So, it’s been pretty quiet on the Aldo In Cucina front, but don’t worry, the pots are still bubbling away. The problem is, I have had a few extra ‘pots’ on the go having started a new job this year as the Drama Coordinator at Wilderness School. It’s a wonderful place to work, a real hive of creative activity and learning, and I am loving every minute of my new job. Its reengaged the gears of my career and I’m very much enjoying this new ride.
To this end, I’ve chosen to reduce some of my passions and projects, especially the catering gigs, to a low simmer – for the time being, anyway – until I see what the rhythm of my new school year is like (and until after my Year 12 class performance exam in May!) My problem has always been that I have had a lot of interests and passions: theatre, food, teaching… I want to do justice to each of them, and I also have a certain perfectionist streak – I want to do everything that I do to the highest possible standard, or else not at all. I don’t want to have too many things on the boil that I burn out or let things bubble over, and I have never liked to do anything half-baked – and, yes, all of those food puns are gleefully intended! I may well be looking for opportunities for a few very exclusive food events perhaps a little later in the year, and I will certainly keep you posted. In the meantime, this blog will continue to explore my passion for cooking and for food, especially those flavours heralding from my Italo-Maltese heritage.
I guess you could say I am in a position where I am wanting to make life simpler and find maximum enjoyment and satisfaction in that simplicity. And this calls for simple and satisfying cooking that is equally enjoyable to make. As far as Italian food is concerned, nothing ticks all of those boxes more than a traditional Pomarola sauce.
In its purest form, Pomarola stands on it’s own as the perfect sugo to toss through any kind of pasta, It’s delicious, ready in as little as 25 minutes (or longer, depending on the extent of your patience), it freezes perfectly, and it will please your vegan and non-vegan friends. Furthermore, it is as labour intensive as chopping an onion and opening some tins of diced tomato. As the basis of almost any tomato sauce, it can be added to, perhaps some anchovies, black olives and a boost of chilli to take this from Pomarola to Puttanesca, or spread on fresh dough as the basis of your pizza, or in my case, schiacciata dotted with whole pressed garlic cloves and dried oregano for a super satisfying Schiacciata alla Marinara that is appreciatively devoured at Aperitivo Hour.
My way of making Pomarola is to infuse the sauce with pressed garlic cloves or a couple of whole chilli (never both at the same time, since one flavour will tend to overpower the other) and whole stalks of fresh basil, leaves and flowers intact, which I remove before serving. I am happy to leave a few stray basil leaves to float through the sauce, and if using the sauce on my favourite Schiacciata alla Marinara, I scoop out the cloves and embellish the sauce-covered dough with this so they bake in the oven and go smoky-sweet.
I love Pomarola most tossed through fresh handmade pasta, topped with crumbly fresh ricotta, torn homegrown basil, a sprinkling of good quality Italian pecorino, and a flourish of dried chilli flakes.
So, simmer down and enjoy these traditional Italian flavours in their simplest form.
Makes enough for 6 serves of pasta
- 3 large cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled or 1 – 2 long red chills, whole
- half a bunch of basil – whole stalks with leaves intact (about 3 – 4 large long stems)
- 1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
- 3 x 400g tins good quality Italian diced tomatoes (or, if you wish to be a purist, the equivalent in fresh tomatoes, diced) (see note)
- Salt flakes (I like Maldon sea salt flakes)
- 1 – 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Note: If I use fresh tomatoes, I dice them and place them in a large bowl and toss through a generous amount of salt to help draw out the moisture; I leave them for a good 15 minutes or longer if time permits. This step also helps to develop sweetness in more tart tomatoes . If your tomatoes are particularly tart, which is a risk you run when using fresh tomato, add a little sugar to taste after the sauce has reduced, but go easy here.
Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan. Add the diced onion and a good pinch or two of salt flakes to prevent the onions from burning. Sautee until the onions turn translucent and well before they develop any colour.
Add the tomatoes (tinned or fresh) and water: if using tinned tomatoes (and you should), half fill each tin with water and swirl to collect all residual tomato before adding to the pot. Mix well and bring to the boil.
Add the whole pressed garlic cloves (or chilli) and the whole basil stems. Use your mixing spoon to submerge the garlic and basil in the sauce. Clamp on the lid and reduce to a low simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove the lid, stir, and continue to simmer a further 10 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced. (If time permits, simmer, lid off, for up to 30 – 45 minutes, adding more water if the sauce appears too dry.) Test for seasoning and adjust with extra salt or a little sugar if needed.
Remove the garlic cloves and basil stalks, allowing any loose leaves to stay behind to keep flavouring the sauce. At this point, you can toss through any pasta with a little of the reserved pasta cooking water, or spread on your pizza base; the sauce will have good texture. Or you can blitz in a food processes or with a stick blender for a more smooth sugo. Your choice!