Tag Archives: tomato

Sausage and chickpea pasta bake (pasta al forno)

This dish is a bit of celebration of things I didn’t used to like, but have come to terms within the last few years. I’ve always associated sausages with the fatty, odd-tasting beef ‘sangas’ that grace the typical Aussie barbeque.

Celery is just something I never understood until I started adding it to stews and soups. The little bit in this recipe adds a very definite layer of flavour. I’ve also overcome the hassle of all the washing and chopping involved in celery by prepping a whole bunch at a time and freezing a container of pre-diced celery. I just pull some out and throw it straight in the pan and it’s fine – plus there’s a lot less waste.

Then there are pasta bakes, which, to be honest I always thought were just a bit tacky. I thought they were a bit of a cheat food – you know, add a jar of cheap sauce to some pasta and throw in the oven – ick. (NB I’m aware that there are several tinned ingredients in the list below, but I do live in the real world and I truly couldn’t live without tinned tomatoes and chickpeas.)

Anyway, after visiting Italy I realised that pasta al forno was actually quite traditional, and could be really delicious. In this dish the combination of rich tomato sauce, spicy sausages and creamy chickpeas is really divine.

Now, ingredients. There are three things you need to spend money on for this dish: the pasta, fresh parmesan and the sausages. I think that top-quality pasta is always worth buying, because even at $5 for 500g it’s an incredibly cheap meal by serve. I look for pasta made from durum semolina. If you can’t tell what it’s made of, the cooking time on the packet can be a good indicator of quality – anything less than 10 minutes is a bit suspicious.

Similarly, good  parmesan isn’t cheap, but it goes such a long way that per serve the cost is absolutely tiny. Meanwhile the sausages are here to give loads of flavour, so something spicy with top-quality meat is really worth buying. If you can’t get spicy sausages, add some chilli and paprika to the sauce.

I did a couple of quick sums and even with really nice pasta and sausages this dish cost less than $2.50 AUD per generous serve, which is cheap by almost anyone’s standards. It’s also very simple. I know the process and list of ingredients look long, but I’ve spelled this one out a bit because I’m thinking of a few friends who are beginner cooks with this one!

 Serves 6

Ingredients

Olive oil
400g ‘Italian-style’ sausages (spicy, with a mix of pork and beef)
½ red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
½ stick celery, finely diced
2 x 400g tins tomatoes, chopped
500g tomato passata (tomato puree – not paste)
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
pepper

500g dried pasta (large penne are great)
200g fresh mozzarella (sometimes called bocconcini here in Aus)
parmesan cheese

To make

Heat a large pot and add a little oil. When the oil is hot, use scissors to snip the sausages into small pieces, dropping the segments straight into the pan. Cook the sausage pieces in batches, browning all over, and remove onto a plate – instant meatballs!

If the bottom of the pot is too burned add a little water and scrape the worst off then pour it out. Add a little more oil and then the onions. Once they’ve softened add the celery and garlic and cook down for a few minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.

Add the chopped tomatoes then cover the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the tomato passata, sugar and vinegar. Cover, bring to the boil again and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add the sausages, chickpeas and oregano and season with pepper – usually the sausages will be salty enough for the whole dish, particularly once the parmesan is added, so I don’t add any other salt. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta until it’s almost al dente (around two-thirds of the time quoted on the packet).

Now, I prepared this the day before I wanted to eat it, so I let the sauce and pasta cool down before I assembled everything. If you are doing that just make sure you coat the pasta in a little oil just after draining it, otherwise it’ll all stick together. If you want it now, ignore that – but I have to say that I think the overnight stopover really adds to this dish.

To assemble, take a deep baking dish and start with a thin layer of sauce. Add a single layer of pasta, then more sauce, a layer of mozzarella and a light grating of parmesan. Repeat until you end up with a final layer of cheese on top.

Bake at 180°C for around 20 minutes, or until the top is golden and crispy. Serve with a load of salad and enjoy!

J

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simple pasta with white zucchini and cherry tomatoes

We eat simple pasta dishes like this all the time in Italy. In fact this recipe almost counts as complicated because it has two main ingredients in the ‘sauce’!

Like most very simple dishes this works thanks to a little bit of precision in the cooking, so the order of adding ingredients does matter. If you can get your hands on some white zucchini this is a perfect way to use them. Alternatively asparagus is amazing in this kind of pasta dish.

to make

Serves 6

500g short pasta
2 cups white zucchini, halved lengthways and diced
1–2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon mint, roughly chopped
pecorino cheese, grated
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Get the pasta cooking in salted boiling water.

Put a frying pan on a medium–high heat. Add olive oil and the garlic cloves. When the garlic is just sizzling add the zucchini and sauté until they are just softening and have a little colour. Add the cherry tomatoes and continue cooking until they are warmed and just beginning to soften. Season to taste, but remember that the pecorino cheese is quite salty.

Drain the pasta and add half to a large serving bowl. Add half of the zucchini mix, half of the mint and a good grating of pecorino. Add the remaining pasta, sauce, mint and some more pecorino and then stir everything well. (Adding everything in two layers helps to distribute the sauce and cheese evenly.)

Serve, preferably at a table set with daffodils:

J

veggie soup with lemon and tomato


Writing a recipe for vegetable soup is a bit daft. For one thing there are as many soup recipes as there are pots of it made – I mean, has anyone ever made soup the same way twice? Plus soup is one of the most forgiving and flexible things it’s possible to cook; a bunch of things thrown in a pot with some liquid and you usually can’t go wrong.

Mark Bittman (a New York Times food & opinion columnist) wrote a great article on vegetable soups a few days ago. He provides twelve starter recipes, with the idea that once someone has worked their way through that list they should never need to look at a soup recipe again.

Looking at Bittman’s recipes a theme definitely emerged for me, which was the importance of having a knockout flavour combination at the heart of a soup. Bittman’s list included cauliflower and curry, squash (pumpkin) and ginger and tomato and garlic – you see what I mean?

I think I’ve been unwittingly working to this model with soups for a while. My basic soup template is generally a minestrone-style vegetable and legume soup, with lots of tomatoes to add body to the broth. Last year I was cooking this spiked with paprika and with chopped chorizo sausage to add spice and smoky depth.

This year the inspiration changed, and I’ve been using one of my favourite new flavour combos – tomato and lemon. As a winter pick-me-up this has a lot going for it, and the tangy combination really works well with the more mellow flavours of chickpeas and lentils. I also throw a bit of chilli in at the start, not enough to make this spicy, but just enough to get a touch of warmth on the tongue.

I like to head in a middle-eastern direction with toppings for this, toasted sunflower seeds and natural yoghurt are really delicious. In the photograph below I’ve just got the one necessary addition – a wedge of lemon to be squeezed over the hot soup just before eating.

So here’s the recipe. I don’t want to be prescriptive about what vegetables to use and how much of them you need, so the quantities below are purposefully vague. Similarly the lentils and chickpeas could be replaced by almost any other combination of legumes.

to make

zest of 1/3  of a lemon, very finely chopped or grated
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
either
1 large onion finely diced
or
leeks, in 1cm cubes
3ish cups vegetables, in 1cm cubes (I used carrot, capsicum and cabbage)
1/3 cup dried lentils
400g tin chickpeas, drained
800g tinned tomatoes, well chopped
3/4 tablespoon dried oregano
vegetable or chicken stock

olive oil
chilli, salt and pepper to taste

For serving wedges of lemon (mandatory) plus toasted sesame seeds, natural yoghurt, freshly chopped herbs or whatever you like.

Heat a large pot on a medium-high heat. Add olive oil and then the leeks/onions, garlic, lemon zest and chilli. Sweat, stirring regularly, until the leeks/onions are soft. Add the other vegetables and the lentils, continue cooking and stirring until they’ve softened.


Add the chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, oregano and enough stock to give the vegetables a little room to swim. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover and bring to the boil. Once your cauldron is bubbling turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cover again. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender (around 25 minutes).

Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and any other garnishes you feel like.

J

linguine with green bean & tomato sauce

Spending several months in Italy last year provided a lot of opportunities to learn a thing or two about cooking – particularly the pasta arts. That said, it wasn’t always easy to squeeze tips out of the real pros.

Maria is the nonna of my cousins (who are half-Kiwi, half-Italy). She’s from The South and really knows her way around a kitchen, having been on galley-duty her whole life feeding a tribe of relatives. She is also the master of making a lot out of very few ingredients; how she is able to draw every drop of flavour out of a few tomatoes and basil leaves and turn them into the most exquisitely pungent fresh tomato sauce remains a mystery to me.

She is also a financial mastermind, the inventor of an economic philosophy both brilliant and simple. The principle? If you don’t go into shops you won’t spend money. Pure genius. In practice it means using up what you have – particularly food stuffs, but also clothes, cosmetics, anything – before heading back to the shop to resupply. With Nonna Economy you waste less and avoid opportunities to impulse-buy.

Back to food, this was clearly the person from whom knowledge of the secret lore of pasta should be sought – but on the few occasions that Andrew or I tried to watch her in the kitchen we were usually turned around pretty swiftly. I’m not sure if we, as guests, were simply not meant to help out in the kitchen. More probably we just got in the way. On one memorable occasion the diminutive grandmother literally chased all six foot of Andrew out of her tiny kitchen brandishing a wooden spoon.

That said, I did manage to pick a few things up, mostly from attempts to reverse-engineer the masterpieces that arrived on the table. One of the best was to use whole garlic cloves in quick pasta sauces rather than diced, sliced or crushed garlic. The whole cloves aren’t in danger of burning and becoming acrid, and they seem to infuse a much sweeter and more aromatic flavour than you get with garlic that’s had a rougher start to its culinary life. Just remember to remove the garlic cloves before serving the pasta!

So, when I came to thinking about Saturday lunch last weekend the cupboard and fridge were beginning to look a bit bare – but with Maria as my inspiration I decided to make use of what I had lying around.

Fresh green beans braised in a tomato-based sauce and served with fresh parmesan cheese couldn’t be called a revolutionary idea, but with some linguine added I was able to up the ante from side-dish to main meal.

Slicing the beans length ways to form lovely green ribbons adds a little work, but the cohesion you get between vegetable and pasta is well worth the effort.

linguine with green bean and tomato sauce

Serves 2

fresh green beans, a handful
400g tinned tomatoes*
2 small cloves garlic, peeled,
1 teaspoon dried oregano,
olive oil
chilli, salt and pepper to taste

dried linguine 150g-ish

fresh parmesan for serving

to make

Top and tail the beans, then slice them lengthways in halves or thirds – aim for a width similar to that of your linguine.

Get your pasta cooking.

Put a frying pan onto a medium-high heat. Add a splash of olive oil and the whole garlic cloves and chilli (I used sambal oelek because I had it on hand, but fresh or dried chilli would be fine). Once the pan is hot, and the chilli/garlic have  just started to sizzle, add the beans to the pan.

Cook, stirring, for a minute before adding the tomatoes and the oregano (fresh basil would be a great alternative). Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer while you cook the linguine. The sauce should reduce a little and the beans should soften but retain their bite.

Drain the cooked linguine, keeping about a tablespoon of the cooking liquid. Add the linguine and the cooking liquid to the sauce in your frying pan (still on a low heat) and mix well.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

 

* I prefer the whole peeled tomatoes, which I then chop myself by sticking a knife in the opened tin and thrashing it about a bit. I find these have better flavour and more body than the crushed ones. In the photos above, though, I’ve actually used crushed as I grabbed the wrong can at the shop – so really the crushed toms are fine.