…you want summer sunshine and there is only rain.
…you’re so late home from work that even the cats won’t speak to you.
…you’d quite like to go out for a drink but you’re too tired to organise it.
…you have nothing to eat, except things in tins, dried-up bits of cheese and some pasta.
For those days there is this, a sauce so full of flavour and heat that it blows away memories of a wet June Friday in less than an hour. It’s wonderful in warm weather too, though that may be a difficult thing to remember right now.
I first made it when I was finishing my PhD one boiling hot July: I would work until the university buildings closed at 10pm, cycle home in the warmth, put the kettle on for pasta and then flick through cookery books looking for something to have with it. I found this in a Delia Smith book and, even in 1994, when the likes of olives, capers and anchovies weren’t so common in supermarkets, I still thought of it as a store cupboard standby. It’s brilliantly adaptable: both fresh and tinned tomatoes work well; if you don’t like anchovies add some more capers; if you don’t have tomato purée or fresh basil make it without and, if like me you can’t eat pasta, it’s just as good with gnocchi.
For two you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
Garlic, 2 cloves
Olive oil, 2 tablespoons
Tomato purée, 1 tablespoon
Salt and pepper
Bird’s eye chilli, 1
Fresh basil leaves, about 2 tablespoons (about 20g)
Anchovy fillets, 50g (about 10 of those ones in a tin)
Tomatoes, either a 400g tin (chopped or whole) or 4 large fresh ones
Capers, 1 tablespoon (about 15g)
Pitted black olives, 175g (about 6 tablespoons)
Parmesan, about 25g
1. It’s easy. Prep everything first so: peel and chop the garlic, chop the chilli or snip it with scissors, wash the basil and chop half, chop the tomatoes (if fresh or whole tinned ones) then drain and rinse the capers, black olives and anchovies.
2. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a gentle heat, add the chilli, garlic and chopped basil leaves and cook until the garlic is just starting to turn golden (not brown or it will be bitter). Add the tomatoes, capers, black olives, anchovies and tomato purée, don’t season at this stage (because the sauce will reduce down and the salt may become very concentrated) then leave to cook for about 30-40 minutes. Stir it every so often to prevent it sticking or burning.
3. Towards the end of the cooking time, depending on what you’re making with it, cook the pasta or gnocchi and grate the Parmesan.
4. After about 30-40 minutes the sauce should be thick and concentrated but, if it’s too dense for you, thin it a little with a bit of the pasta water. Season if it needs it, then serve it over the pasta/gnocchi, with the cheese and remaining basil leaves sprinkled on top.
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