Right then - it's the weekend again - mid-month, rent or mortgage paid (hopefully - otherwise this is the last thing you're thinking about) and after the previous post your fridge is stuffed to the gills with nothing but unused jars of Birbeck's 'No-Brainer' Tomato Sauce. 'Damn!' I hear you cry. 'It'll all go to waste & I'll have to order a Chinese take-away.' Fear not 'cos here's something you can do before rustling up the next batch.
Tis the season of reasonably priced veg and this is a great way of sneaking them into those who least expect it. It's cheap as chips to boot. Should the little tykes in your life shriek in unfettered delight at the sight of McDonald's Golden Arches then this is definitely one for you. Similarly if you co-habit with, or indeed are a die-hard carnivore yourself, it can be used as the base for a really tasty bolognese. Or you can bung it on meatballs, slap it on chicken, whack it on a chop, have it on a Halibut...
Now comes the edgy bit - and for bringing the fine art of veggie chopping to a whole new level I must give all credit to my good friend Merven whose Italian Recipe Blog is second to none. For the absolutely authentic taste of Italy click here:
Now back to we chuck it in the pan stressed out just got in from work/pub/argument with nut-case on the Bus types.
For 4 people you will require:
- A 2-Can Serving of Birbeck's 'No-Brainer' Tomato Sauce
- A couple of carrots
- A stick of celery
- 1/2 a medium onion (or a whole little one)
- A decent clove of garlic
- Dollop of olive oil
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Veggie Stock
- Optional herbs - Basil or Oregano
- Optional Veg - see 'Tips' below
- Pasta of choice - Conchiglie (looks like shells) recommended
Ok - now what? Smash 'em all up with a rolling pin? Well, you can if you want - always good to work out the aggression before the other half appears. Alternatively, take a deep breath and get out a really sharp knife, a peeler and a chopping board. If you've got one of those posh 'chopper/hoosher-uppers' I mentioned last time that could work too but only if it chops finely rather than over-hooshes which leads to unpleasant mush. Suggest here too a glass of wine as this process takes a while yet is strangely therapeutic. I guess when you're trying not to hack off your fingers the brain ponders on little else.
Ok - slurp that wine - top up your glass again - feed the cat - and start to peel your veg. Oh, just wash the celery stick - they're impossible to peel - leave the celery leaves to one side too - they can be hacked up & go in as well. Remove garlic clove from bulb (handy tip with garlic coming up in a jiffy).
Now laid before you are the peeled carrots (make sure they're beheaded), 1/2 an onion and a gleaming celery stick. Drain your glass & re-charge. Have another glug. After all you've earned it - it's Friday and you're being healthy while all your colleagues are whooping it up at Max's Crazy Two-for-One Cocktail Hour for goodness sake!
Back to the food...
Time to slice & dice. Maybe lay off the wine for this one. Again, thanks to Merven for the tips here. Slice your carrots length-ways into individual strips about 1/4 cm thick. Then do the same again until you're left with loads of long thin bits. You can carry on being all precise if you want or simply finely dice here as best you can. It all depends on the sharpness of your implement, the quantity of wine consumed, and whether at this point you give a damn one way or the other. Anyway, the end result should be a lovely mound of relatively finely chopped carrot. Do the same with your celery, remembering to use the leaves too (they add loads of flavour) then chop your onion into teeny-weeny little pieces. Now comes the fun bit with your garlic clove. Place clove (which still has that annoying parchment-like covering) on your chopping board. Place hefty chopping knife flat on clove. I'LL RE-ITERATE HERE - FLAT ON CLOVE - NOT SHARP SIDE UP AS THEN YOU'LL HAVE TO GO TO A&E. Right then - 1,2,3 - with all your pent-up aggression smash down on flat knife (with clove underneath) using the palm of your hand (forehead not recommended). Result! Clove shoots out of kitchen window or lodges itself in the cat's ear. If neither occur glance furtively under knife and behold a load of smushed-up garlic. If you're the timid type you may need to chop a little more. If inherently prone to violence all should be well.
Have another glug and wipe away the oniony/garlicky tears of joy.
Grab a decent saucepan/frying pan and slop in a few hearty dollops of olive oil. Nonchalantly toss in your veg. Don't wait 'till the oil is hot as the whole lot could burn instantly & turn all nasty, crispy and brown. Give it all a shimmy-shake and let the aromas infuse your bedsit. Turn the heat down low as low can be and gently simmer. Bung in a twist of black pepper if you're feeling wild. Stir every now & then. Drizzle more oil if required. Locate your veggie stock cubes - they're at the back of the cupboard with a March 1998 sell-by date. Throw them out. Turn off the pan. Run around to your weird old neighbour to see if he/she has one. He/she does - phew! Triumphantly return to the kitchen bearing your bounty. Stick the pan back on & let the lot gently fry until the onions are see-through (about 10 mins should do it). Grab that jar of 'No Brainer' sauce from the fridge, flick off the lid, sniff appreciatively (after all you made it), slosh the lot into the pan with the veg. Open your stock cube - lightly massage between your fingers and let it crumble into the mix. If it's all drying out a little add a slosh of water, or wine, or both. Give it a stir. Bring it to the boil. Turn it down again. Simmer for 30 minutes or so. Have a taste. Chuck in some herbs, either oregano or basil are good. Drain the dregs of the bottle and open another one. God knows you deserve it. Light a few candles. The other half will be back any minute. Slide some good pasta - Conchiglie works (looks like sea-shells & holds the sauce within its ample folds) - into a cauldron of well-salted (ie. several good pinches) boiling water. Here's another Merven tip & it's a gem - always cook your pasta for 1 minute less than it says on the packet. When the pasta is cooked al dente (with a little bite) drain it in a colander. Take your bubbling sauce off the heat, tip in the pasta and give it all good stir until nicely coated. Answer your mobile. Have screaming row with other half as he/she is whooping it up at Max's Crazy Two-for One Cocktail Hour. Hang up quickly as your food is getting cold. Serve yourself a double helping. Grate. Garnish. Curse. Re-fill your glass. Eat. Drink. Make plans to change the locks. Enjoy!
Get inventive with this - it's really just a variation on last weeks. After all cooking's about learning some basics and then experimenting (within reason). If you want to use veg that's knocking about your fridge feel free & uninhibited! Just remember not to over-cook courgettes as they turn to unpleasant mush - same with peppers. Similarly aubergines require a bit (maybe a lot) of forward planning. And yes - this is a great sauce to have with meat & some types of fish too. If you like to spice things up a bit chop & fry-up a bit of fresh chilli with the carrots, onion etc. Chopped pitted Black Olives go well too - if you like Black Olives (which I do). Anyway, I'll get more into all this at a later stage as I reckon we need to leave tomato sauce behind for a while. Next time - something completely different!
Barbera d'Asti - my friend Elaine of the superb Toffoli's Italian Retaurant & Deli (if in Dublin put it top of the list) reminded me about this one. You'll find Toffoli's here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Toffoli/153882851315585?fref=ts
Anyway, the wine is bloody marvelous and as luck would have it Tom at my local off-licence just got in a few cases at a good price too. Give it a bash - goes really well with pasta & meat dishes.
Farewell for now & have a terrific weekend...