I waste a shitload of money of ingredients; currently lurking in my fridge is shrimp past, chipotle peppers, miso paste, wakame, umame paste and numerous other pastes, rubs, spices etc. that have only been used for a handful of recipes. I hold my hands up. I’m stupid.
BUT one thing I will never buy into is the con that is the ready-made pasta sauce. The ready-made pasta sauce is the military dictatorship of the food world (not sure where that comparison came from). It crushes creativity, stifles innovation and quells the capacity for inventiveness and resourcefulness (re-sauce-fulness…I had to). Pasta sauce usually comes to the rescue when you’re walking back from work/lectures and your stomach gives you a light prod, asking ‘what’s for dinner, brain’. You detour into the nearest Tesco Express and peruse the aisles before spotting a pleasingly green jar of pesto that says to brain ‘I’m here for you, brain. I’m quick, I’m green (meaning I’m probably healthy), I’m easy to carry home. You know what to do’.
But don’t been lured into the suave charms of the pasta sauce, because every jar or pot of pasta sauce you see can be easily and quickly recreated at home, using cheap ingredients, without any added shit to make it last 4 years sat on a shelf, and delivering a much fresher and more satisfying taste, all the most because you were able to look the pasta sauce jar in the eye and say ‘no, pasta sauce, I don’t need you anymore. I want sauce with personality; not your bland, overpriced, basic-bitch equivalent’. You don’t need to quickly google a recipe for carbonara or pesto to be able to make it, just follow your instincts – it’s this simple:
Pesto: a mix of herbs, olive oil, nuts/seeds and cheese if desired. Combinations that work include:
- The classic basil, olive oil, pecorino or parmesan, pine nuts
- Spinach, basil, brasil nuts, olive oil, parmesan
- Kale, pumpkin seeds, rape seed oil, lemon juice
- Roasted red peppers (from a jar or roasted at home), almonds, olive oil, parmesan
Tomato sauce: the most basic and versatile sauce around – there are absolutely no rules to abide by, so you can’t mess it up. My basic combinations are:
- Onions, garlic, tinned tomatoes, pinch of sugar, halved cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil
- Onions, garlic, paprika, chipotle, tinned tomatoes, coriander, teaspoon of cocoa powder, honey
- Onions, garlic, smoked paprika, chilli flakes, tinned tomatoes, harissa, cubed aubergine, pinch of sugar
Carbonara: literally all you need is eggs and cheese. I like:
- Egg, parmesan, dash of cream, pancetta (the classic, all stirred into the cooked pasta a few minutes before serving
- Cheats’ (it’s not actually carbonara but it falls under the cheesy/creamy category) – onion, garlic, spinach, asparagus, dash of white wine, dollop of mascarpone, thyme
This is just three examples – literally any ingredient in the fridge can become a sauce – just decide if you want it creamy, tomato-ey, garlic/buttery, herby etc. – and make it work. Take as little or as long as you want to make it perfect, and if it’s really good then take one of your discarded faux-pasta sauce jars and fill it with your creation. Your jar will thank you.
Below I’m sharing 2 recipes (again, I need to catch up on my recipes because the ‘post this before you forget the recipe’ list is getting longer). The first is for a spring roasted red pepper and almond pesto pasta, served with courgette ribbons and spring greens. You can eat a massive bowl and still have room for an ice cream, so I’m happy. The second is for yet another salad – this one’s with avocado, beetroot, garlic and chilli fried sprouted lentils, and a tahini/peanut butter dressing (I’m sharing this one mainly to show off my first attempt at an ‘avocado rose’).
Roasted red pepper and almond pesto for 2 (notice I have no real quantities – taste it and test it!)
2 red bell peppers, halved
2 garlic gloves, peeled
Large handful of toasted almonds
Pecorino or parmesan
Salt and pepper
A pinch of red pepper flakes (if you have any)
To serve: chopped onion, spiralized courgette, peas, asparagus, toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, more parmesan
- Put the peppers and garlic on a roasting tray and roast at 220 degrees c until the pepper skins are blackened and the peppers and garlic cloves are soft.
- Put into a blender with the almonds, olive oil, parmesan, red pepper flakes and seasoning and blend. Add olive oil until you reach the right consistency, and keep tasting to make sure you have the right quantity of cheese and almonds. Don’t worry about getting the quantities wrong – pasta is a personal thing.
- Either serve your sauce with pasta and more cheese, or do as I did and fry off some onions, add frozen peas and chopped asparagus and cover to steam, add the courgette and stir to combine well, dollop in the pesto and stir until combined and hot. Serve topped with the toasted seeds and cheese.
This next recipe abides by my rule that no salad should be ‘light’ enough that you have to eat it inside from fear of it blowing away in the breeze – something which has happened to me in the past. The creamy tahini/peanutty dressing takes care of that problem.
Avocado, beetroot and sprouted lentil salad with tahini/peanut dressing
1 1/2 tsp tahini
1 tsp peanut butter (or almond butter)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp honey
Squeeze of lemon juice
2 tsp water
Pinch of chilli flakes (I had a mix of smoked chilli and garlic flakes so I used that instead)
Mixed leaves (I used pea shoots and rocket)
Cooked beetroot, cubed
Half an avocado (you don’t have to make a rose with it but it’s quite fun)
Sprouted green lentils (you can buy them for a ridiculous price or make your own here)
Sunflower and pumpkin seeds, toasted
- To make the dressing, whisk together the tahini, peanut butter, sesame oil, honey, lemon juice, water and chilli flakes, and seasoning. Adjusting everything to taste.
- Heat some oil on high and add your sprouted lentils, along with some chilli flakes and (if you have any) smoked garlic powder. Toss every few minutes until crispy.
- In a bowl toss together the mixed leaves, beetroot and avocado (unless you’re venturing into some avocado art) with the dressing until lightly coated. Tumble into a bowl.
- Top with your avocado, the chilli lentils, and the toasted seeds. Season, and take a picture because it’ll be one of the prettiest salads you’ve made.