FRUGAL FOODIE: Tomatoes prove their worth in your recipes

Frugal Foodie'Tomatoes
Frugal Foodie'Tomatoes

Another instalment from the Gazette’s Frugal Foodie columnist, Christine McAllister.

Tomatoes are such a staple store cupboard ingredient and, judging by the poll on my blog, tinned tomatoes seem to be most people’s must-have ingredient.

I love them too and am always thinking of new ways to use them. They’re a seriously fantastic source of goodness, even more so when they’re cooked, and it’s easy to get them into most kids so they’re a no-brainer!

It amazes me how many jars there are of tomato-based pasta sauce in every supermarket across the land. I understand that we all have busy lives and the odd jar of something to speed things up is handy, occasionally, but it is so easy to make a far superior pasta sauce yourself.

If you have the time to let it simmer for ages to let the flavours mingle together for longer then all the better (the preparation time is still quick though) but if you’ve got 10 minutes from start to finish, that’s fine too.

The good thing about DIYing, as always, is that you’ll know exactly what’s gone into it so it’s not overloaded with salt or sugar or preservatives and it’s cheaper.

Add whatever vegetables you fancy (if you’re feeling extravagant you could add a tin of artichokes, some sun-dried tomatoes and chargrilled peppers) but I’m going to keep it very simple and give you a basic tomato pasta sauce recipe which you can dress up or keep simple and you could also whizz up and have it nice and smooth as a soup.

It’s also good as a pizza sauce if you let it simmer for longer to make a thicker sauce.

I’ve just been to Crete and, as always, the tomatoes have been to die for (and a ridiculously regular part of my daily diet). I know that sounds healthy but I’m not sure the mountain of creamy tsatziki I’ve been enjoying, on an also ridiculously regular basis, has been quite as good for me!

If you can get some lovely, fat and juicy tomatoes, keep it fresh and use them in a bread salad. Just combine tomatoes, salt and pepper, a sliced red onion and some roughly chopped stale white bread.

Pour over 2 tbsp red wine vinegar and 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and lots of fresh basil.

I like mine very vinegary so I tend to add more vinegar. It’s down to personal preference.

Once you’ve tasted the bread salad you’ll be letting your bread go stale on purpose and growing your own tomatoes! As soon as you taste it you’ll be transported to your favourite sunny idyll for a few minutes.

You’re too late to raise your own tomato plants from seeds but you’re not too late to buy a plant and grow your own delicious fruit.

In fact, as it gets a little later in the season, you can often get some bargain plants that are desperate to be re-potted. Keep an eye out in your local garden centre.

How about blitzing fresh tomatoes with garlic, chilli flakes, oregano, pesto and creme fraiche and having with prawns and pasta?

Even better if you marinate your prawns in oil, garlic, lemon juice and more chilli!

I recently made an aubergine and chickpea lasagne (recipe below). It was a massive hit with the kids and we all enjoyed it. It is really nutritious and something a little different. It takes a little preparation time but it’s worth it.

A tin of tomatoes combined with loads of garlic and rosemary or oregano and some lemon zest is a lovely accompaniment to a slow roasted joint of lamb. Preheat oven to gas mark 6/ 200c. Smother a 2kg shoulder of lamb in the sauce, cover with foil, turn the oven down to gas mark 3/ 170c and cook for about 4 hours. I’ll be making this soon to revive the Greek holiday memories!

See Christine’s blog here

Follow Christine on Twitter @thefrugaldiary

RECIPES

Tomato Pasta Sauce

Ingredients, serves 4

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 red onion (you could use shallots or a white onion though), chopped

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp tomato ketchup

2 tbsp tomato purée

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

Pinch of salt and black pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Handful of fresh basil, chopped (optional)

(This can be easily be doubled, and usually is in our house!)

Method

Heat up the oil in a large, heavy-based, pan.

Add the onion, garlic and salt and turn the heat to low. Cook until the onion is soft. Don’t let the garlic go brown. The salt will help to soften the onions quicker.

Pour the tins of tomatoes into the pan along with all the other ingredients except the basil and bring it to the boil. Give it a good stir. Lower the heat and let it simmer for as long as you can. If you are going to let it slow cook, you’ll need some extra liquid so just fill your used tomato tin with water and add that too. Add the basil at the end, if using.

Stir through cooked pasta and grate parmesan cheese over the top.

RECIPE: Aubergine and Chickpea Lasagne

Ingredients, serves 4

For the tomato and chickpea sauce:

1 tbsp oil

A couple of inches of chorizo sausage, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 celery sticks, chopped

A handful of mushrooms (but I only had 3!), chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp mixed herbs

Half glass red wine

2 carrots, chopped

1 yellow pepper, chopped

2 tins chopped tomatoes

1 chicken or vegetable stock cube

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp tomato ketchup

Salt and pepper

1 tin chickpeas

1 tbsp pesto (optional)

For the aubergine:

1 aubergine, finely sliced lengthways

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tbsp oil

For the cheese sauce:

Approx 40g butter

Approx 3tbsp plain flour

Approx 500mls milk

Lots of grated cheese

Salt and pepper

A grating of nutmeg

Method

Dry fry some chorizo and then add the oil, onion, celery, mushrooms and garlic in a large pan with chilli powder and mixed herbs.

If you have some leftover wine (see tip) add this now and let it boil for a couple of mins so the alcohol cooks off. Add the carrots and any other veg that you want to use. I used a yellow pepper. Add tins of tomatoes, stock cube, a tomato tin filled with boiling water, balsamic vinegar, sugar, tomato ketchup, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 45 mins - 1 hour.

Add a tin of drained chickpeas 10 mins before the end. Stir in the pesto, if you have any.

Slice an aubergine, lengthways, and pop the pieces in a freezer bag with the oil and oregano. (You’ll probably have to do this in two goes) Give the bag a shake and make sure all the aubergine slices are coated. Now fry these in a hot pan on each side. I use a griddle pan.

Prepare a cheese sauce - make a roux with flour and butter in a saucepan. Whisk in warmed milk, season with salt and pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Add lots of grated cheese and stir it in until it’s melted.

When all of the components are ready, assemble the lasagne in a large oven dish.

Start with your tomato and chickpea sauce, sprinkle some grated cheese over it, add aubergine slices then cover with cheese sauce and repeat. Finish with a good top layer of cheese sauce, some grated cheese and a sprinkling of oregano.

Bake at gas mark 7, 220c for around 25 mins until golden and bubbling hot.

Serve with garlic bread and a green salad.

Tip: If you ever have any leftover wine freeze it in an ice cube tray and just use as many cubes as you need, as and when you need them!