The cheat: tomato passata

Author: Lisa Featherby
Photography: John-Paul Urizar

Italian cooks know a thing or two about tomatoes, so follow their lead and enjoy the full flavour of ripe tomatoes all year with passata.

Rare is the food-lover's pantry that doesn't hold a bottle of tomato passata. If you're yet to encounter it, though, passata is an Italian-style purée made from tomatoes at their peak, so what you get is a sweet, rich, thick intensified tomato flavour in a bottle, something that you just can't replicate in winter in the absence of good fresh tomatoes. The Italian cultural connection prompts its most obvious uses in the cooler months: from something as fast as a Napoletana sauce for spaghetti, simply with garlic, olive oil and basil, to the more considered likes of ribollita and minestrone, sauces for meat (hello scaloppine) or even as the base for a stew making the most of winter's seafood bounty. But regardless of whether you choose to stick to the Italianate script, pop the top on passata and you've got a splash of summer in a bottle.

Ziti puttanesca
Serves 4
Cook 400gm ziti tagliati in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (10-15 minutes) and soak 50gm salted capers in a bowl of water. Heat 60ml olive oil in a frying pan, add 1 finely diced small Spanish onion and stir over medium heat until tender (10-15 minutes). Add 10 anchovy fillets, 1 bottle tomato passata (690gm), 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 4 thinly sliced small red chillies, cheeks from 6 large black olives (plus a few whole), 2 tbsp rosemary and drained capers, season with black pepper (the anchovy provides the salt) and cook until well combined (3-5 minutes). Drain pasta and add to pan, toss well, then serve scattered with finely grated parmesan.

Chilli with beans
Serves 4
Heat 1 tbsp grapeseed oil in a large frying pan over high heat until smoking, add 1 diced onion and stir until golden. Add 200gm minced beef and cook, breaking up, until browned (2-3 minutes). Add 3-4 tsp ground chilli, or to taste, and 3-4 finely chopped chipotle chillies in adobo, and mix well. Add 400gm tomato passata, 400gm drained canned kidney beans, 250ml veal stock and 2 pinches of cumin, season to taste, bring to the boil and cook until flavours are combined (5-10 minutes). Serve in warm tortillas with sour cream.

Lamb harira
Serves 4
Heat 2 tbsp grapeseed oil in a large frying pan over high heat, add 500gm diced lamb shoulder in batches and cook until browned (5-10 minutes). Add 2 small diced onions and 2 diced carrots to pan and sauté until tender (5-10 minutes). Add 500gm tomato passata, 750ml chicken stock, 4 crushed garlic cloves, 1 tbsp each ground cumin and coriander, 2 tsp ras el hanout and 1 cinnamon quill, and simmer over medium heat until meat is tender (20-30 minutes). Add 100gm rinsed red Persian lentils, cook until tender (45-55 minutes), season to taste and serve scattered with chopped coriander, with yoghurt to the side.

Braised chicken with tomato and chorizo
Serves 4
Heat 2 tbsp grapeseed oil in a deep frying pan or casserole over high heat, add 4 chicken thighs on the bone and turn occasionally until golden (3-5 minutes). Set aside. Add 200gm thickly sliced chorizo and 1 thickly sliced Spanish onion, cook until golden (2-4 minutes), deglaze pan with 60ml dry white wine, then add 500gm tomato passata and a sprig of rosemary, return chicken to pan, season to taste, cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through (25-35 minutes). Serve with toasted sourdough rubbed with fresh garlic.

Hot Tips
+ Look for tomato passata that is free of preservatives and additional ingredients for the best quality.
+ Tomato passata can be taken one step further by transforming it into a sugo that you can keep on hand in the freezer. Make a soffritto from diced onion, celery and garlic (sauté slowly in olive oil until caramelised), then add 1 bottle (about 690gm) tomato passata, bring to the boil and season to taste.

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