Blended Red Sauce with Pasta: a CardioKit recipe

Mediterranean diets and French paradoxes

Most Italian cooking is based on simplicity and the quality of a few carefully selected seasonal ingredients. It’s actually the ingredients that do all the work and the cook’s job is to simply combine complimentary flavours without too much messing (or ‘processing’).

We have recognised and pondered the success of the Mediterranean diet for years. There also used to be debate about ‘the French paradox’ where a population that enjoys saturated fat* from dairy products and meat had a lower than (historically) expected rate of coronary disease. This led to hypotheses about the protective effects of red wine or garlic.

Irrespective of your background or agenda, what is the simplest single conclusion that can be drawn from all this? In a nutritional-health arena with strong differing opinions and perspectives I suspect that one take-home message would be universally accepted by all  —  eat unprocessed whole foods which are fresh, seasonal and predominantly plant based.

This simple concept links all ‘healthy diets’ no matter how they are spun, including the Mediterranean and traditional French diets. As a baseline, the problem is that this message is too simple and not exciting enough to satisfy our hunger for exaggerated magical concepts.

A simple pasta and red sauce is a beautiful thing. We won’t pretend to have the expertise of an ‘Italian Mamma’ who has the pedigree and experience to extract the full potential from the simple ingredients. Of course, it helps if you have phenomenal tomatoes available on your door-step! This is our version and has been tweaked towards health (of course), convenience of (mostly store cupboard) ingredients and speed of cooking  —  you should be able to put this together within 30 minutes.

The principal foundation of the sauce are tomatoes and rich tomato flavour  —  therefore this ingredient is essential to the overall recipe. It’s worth sourcing the best available to you and San Marzano tinned tomatoes are recommended. In the UK the highest quality, easily available supermarket brand is Cirio, (in our opinion but also came just second in a recent poll). Together with high quality extra-virgin olive oil, slow cooked onions and garlic this is the basic foundation for the sauce (this in itself makes a beautiful simple sauce which does not require blending but clearly does not have the desired veg boost). Combine with dry pasta and most of these ingredients are store cupboard or larder essentials. It’s also a very economical dish and can be vegetarian or combined with meat.

Now for the ‘blended’ bit  —  this is designed to get more vegetables into you and speed up the cooking process. The recipe is dynamic and you actually ‘hide’ most vegetables in the basic red sauce. This makes it flexible and you can use whatever you have available. However, it is also a vehicle for flavour and a basic vegetable mix is the humble beginnings of most of the world’s great slow cooked sauces  —  by the end, they simply melt away in the cooking and impart depth and complexity of flavour.

The French use a trio of aromatics (onion, celery, carrot) called Mirepoix and the same trio becomes a Soffritto in Italian. This ‘trick’ of increasing vegetable content and flavour can be used in many dishes either through slow cooking or blending  —  we will be using this technique in other upcoming recipes. We also particularly like red peppers (roasted or whole), courgettes, broccoli, spinach (red and green sauce) and fresh chillies.

Finally, for the pasta bit  —  wholegrain spaghetti and linguini is actually very good and you should try it for yourself  —  it naturally has an al-dente texture and nutty flavour. Regular pasta is obviously made with white flour and so if you go down this route, you need to make sure you limit the amount  — don’t go for a huge plate of pasta.

Use the veg-rich sauce, a simple nitrate boost side salad or side veg or a piece of protein (goes well with prawns  —  don’t worry about the ‘cholesterol’ content!) to bulk out your meal  —  satisfaction guaranteed.

You may have noticed that a lot of our recipes contain garlic and are probably interested in the well-established health/cardiovascular rumours  —  our review coming soon . . .

*The French also like bread and pastries made with white flour.

Basic red sauce and pasta for 4 people:

  • 1 large white onion (or 2 medium)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 red ‘sweet’ or ‘bell’ peppers
  • 1 red chilli or pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tin of high-quality tomatoes (plum or chopped)  —  Cirio brand recommended
  • 2 teaspoons of tomato puree
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt, black pepper and a good quality aged Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano  —  we would recommend at least 18 month matured) for seasoning
  • remember  —  you can add other ‘blended’ veg
  • linguine or spaghetti (100g approx. per person)

You can finely chop all the veg elements in a food-processor for speed, which you use again at the end to blend the sauce. Equally you can roughly chop the veg as it’s going to get blended anyway but the carrot needs to be relatively fine to cook efficiently.

1. In a large non-stick pan add a good glug of high quality extra-virgin olive oil. Keep the heat moderate and add your chopped onions, garlic, celery, carrot and chilli (fresh chopped or pinch of dried). You now want to cook this mixture on a gentle sizzle without colouring to turn the onion super-sweet and soft as a flavour base for your sauce — this is important. Season with a little salt and black pepper to get things going.

2. In parallel roast your peppers to extract the sweet, smoky flavours. This can be done under a hot grill or directly on the flame of a gas burner. Turn until the skin is blistered and blackened. Next pop them into a bowl and cover with clingfilm to help the skin steam  —  it will peel off easily when cool enough to handle. Roughly chop and deseed the peppers, turn up the heat on the cooker and add to the sweet onions. If you don’t have time simply add your chopped peppers directly into the onion mix when starting to soften.

3. Add the tomato puree and cook together for another few minutes to combine. Now add your tin of tomatoes. Fill the empty tin half with water (rinsing out any residual tomato) and add to the pan. You don’t need any additional seasoning as you are going to salt the pasta water.

5. Now you can put your pasta on to boil while the sauce blips and bubbles gently. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and use the equation 100g of pasta per person in 1L of boiling water with 1 teaspoon of salt. The water should be a ‘salty as the Mediterranean Sea’  —  clearly you will not consume all this salt and have reduced the seasoning of the sauce to compensate. This means your pasta will taste great but will also stop it from ending up as a dense starchy stuck together mass. After 10 minutes when your pasta is nearly ready, blend the sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy.

6. Drain your pasta and put back in its pan with a retained splash of the pasta boiling liquid (the starch from the pasta will give your sauce a nice gloss). Now immediately ladle over your blended sauce to warm through together until the pasta is well coated.

7. Serve with a dusting of fresh finely grated high-quality aged Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano) and an extra grind of black pepper  —  remember you don’t need much  —  you are using the cheese as a seasoning.

Perfect with a simple side-salad or green side-veg (e.g. broccoli, green beans, asparagus etc.) of your choice. Simple and beautiful.

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