Just like mama’s

PASTA sauce isn’t difficult to make. It’s even difficult to make badly once you have bought good quality ingredients. There is huge scope for flavours and textures and it’s worth diverting from the classic tomato sauce to try some simple combinations. A simple blend of chopped anchovies warmed in olive oil, fresh tomatoes chopped with a handful of fresh parsley or basil when they comes into season makes a healthy meal. Or try peas with olive oil for an Italian classic. Use leftover roasted peppers with tomatoes and garlic for peperonade, another tasty vegetarian option. For a creamier, silky sauce try some cream with smoked or fresh salmon.

Leftovers such as chopped ham or beef are delicious in a tomato-based sauce that is often used for minced meat. This Bolognese style is substantial and Italians will tell you that we often make it a bit too meaty and don’t appreciate the rich flavours that simple onions, tomato, garlic and herbs can deliver. Try these sauces as a topping for crostini and for dips with fresh vegetables and bread.

The key to making your own tomato sauce is choosing the right tomatoes. Any ripe Irish grown variety will work well once they are red and plump, but resist those that have been forced to ripen ahead of the summer sun and have little perfume. Off-season, it’s best to use cans of tomatoes.

In today’s survey we have waded through 14 samples of readymade sauces to find eight which are worth using. Here are the results of our tasting team:

Loyd Grossman tomato and roasted garlic, 350g €2.49

Quite a lot of undercooked tomato pieces provide bulk but not much flavour. However, the sauce is rich without the obvious flavour of the roasted garlic. The texture is quite thin and mercifully not thickened, except from reducing down gently, and it holds the bits well. Nicely balanced, slightly sweet, the flavour is refreshing and good with and without meat.

Score: 8

Suma Organic Bolognese sauce with vegetables, 350g €2.16, Organic Garden English Market, Cork

Made in Italy with no thickening agent, this has a natural texture. It’s ideal with minced meat as the vegetable flavours from chunks of carrots, celery, onions and peppers with a hint of chilli provide good balance. No sweetness here, but on its own it may need a little honey or sugar to bring out the flavour of the tomatoes. The loose texture allows the meat flavours to be absorbed. Good as a dip too.

Score: 7.25

Seriously Good cherry tomato and balsamic sauce by Gordon Ramsey, 350g €2.55

Lovely rich flavours with quite a lot of balsamic vinegar, and also a hint of Worcester sauce which catch at the back of the throat. Quite tomatoey, the taste doesn’t suffer from cornflour added as a thickener, but the texture is just a little gloopy and there are some leathery tomato skins. This is best without meat, topped with grated hard cheese.

Score: 7

Bertolli Bolognese, 400g €2.49

Tiny squares of carrot, celery and onion provide the bulk in this otherwise fairly smooth sauce, commendably free of thickener. Tomato flavour is quite low, but it’s well balanced and a good all rounder, with or without meat. We liked it on the side with fish too.

Score: 6.75

Cucina Siciliana pasta sauce, 350g €1.49, Aldi

The 15% aubergine gives this quite an overcooked aroma. It also has lots of slightly leathery chewy bits. The tomato flavour is low, but the texture is good and natural. The label says there is 2% Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, but we could not taste it. However, it may have added to the pleasant overall flavour. Good for meat or on its own and to spread on bruschetta.

Score: 6.5

Combino tomato pasta sauce, 530g 89c, Lidl

Modified maize starch is used to thicken this sauce and gives it a gloopy texture with tiny bits of onion throughout. The flavour is quite tomatoey but a little sweet to work with meat. Price is good for adding to stews and soups.

Score: 6

Napolina Tomato and basil pasta sauce, 350g €1.50

Quite good tomato flavour from 55% chopped tomatoes in juice and some tomato purée. Bits throughout seem to be of undercooked tomatoes and have little flavour, but the garlic purée adds a richness to the sauce. Over thickening with cornflour, and calcium chorine which is the firming agent, spoils the texture.

Score: 5.5

Dolmio organic sauce for Bolognese, 500g €2.29

A strong dried herb flavour dominates this sauce which has a high 75% organic tomatoes with 18% organic tomato paste. The sauce is smooth and well reduced without thickening added and there is quite a good tomato flavour. Black pepper comes through, but the herbs still overpower. Needs to be diluted with meat.

Score: 6


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