As a kitchen-unskilled 20-year-old student on junk foods, I used to rely heavily on processed pasta sauces. I didn’t know any better.
The years passed, I slowly taught my way out of kitchen illiteracy. But one thing I kept wondering though is: “How on Earth do these processed sauces get that wonderful Italian aroma of herbs?”. So I spied on the ingredients of tomato pastes I liked and always saw rosemary, oregano, thyme in the ingredients, among other things. But every time I used these, I ended up with a tomato paste so very bitter it was borderline inedible. The mystery was on: How to get authentic strong and appetising flavours and smell of aromatic in herbs in sauces. I soon found out by accident…
“How on Earth do these darn processed sauces get that wonderful Italian aroma of herbs?”
Why was it bitter instead of tasting/smelling of wonderful herbs?
Because oil! I figured that out only after ditching oil as part of going whole-food plant-based. It was the oil that completely ruined the Mediterranean taste of thyme, rosemary and oregano. Use those generously, and cook them in a water base, and I promise that you will finally capture the essence of those delicious Italian smells and tastes.
These herbs are also a lot more forgiving in terms of taste when you put too much provided it’s in a water base.
- 1 jar 500g of single-ingredient minimally-processed tomato paste (For NZ/OZ: Homebrand @Countdown/Woolworth contains salt at only 21mg sodium /100g), or the equivalent in home-reduced whole tomatoes (1.5 to 2kgs tomatoes gives 500 grams of reduced tomato paste)
- 2 onions diced
- 3~4 cloves of garlic chopped finely
- 1 tsp rosemary (dried)
- 1 tsp oregano (dried)
- 1 tsp thyme (dried, rubbed)
- Hot chilli: to taste.
- Optional to adjust sweetness: Dates. If instead of sweet ripe tomatoes you get excuses for tomatoes, the hard unripe and sour stuff, you will need to balance out the sweetness. Maybe use up to ~50g dates blended until smooth with as little water as possible. To taste.
- Optional to adjust sourness: Tamarind, lemon, or apple cider vinegar. If you get a very sweet batch of tomatoes, or like sourness, maybe use up to 1 tbsp single-ingredient tamarind paste (sweet and sour). To taste.
- Cook all ingredients (except tomato paste and dates) on low-fire with as little water as possible.
- You want to keep this as thick as possible so this is the trick that I use: When the ingredients above are soft, use the cooking water (cooled) to blend dates.
- Pour the blended dates back in the pot, throw in the tomato paste and keep on the lowest setting with no cover for it to lose moisture and become thick.