it’s gone soft and translucent. Add chili flakes and the chopped sausage meat, breaking up the meat as you’re frying it. When the meat is cooked, add the sherry/wine and let the liquid cook off. Add the chopped fresh tomatoes and the tomato paste and let the tomatoes cook down. Add a little water if it’s looking too dry but the fresh tomatoes should exude quite a lot.

In the meantime, bring a pot of water to the boil, add salt, and boil your spaghetti in the salted water.

When the tomato has cooked down (add sugar if needed), add the chopped cavolo nero to the saute pan and add a bit of water if the tomato mixture is too dry. Stir through and slap a lid on the pan. Cook until the cavolo nero is cooked to your liking – you might need to give it a stir here and there. Salt to taste and add a good grinding of fresh black pepper.

Drain your spaghetti when al dente and stir through the sauce, finishing with a final healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Update: I’m submitting this post to Presto Pasta Nights being hosted this week by Ben at What’s cooking?.

After many consecutive days of eating out, I really wanted some soothing, not very oily food at home. Rice was what I wanted. Rice and…. what would fit the bill? Well, it’s only been recently that a certain Chinese dish of stir fried egg and tomato has entered my repertoire and it was exactly what we were looking for – simple, though tasty, food that goes very well with a bit of fluffy white rice. All that was needed was some blanched broccoli with oyster sauce on the side.

Now, I don’t claim to be an authority on this dish; this is just the way that I cook it!

Stir Fried Egg and Tomato

Tomato and Egg, Chinese Style
serves 2 as part of a Chinese meal with rice

4 medium eggs
1 small onion, cut in half and then sliced lengthwise
2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
salt and sugar
cooking oil – I used sunflower

Heat a pan over medium heat and add some oil when it’s hot. Beat the eggs and then pour them into the pan. Slowly stir fry them – you don’t want to make scrambled eggs; there should be large egg folds. When most of the egg has set, dish it out and set it aside.

Wipe out the pan and reheat it and add oil again. Add the onion slices and stir fry for a few minutes – I prefer them softened but you can reduce the time and keep them more crisp. Add the tomatoes and stir through. Salt to taste and then add twice as much sugar as salt. Cook until the tomatoes are to your liking. They shouldn’t be hard nor should they be sauce. I like mine soft with a lot of the liquid released. Stir in the egg that you set aside and when everything is hot, plate it.

Eat with white rice and perhaps another dish on the side.