This pasta sauce started off as a pappa al pomodoro, but quickly veered towards a tomato butter sauce as I craved comfort on an increasingly blue day. I don’t know about you, but lockdown is playing havoc with my already unreliable emotional weather vane, clattering it all over the place, and I am learning to take things hour by hour, meal by meal, and take pleasure in moments of simple comfort in this strange new world of unknowns. I am grateful that all members of my household are healthy and well, and that we are able to do most of our day jobs under lockdown, even with the challenges that presents, and that my young son seems to have adapted well to the changes. He Facetimes and Zoom calls his friends and family every day, keeps a diary of his thoughts, feelings and experiences, does some educational work each day, and seems to be faring the best of all of us.
Anyway, back to the pasta sauce. I have a recipe for a three ingredient tomato butter sauce in A Year In 120 Recipes, and a Pappa Al Pomodoro in Cooking On A Bootstrap, but didn’t refer to either, instead just slinging ingredients in a pan on the hoof and an instinct, hoping for the best.
This was the result; and although it should serve four, I admit I ate almost the entire lot in one sitting, hunched over the pan, shovelling it in my face like a greedy goblin. I went to bed immediately after; heavy with that blissed-out, satiated feeling of a consummated crush. Limbs heavy, bone structures replaced with hot poured honey, eyes closed, deep deliberate lungfuls of speechless bliss.
I’d blame lockdown and the lack of variable human experiences for the intensity of this response, but the truth is food has long been a sensual and deeply spiritual thing for me, and pasta is definitely one of my greatest loves. I do find myself glancing at the hands of checkout cashiers these days, longing irresponsibly for a graze of skin as they hand over a receipt, a reminder that I’m not a hologram, but very much here. And as someone who can barely stand to be touched in normal circumstances, this feels like a very specific strain of madness.
But until this ceases, this fizzing with unbridled uncertainty and compacting internalisation of the everyday brushes of physicality, I’m just tripling this recipe for my 3.5 litre slow cooker, and unpacking my Next Size Up jeans in anticipation… Not a bad thing, by the way, I’m a fan of a bit more junk in the trunk, especially so deliciously obtained 😁 I think I’ve said enough, now, so, here’s the recipe.
Substitutions, including dairy free, vegan, gluten free and tomato-free, are given after the ingredients list. All prices are correct at the time of writing.
Should serve 4, from 24p each.
2 x 400g cans of plum tomatoes, 56p (28p/400g, Smartprice at Asda)
6 cloves of garlic, 13p (25p/bulb, Growers Selection at Asda)
70g butter, 41p (£1.45/250g, Smartprice at Asda)
1 stock cube, 3p (39p/12, Asda)
2 slices of bread, 5p (55p/800g, Asda)
a small handful of fresh basil, mint, parsley or coriander, 5p (50p/small plant, Asda)
1 tbsp vinegar, 1p (29p/568ml distilled malt, Asda)
250g wholewheat spaghetti, 25p (£1/1kg, Asda)
plenty of black pepper, 3p (99p/50g, Asda)
In place of GARLIC, you can use onion, leek, fennel, celery, garlic salt or asafoetida.
In place of CHICKEN STOCK, use chicken style stock like Osem, which is kosher and halal and vegan, vegetable stock or bouillon, or a smattering of onion gravy granules.
In place of BUTTER, you can use your favourite buttery-flavoured equivalent, or a light flavoured but tasty oil, like olive, canola or avocado if you have them.
In place of BREAD, you can use fresh breadcrumbs, or 3 tbsp packet stuffing mix – this will need a little extra stock or water to hydrate it, and you will get added depth of flavour from the sage and onion in the stuffing mix.
In place of TOMATOES, use a quantity of my NOMATO sauce, made from red peppers and carrots and onions here.
In place of FRESH BASIL, you can use any soft herb such as mint, coriander or parsley, or two bay leaves, or 1 tsp mixed dried herbs.
In place of the VINEGAR, you can use any vinegar you have to hand, or any other acidic component, like lemon or lime juice, a sharp orange juice, or a tangy salad dressing. If you keep olives or preserved lemons in brine in your storecupboard, you can use the brine from the jar here to delightful effect, and the same goes for canned fish in brine – the salty fishy undertone works well with the sweet buttery base of the sauce. I strain the brine from canned fish and keep it in a jar in the fridge for things like this, but screw the lid on tightly else it permeates everything else in the vicinity.
In place of the WHOLEWHEAT SPAGHETTI, you can use any pasta or grain you like or have to hand, including pearl barley, rice, cauliflower rice, cooked brown or green lentils, etc. To make it gluten-free, replace with your preferred gluten-free pasta – this does unfortunately increase the cost; the cheapest I have managed to find is at Asda for £1 for 500g of ‘free from’ pasta, if you know of any others please leave a comment below and help share the knowledge!
In place of the BLACK PEPPER, you can use a scant amount of white pepper, or if you’re feeling adventurous, chilli flakes or powder, or for those with storecupboards that hold more exotic ingredients, a very small grinding of szechuan pepper.
First grate your garlic into a large pan, but don’t place it on the heat just yet as garlic is fragile and burns easily. Crush your stock cube and sprinkle it over to season thoroughly, and add the butter.
Place on the smallest hob ring on a low heat, stirring for a minute or two as the butter starts to melt and the garlic gently, gently sizzles.
Dice the bread into 1 inch/2.5cm squares, or thereabouts, and toss into the pan. Pour over your tomatoes, and mash roughly with the side of a wooden spoon or spatula to break them up a little. Add your herbs, and a splash of vinegar, and prepare a jug of around 300ml water or stock to stand to one side. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally and topping up with the water as required; you want a thick and textured sauce, but still loose enough to be comfortingly sloppy – how much liquid you’ll need will depend variably on the type and age of bread used, and your personal preference.
When the sauce is 10 minutes from being finished, bring a pan of water to the boil and salt it generously. Add your pasta, and reduce to a simmer. Cover with a lid, or if you don’t have a lid, a large sturdy dinner plate or baking tray will do, and simmer for 8 minutes, or until tender.
Strain the pasta and toss with the sauce, and serve immediately.
Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to three days, or in the freezer for up to three months.