my favourite slow-cooked tomato sauce

slow-cooked tomato sauce
There is a distinct chill in the air and the path to my front door is slippery with fallen leaves. It is definitely the weather for slow-cooked soups and stews.

I love to make up big batches of this slow-cooked tomato sauce. One of my standby sauces, this is a doddle to make, scales up well so you can cook a large batch and it freezes well too. Normally I wouldn't slow cook vegetables because after a certain point they've given all they've got to give and further cooking doesn't improve the flavour, or texture for that matter. But this is one of the few exceptions, because slow cooking tinned tomatoes gives you a beautifully intense slightly sweet tomato flavour.

You may think it odd or even a waste of time, but I also like to add a chopped fresh tomato to the sauce, largely because it adds a slightly different layer of tomato flavour and because I like the texture too.

Fancy making a spag bol or a slow-cooked beef stew? Add a portion of this sauce just adds to the intensity of umami flavours. It is also brilliant on its own with pasta, delicious with stuffed vegetables or just plain fabulous dolloped over a buttery bowlful of mashed root veg.

Serves 4
Skill level: Easy

1-2 tbsp olive oil
a knob of butter
1 onion, very finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
4 chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped (optional)
1 400g tin of whole plum tomatoes
1 fresh tomato, finely chopped
half to 1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
water (optional)
150ml red wine
1 tsp fish sauce
fresh basil, to taste
freshly ground black pepper

  1. Gently heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and then melt the butter. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and fry gently for 15 minutes until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the garlic and fry for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the mushrooms if using, with another pinch of salt. Stir and cover. Fry gently for 5 to 10 minutes until the mushrooms begin to soften and exude some liquid.
  4. Drain the tomatoes into a sieve. Remove 1 plum tomato and set aside. 
  5. Now comes my favourite part; squish the rest of the tomatoes with your hands so that they are well broken up. Add these tomatoes together with the chopped fresh tomato to the cooked onion mixture together with a half teaspoon each of sugar and salt. Stir before adding the dried oregano and bay leaf. 
  6. Add tomato juices. Bring to boil and then simmer, covered for 1 hour, stirring very occasionally. Add a splash of water if it looks as if the sauce is about to catch.
  7. Add the wine and fish sauce. Continue to simmer for 20 minutes. What you want is a very thick sauce, so add more water if necessary, or reduce. It will really depend on how much tomato juice there is.
  8. Taste sauce and add a little more sugar if sauce tastes too acidic.
  9. Squish (or chop) the remaining plum tomato and add to the sauce. Cook for another 2 minutes or so, until the additional tomato has warmed through.
  10. Check the seasoning.
  11. At this point you can blitz up the sauce (removing the bay leaf). However, I prefer a chunkier texture.
  12. Stir in a few torn fresh basil leaves and serve.
  • If you have any Parmesan or Pecorino rinds, then lob them into the sauce too for an extra hit of umami!

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