Claire Thomson's tomato, lamb and black olive ragù with gremolata

Tomato: 3 easy pasta sauce recipes that make veg the star of the show

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Upgrade your weeknight pasta repertoire with these three tomato-based sauces from chef Claire Thomson.

On any given week, it’s likely that pasta will feature in our lives at some point. Whether it’s for a speedy mid-week meal with enough leftovers for a packed lunch – we’re looking at you, pesto pasta – or a more time-consuming weekend dish, the store cupboard staple is a favourite for good reason. 

We’re never ones to resist creamy carbonaras or an indulgent cacio e pepe when we see them on restaurant menus, but when it comes to cooking at home, we all have a tomato sauce recipe up our sleeves. And while there are few better things than fresh, in-season tomatoes, a tin of tomatoes is a cheap and cheerful kitchen essential that we’re sure everyone has on hand. 

Tomato by Claire Thomson
Tomato by Claire Thomson

So if you’re tired of your go-to sauce recipes, we’re giving you three flavour-filled tomato-based recipes to add to your repertoire – all courtesy of chef Claire Thomson’s new cookbook, Tomato.

As an ode to the humble veg, the book features over 80 tomato-centric recipes, from no-cook salads and dips to hearty, rich and spicy soups, stews – and of course, pasta sauces. Keep reading for all the inspiration you’ll need…

If you’re after a no-cook recipe for hot summer days, the search ends with Claire’s trapanese sauce. Aside from gently toasting the almonds in a hot pan, the recipe simply combines the nuts, tomatoes, garlic and basil in a food processor for an effortless dinner. So all you need to do is cook your favourite pasta and combine.

Next up, if you need to cater for hard-to-please meat eaters, Claire’s tomato, lamb and black olive ragù with gremolata will be an instant winner. Just as good enjoyed alfresco with a chilled glass of something as it would be in the colder months, the sauce is rich with slow-cooked lamb and plenty of herbs, while the addition of kalamata olives adds extra tangy saltiness – not to mention the zingy gremolata cutting through the heavy flavours to balance out the dish to perfection.

And finally, a classic puttanesca sauce is hard to beat. A sure-fire weeknight winner, the easy recipe comes together in no time at all, combining chilli flakes, olives, capers, anchovies and tomatoes for a meal that’s as quick as it is delicious.

  • Trapanese sauce

    Claire Thomson's trapanese sauce
    Claire Thomson's trapanese sauce

    Claire says: “How did Genovese pesto become the powerhouse of no-cook pasta sauces? Very probably because the jarred version is so ubiquitous on the supermarket shelves. Trapanese pesto, however, if you did want to make your own rather than rely on Genovese-style shop-bought varieties, is an easy rival – good tomatoes, ripe and sweet, pulverized with skinned almonds, raw garlic, olive oil and basil, it is simple to make at home, pretty much in the time it takes for the pasta to boil. Some would say this is a no-cheese pasta dish, but I like to add a good shower of freshly grated pecorino to serve. Sheep’s milk is more commonplace for cheese-making in Sicily than cow’s, so pecorino makes more sense to me here than Parmesan.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 40g skinned whole almonds
    • 1–2 garlic cloves, chopped
    • ½ small bunch of basil, leaves picked
    • 350g peeled tomatoes, deseeded and quartered
    • 80ml good olive oil
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 400g pasta of choice
    • pecorino, finely grated, to serve (optional)

    Method

    Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan over a moderate heat, stirring often, for about three minutes, until fragrant and very lightly golden. Remove from the heat.

    In a food processor, combine the toasted almonds, with the garlic and basil and pulse until well combined in a coarse rubble. Add the tomatoes and blitz briefly to break them down and loosen the pesto. Stir through the olive oil, then check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Put to one side. (Alternatively, chop the lot on a large wooden chopping board, or use a pestle and mortar to grind, then add the mixture to a bowl and stir in the olive oil to combine.) Stored in a jar in the fridge under a layer of olive oil, the sauce will last well for up to three days.

    To serve, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, until al dente. Drain, reserving a little of the pasta cooking water. Return the pasta to the pan and stir though the Trapanese sauce, adding splash of the reserved cooking water to loosen.

    Sprinkle with a little pecorino to serve.

  • Tomato, lamb and black olive ragù with gremolata

    Claire Thomson's tomato, lamb and black olive ragù with gremolata
    Claire Thomson's tomato, lamb and black olive ragù with gremolata

    Claire says: “Tomatoes are many things to many people. In a casserole such as this one, they make for a most sublime sauce in which to cook the lamb until tender, almost to the point of falling apart (but not quite). I’ve added bay, thyme and olives to this casserole and served it with some pasta. I’ve also made a gremolata – parsley, lemon and garlic all very finely chopped, then showered over the finished dish to serve. This is a recipe with low, slow, soft and sweet base notes, the gremolata thundering in, a flashy finish, full of pep. If you prefer, you can use chicken or beef instead of the lamb.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 800g diced lamb shoulder
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 large onion, finely diced
    • 2 celery sticks, finely diced
    • 2 small carrots, peeled and finely diced
    • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    • 4–6 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
    • 2 bay leaves, scrunched a little
    • scant 1 tsp ground fennel
    • 1 x 400g can of plum tomatoes, chopped, or 400g fresh tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
    • 300ml chicken or lamb stock or water
    • 50g best-quality black or kalamata olives, pitted
    • 400g pasta of choice
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper

    For the gremolata:

    • finely grated zest of ½ lemon
    • a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, very finely chopped
    • 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 140°C/120°C fan. Season the lamb all over.

    Heat the oil in a casserole or ovenproof saucepan over a moderate–high heat until very hot. Add the lamb and cook, turning occasionally, for about three to five minutes, until browned. Remove the lamb from the pan and put it to one side on a plate.

    Add the onion, celery and carrots to the pan, turn down the heat to moderate, and sauté for about 10–12 minutes, until the onion has softened and the vegetables are just beginning to caramelize. Add the garlic and fry for two minutes, until fragrant. Add the thyme leaves, bay leaves and ground fennel, then add the tomatoes and stock and bring the liquid to a boil.

    Return the browned lamb to the pan, then cover and place the pan in the oven. Bake for one to two hours, until the lamb is tender, melting and almost falling apart in pieces.

    Remove the pan from the oven, add the olives and check the seasoning, adjusting with salt and pepper, if necessary.

    Allow the ragù to rest for 10 minutes while you boil the pasta in a pan of well-salted water according to the packet instructions, until tender. Meanwhile, prepare the gremolata by mixing together the lemon zest, parsley and garlic, stirring well to combine.

    To serve, spoon cooked pasta into a bowl, add the lamb ragù and a generous scattering of gremolata.

  • Puttanesca sauce

    Claire Thomson's puttanesca sauce
    Claire Thomson's puttanesca sauce

    Claire says: “A classic Neapolitan pasta sauce with, well, saucy, associations – so the story goes, this is a pasta sauce that prostitutes (or their taskmaster madams) would cook to sate themselves after work. Fiery, salty and rich, this deeply flavoured tomato sauce is a turbocharge for the tastebuds, a wake-up call for the overworked. Whatever the etymology – how it came to be, as a recipe documented or simply memorized by rote and favour – I think we can all agree that the combination of ingredients is a good one and the reason why it became such a staple of southern Italian cooking. Notoriety came later.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to serve
    • 3–4 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
    • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes, or more to taste
    • 80g best-quality black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
    • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed if packed in salt, roughly chopped
    • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
    • ½ bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
    • 400g tomatoes, chopped, or 400g passata, or 1 x 400g can of plum tomatoes, chopped
    • 8 anchovies, rinsed if packed in salt, roughly chopped
    • 400g pasta of choice
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • Parmesan, grated, to serve

    Method

    Heat the oil in a saucepan over a moderate heat. Add the garlic and fry for two minutes, until fragrant but not coloured, then add the chilli flakes, olives and capers. Add the tomato purée and half the parsley, stirring well to combine. Cook for about 30 seconds for the flavours to really ramp up.

    Add the tomatoes and simmer vigorously for about five minutes, until the sauce is thick and rich-tasting. If you’re using fresh tomatoes, a splash of water will help to get things going and encourage the sauce to cook, not stick too soon.

    Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste, and more chilli flakes, if you like – it should be fairly hot from the chilli. Then, finally, add the anchovies. Remove the pan from the heat and stir to melt and soften the anchovies in the warm sauce.

    Cook the pasta in well-salted boiling water according to the packet instructions until al dente. Drain, reserving a little of the pasta cooking water, then tip the pasta back into the pan. Stir through the pasta sauce, adding a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce, if necessary.

    Serve immediately with a slick more olive oil and some Parmesan and the remaining parsley scattered over.

    Tomato by Claire Thomson (£22, Quadrille) is out now

Photography: © Sam Folan 

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