Saturday, February 13, 2010

An abundance of tomatoes: pasta sauce

My mum has the most beautiful little vegetable garden. She just lives in a small suburban house, her backyard would be smaller than a tennis court. In amongst the camellias and gardenias she grows, depending on the seasons, cucumbers and tomatoes and kale and potatoes, garlic, leeks, cabbage, lettuce, chillies, basil, chard, celery, roquette, or carrots. She’s talking about planting kohlrabi and maybe even cardoons. She has a lemon tree and a lime tree, a bay laurel and olive trees in pots.

When mum moved into her house, just over a year ago, the yard was a lunar landscape. Uneven mounds of dirt, patches of grass. That was about it. The transformation in the last year has been magical.

One of her first crops out of the garden was little button squash. Picked when about the size of large strawberries, and served steamed with torn basil leaves, also from her garden, and a sprinkle of sea salt and olive oil, these were sweet and nothing at all like the bitter, soggy taste I used to associated with button squash. I couldn’t eat enough of her squash that first season.

She grows things just for the love of growing them, and as a result always has far too much all at once. This means that at least once a week I am given boxes of vegetables picked within the last hour. When her tomatoes started to grow fruit, and the spindly branches were heavy and unripe, she picked a selection of green tomatoes for me to play with (who could risk trying to make fried green tomatoes?). Now the tomatoes are ripening, and I have box after box of yellow grape tomatoes and green tiger stripes and black Russians and giant ox-heart looking ones she insists were called ‘mortgage busters’ on the seed packet.

I live in a shoe box city apartment. I don’t yet even have herbs in boxes on my coffee table sized balcony. A whole box of bright yellow and red and green smelling of summer, grown with love by someone who loves me? Pretty damn special, every time.

The latest harvest to arrive at my door was a box full of these tomatoes, chillies, tiny capsicum and basil. When we came home late, dinner was a matter of throwing the remanents of two different pastas into some boiling water, and then cooking down the tomatoes and capsicum and chillies with some chopped bacon (the only other thing in the fridge) and garlic. No water, no wine, no onions, just a little salt and pepper to help it along.

The bacon is cured a block away, by my wonderful old-school butcher. Everything else was fresh that day from the garden. It was not pretty or well-plated or delicate. It was sweet and spicy and fresh and thoroughly satisfying.

Pasta all'amatriciana

For 2

A dash of olive oil
6 short rashers of bacon, roughly chopped (or pancetta, about 10-12 thin slices)
3 clove minced garlic
½ kg super ripe tomatoes, any variety, roughly chopped
3 chillies, minced
1 small red capsicum, finely chopped
Handful chopped fresh basil
400 g dried pasta, any variety

Fry off the bacon in the olive for a few minutes, add garlic, stir and then add the tomato, capsicum and chillies. Cook for as long as it takes the pasta to cook to al dente.

Drain the pasta, and add to the sauce along with the chopped basil. Season to taste.

Serve with shaved parmesan. Scoff.


  1. This looks lovely Miss Anne, I don't eat bacon or pork products, can you recommend a substitute?

  2. Just as tasty without bacon or indeed any pork product (we're eating that tonight, just tomatoes and chillies!). Alternatively, bresaola Italian air dried beef, merguez, a spicy north aftrican lamb sausage or, intrigingly, duck 'proscuitto', which I am keen to try (see