Custard was still on my mind, like the lingering aftermath of a bad dream, whilst I was making tomato sauce yesterday, but the yellow mental miasma was quickly dispersed by the rising savoury aroma, the deep colour and the evocative flavours of this simplest of home made condiments which had me contemplating how impoverished meal times would be without its comfort. Leaving custard aside, which I’m happy to do, I have found that the regular making of tomato sauce is something that I do without thinking. Don’t misunderstand me, thought aplenty goes into the making of the sauce but not into the why or wherefore; it’s my culinary security blanket knowing that there is always some freshly made sauce on tap, as it were. One glimpse of the blue saucepan in the cupboard and, like the Manchurian Candidate, I’m glassy eyed, knife in hand and madly chopping. Unlike Laurence Harvey, my uncontrollable reaction is vented on onions and garlic rather than the President of the United States, otherwise I would have to resist making it…..too often.
My tomato sauce evolves at each attempt, for better or for worse; it is a clear barometer of my mood and a reflection of the available ingredients in our kitchen on the day in question. A batch can be affected by a nearly forgotten memory of the final addition of some extra olive oil which gives the sauce a deep glossy finish, a glance across the kitchen to a bowl of wizened chillies that still are full of fire and fury, the thought of some celery herb that I had noticed pushing it’s way through gravel in the courtyard behind the house or just by upturning my glass of wine into the saucepan. Any or all of these thoughts can change the tone and dialect of each batch. More or less salt, black pepper as well as chillies, a mirepoix base or just simply and quickly reducing a couple of tins of tomatoes to a near jam like consistency…each version has a vibrant freshness that surprises me and makes me glad that I spent the time at the stove. It becomes a liberating ritual that allows me to write, read or take pictures as I cook, a behaviour which is ill advised in other areas of cooking …. try reading, writing or day dreaming whilst making caramel or scrambling eggs or, on second thoughts, don’t.
Leafing through Elizabeth David’s “French Provincial Cooking” I came across three versions that will not disappoint.