On A Plate: Italy

by Quinn

Talking of which (not that I was) here is the latest tip from my irregular cookery series. And that tip is…use passata.
Once upon a time I decided to make a pasta Bolognese for tea – I’m a big fan of using cavatappi myself, having bored with spaghetti a while ago – but all of a sudden I realised we were without a ready-made pasta sauce in the cupboard. We’d often rely on a jar of something like Loyd Grossman’s Primavera or a Sacla Cherry Tomato and Basil sauce for ease of thing; many are nice although none are perfect, the main problem being that the kids baulk at the sight of any “lumps”, such as a miniscule sliver of onion or a tiny cube of tomato, and so we’d have to meticulously pick those bits out prior to serving. Such concerns are irrelevant, though, if you don’t have a jar in; so what to do? Fortunately, way at the back of the cupboard, sat a carton of passata that I’ll have bought in with the intention of making something a bit more adventurous sometime (I’ve got a great recipe for puttanesca somewhere). That’ll have to do, I thought, because I’d my heart set on Bolognese and red wine by now and I couldn’t be bothered popping out to the shops.

Passata on it’s own I knew would be pretty dull – it’s just sieved tomatoes at the end of the day – so first I fried a bit of garlic, dried basil and dried oregano in a little bit of olive oil; then I added the passata and stirred well. I warmed it through a bit, then gave it a little taste. It was still a tad bland, so I added a bit of salt. Tasting it again the flavour had certainly pepped up but now I thought it a little bitter, so I chucked is a sprinkling of sugar. That did the trick, and soon I was left with a simple pasta sauce as nice as any I’d tasted before.

The first and most obvious advantage I noticed in making your own sauce is that there are no bits in to annoy the kids – or to annoy me when having to pick them out – so long as you don’t stupidly add them in the first place. But I also realised that this must be pretty much all that pasta sauce manufacturers are doing; taking passata and adding stuff to it. The beauty of adding that stuff yourself, of course, is that now, rather than shopping around and trying to find a pasta sauce that is just to your liking, it is just as easy to buy passata and then customise your sauce however you like depending on your situation or mood; so, just garlic, oregano and basil if we’re eating with the kids, but, say, onions, capers and chillies too if it’s just me and the wife. And it is, of course, far cheaper to do yourself what you’d otherwise be paying Sig. Dolmio to do for you. So, now you know what to do, take this rotten old tree and make it bear fruit.

But a warning; this knowledge is dangerous. There is a lucrative pasta sauce industry out there, charging up to £2 for little more than 35p passata with bits. That’s quite a mark-up, their profit margins must be enormous, but can this last? I doubt it. It can’t be long before word spreads and it becomes common knowledge that what had looked at first glance to be the manufacturers “adding value” now seems to be little more than “adding oregano”. I fear we have an enormous, inflated and overheated “pomodoro bubble” here which is about to pop, splashing tomato sauce all over the tiling and hob. So I’m entrusting you to use this new information wisely and cautiously. Sell your shares in Ragu for sure, but allow this information to simmer out gradually, so there is just a gradual decline in the sales of those inefficient and overpriced pasta sauces rather than a sudden crash, giving the manufacturers enough time to find another way to rip us off. The last thing I want to see is a penniless and dejected Loyd Grossman, his pasta sauce business in tatters, begging to be let back on MasterChef; but as a contestant, imploring one and all that the only thing he’s ever wanted to do is to work in a kitchen.