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Virtue can come in a can.

In a tin.

Yes, virtue comes in cans of tomato sauce.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

This tomato sauce – proclaimed my best-ever tomato sauce is proof. ‘Eating’, living proof.

I’ve made it with both fresh and canned tomatoes and the former cannot hold a candle. This isn’t a case for fresh - let that be the preserve of stews and Jollof rice.

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Sugo, Italian Tomato sauce

If I had to offer you – my readers one recipe in 2014, it would be this.

This sauce that is so full of smooth character it is at once soup, pizza sauce, bolognese. For dunking bread in, as ‘bed’ sauce for sheets of lasagna and as the juice that fills the hollows of chewy rigatoni.

There are several reasons why I love Masterchef Australia and this recipe is one of them.

In Season 3, I watched a former contestant who’s gone on to establish an Italian restaurant, Andre Ursini come back to share his recipe for ‘Sugo’ in one of the Masterclasses.

Let me just say, if you need only one Italian sauce, as a base..as a kick-off point this year, you’ve found it.

Masterchef and other TV programs ‘train’ my inner chef. I pick up skills and techniques and recipes that make a difference, that transform my understanding of food and the way I cook and eat. Things that can be shared with other people, all of us constantly seeking smart ways to learn about food.

Technique: A tomato sauce which begins with whole and roughly cut vegetables and spices combined in a pan with some olive oil and left to simmer for half an hour, or so till the oil begins to pool on the surface. Then blended to smoothness and perfection.

Application: Perfect for soups, sauces and spreads

Results: An emulsified tomato mixture which is smooth and creamy, with ‘rounded’ flavours

Level: Easy

Why I like it: Everything goes in one pot – at once. The act and art of cooking the tomatoes, onions whole makes a marked difference on the end result.

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No finesse required, no fine chopping, nothing.

Most importantly, there are multiple uses for the sauce, and it can be adjusted to your peculiar tastes.

Tomato Sugo , adapted from Andre Ursini’s recipe

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Changes in green

Ingredients

3 – 4 tablespoons (the recipe calls for 100ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 ’400g’ cans or 1 ’800g’ , whole peeled tomatoes
1 tomato can, filled with water
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced , whole
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
1 dried (or fresh) red chili, or to taste
1/3 cup basil leaves, chopped or ½ – 1 teaspoon mixed herbs like Herbs de Provence, dried basil, dried thyme.
Pinch of salt
Brown sugar, to taste

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The recipe is dead simple and makes an orange-coloured sauce that coats pasta beautifully, but is also perfect as a base for braises or stews.

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“It’s a great building block,” Andre says. “And it’s completely natural. Make enough to keep in the fridge or freezer.”

…Andre suggests pouring some over roast vegetables halfway through cooking, so you end with a rich, unctuous sauce. Serve with minute steak or schnitzel.

How to make it

Put the oil into a deep frying pan, turn on heat and add onion.

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Cook until translucent, add garlic and cook for one minute. Add whole tomatoes, do not break them up but keep whole.

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Gently mix and cook over high heat for five minutes until mixture comes to the boil. Reduce heat to low and after 10 minutes, add basil. Simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Cook on gentle heat for 45 minutes – a layer of oil should form on top

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Take off heat and use a stick blender to make the sauce/emulsify it. Or use your regular blender.

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Once blended, balance acidity and sweetness by adding sugar and salt as you desire.

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Here are a few things I’ve done lately with this sauce:

Chicken  sauce

Here I’ve diced up and sautéed some chicken breast till the pieces turn golden, then I’ve added the tomato sauce nad allowed it to simmer, and the flavours blend for a few minutes.

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Served with Rigatoni – a great weeknight dinner, in under half an hour.

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Ragu

This sauce has been the basis upon which I build tasty Ragu, especially when I use crumbled meatloaf….which is the absolutely best thing ever. Sometimes it is torn bits of chicken, sometimes it is sautéed sausages, sometimes bacon. An endless list, really.

Characteristically, a ragù is a sauce of braised or stewed meat that may be flavoured with tomato, to distinguish it from a tomato sauce that is flavoured with the addition of meat.

Lasagna

These days, not all the lasagna I make gets baked. Here’s why. My girls LOVE to assemble theirs tableside, so I serve the individual elements, sans the bechamel.

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…and they build their pasta stacks – this way they ‘establish their own ratios’ – they choose exactly what they want, from the amount of tomato sauce to how much grated cheese. And pasta.

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Everyone’s happy!

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My son on the other hand, likes the traditional lasagna – so I build it, using this sauce, and béchamel, and then fire under the grill to create a bubbly crust of melted cheese.

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Which he devours…..

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Pizza sauce

This is for me is the perfect sauce for spreading on pizza dough.

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I’m not looking back…..

So there you have it – the one sauce I’d recommend if I got only one chance.

Make it today.

Make it in large amounts.

Put it in portion-sized containers.

Pull one out when you need.

One for your arsenal.

But don’t thank me alone, thank Andre, and the Masterchef Australia team.

One love.

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