Stand-by Tomato Sauce

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This tomato sauce is superb to use in any pasta dish from Spaghetti Bolognese to lasagne. It can be made in advance and left in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen for later use. Choose tinned tomatoes with character – you will notice the difference.

Recipe halves or doubles easily. Makes about 400ml of sauce.


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely sliced
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Leaves of half a stem of rosemary
1 tablespoon tomato purée
400g tinned tomatoes plus 100ml cold water to rinse out the tin
8 basil leaves, shredded
Pinch of caster sugar (if required)


1. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick saucepan. Add the onion, celery and carrot and turn the heat to medium. Season with salt and black pepper. When the onions sizzle, turn the heat to low and stir. Cook the vegetables until they are lightly golden and soft (stir from time to time and check that they are not burning). This will take 15-20 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary leaves and cook for 1 minute.

2. Add the tomato purée, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the tinned tomatoes, the cold water (which you have used to rinse out the tin of tomatoes) and half the basil and bring the sauce to the boil. Turn the heat down to low.

3. Cook the sauce for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring it from time to time with a wooden spoon. Add a little more cold water if it sticks. It is ready when the oil floats to the service and turns brown. Season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary. Check the sauce for sweetness and add a little caster sugar to balance it. Add the rest of the fresh basil. Mash the sauce with a potato masher or in a food mill. Leave to cool and use as required.

Recipe Variations

– Use a whole garlic clove instead of the finely chopped garlic – peel and cut it in half, remove the green stem, and fry it over low heat in the oil to flavour it, then discard the garlic just as it begins to colour.

– To make a quick Spaghetti Bolognese, add 400g minced beef (or half minced beef, half minced pork) to the cooked vegetables with a half tablespoon oil, fry over medium heat until it loses its colour, then continue the recipe.  (When you cook the tomato sauce with the meat, you can use this mixture as a base for cottage pie, Shepard’s Pie or to fill empanadas. Freeze it in portions for quick midday suppers.)

– Make a quick supper: cook pappardelle, tagliatelle or penne until al dente, drain, spoon over enough hot tomato sauce to coat the pasta, add a spoon or two of the hot pasta water, some more chopped fresh basil and serve with a grating of Parmesan or Pecorino.



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