I am notoriously terrible with money. Always have been, and (probably) always will be. Back when I was a student, I practically had a hotline to my bank manager who would often tut at me when I asked to extend my overdraft. Somehow there was always too much month left at the end of my money – and who wants to spending their last tenner on sensible things like food when it could be used to go out dancing ?
In my younger days, I’d regularly go shopping with the loose change that I found down the back of my sofa. Indeed, back in 2003, I spent most of the Summer surviving on a diet of 15p ramen noodles which were pimped up with a bit of soy sauce, the bagels my housemate would bring home from the café she worked in at the time, packs of dried spaghetti and tins of tomatoes. As a result, I still can’t look at a pack of instant noodles without shuddering. However, there is a lot to be said for being thrifty. Mainly because it makes you inventive. And hey, what is cooking without a bit of invention?
I remember my Bubbie telling me about Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato sauce back when I was eighteen and preparing to leave home and move to big bad London. Although she’s not so well known in this country, Marcella Hazan is a bit of a phenomenon in the USA, and is deemed to be largely responsible for introducing the American public with many of the cooking methods that so many of us take for granted nowadays. She’s also been credited with starting the craze for balsamic vinegar – rather a poisoned chalice when you think of all the times you’ve been to an Italian restaurant and found your food smothered in the stuff. (If you’d like to find out more about this very inspiring woman, be sure to check out Steamy Kitchen’s excellent post detailing her meeting with Marcella, and her very suave wine writer husband, Victor).
Hazan’s methods emphasise the benefits of simplicity. All of her recipes are a celebration of how you only need a few store cupboard ingredients to create something satisfying. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but you should always use the best ingredients that you can afford. And hey – is anyone really going to notice if you make one of her recipes out of some wilted basil you find at the back of your fridge, or some overripe tomatoes you find being sold for 5p in Sainsbury’s at the end of the day?
This recipe is so easy to make, it feels almost shameful to write it down – it being more a combination of common sense and knowing what works together rather than any mastery of tastes and textures. If you’re using fresh tomatoes, you’ll need to skin them first by popping them into a bowl of very hot water for ten seconds before leaving them to cool off in a bowl of iced water for another five seconds. Then, the skins should easily slip off the flesh. Once you’ve done this, chop your tomatoes finely, making sure to remove any seeds which you feel might get stuck between your teeth at an inopportune moment. (Of course, if you’re using tinned tomatoes you can skip this bit altogether). Next, place your tomatoes in a medium sized saucepan with a whole onion and five tablespoons of butter (I used Lurpak Sea Salt Butter which is officially my new favourite ingredient. No, I’m not being paid to say that, Yes, I am open to all offers), and simmer the whole lot together for about 45 minutes, until the drops of fat from the butter start to float on the surface. Then, you can take the onion out (I like eating it with a knob of butter and some salt and pepper, because I’m strange like that) and stir the sauce through some cooked pasta.
I like to adulterate the sauce slightly with some fresh basil and a teaspoon of oregano, but, to tell you the truth, it’s just perfect as it is. Comforting, delicious and ever so slightly creamy (that’ll be the butter), you can feast like a king, safe in the knowledge that no one need ever know that you only spent a quid on ingredients. If my student self was reading this, I know she’d approve.