Monday, March 20, 2023

Vegetable-packed tomato sauce

I always improvise when it comes to tomato sauces. I make them so often that I can’t really stick to one recipe (even though I have a couple that are my all-time favorites), because simply the ingredients that I use will depend largely on my cravings as well as on what I have in my fridge and cupboards.


Since having Aris, I invariably prefer to add vegetables in any sauce I make, for the nutrition factor, something I, admittedly, rarely did before, and I also cut down a bit on my use of spices as I prefer everything to be more spicy and hot than what my three-year old prefers. So for the past couple of years, my tomato sauces are more vegetable-heavy and dare I say more delicious for it.

This one, which has carrots, bell peppers and courgettes added in, I make often to serve with plain pasta, but it’s not limited to that. I use it on top of homemade pizza dough, I mix it with boiled red lentils and serve it over couscous and I also use it as a base for lasagna and for stuffed pasta shells.





Vegetable-packed tomato sauce (for children and adults alike)

Due to the addition of various vegetables, this sauce is naturally sweetened and isn’t as acidic as other tomato sauces are. If, for any reason, yours tastes acidic from the tomato and/or tomato paste, add a little bit of coconut sugar or other unrefined sugar.

The texture of the sauce is of course somewhat chunky since it contains all these vegetables, but you can certainly use an immersion blender to puree it if you prefer a velvety tomato sauce texture.

I use Turkish sweet red pepper paste (tatli biber salcasi) in this sauce as I love its flavor and can easily find it here in the Netherlands, but it’s not a necessary addition so just omit it if you can’t source it. You could alternatively add a little bit of harissa.


Yield: 6 servings (when served with pasta)

Special equipment: food processor



120 ml extra virgin olive oil

1 can 400 g whole tomatoes (I use Italian, San Marzano tomatoes)

2 red onions, peeled

1 shallot, peeled

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 large red bell pepper

½ large green bell pepper

½ medium-sized zucchini, chopped roughly

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped roughly

2 tsp tomato paste

1 tsp Turkish sweet red pepper paste (optional)

½ tsp smoked paprika


Black pepper



Before you start cooking the sauce, you need to use your food processor to finely chop and/or puree the different vegetables.

So start by finely chopping together the onions, shallots and garlic in the food processor and empty in a small bowl.

Then add the red and green bell peppers and process until finely chopped to the point they become very liquid. Empty in another bowl.

Then add the carrot, chop finely and empty in a third bowl. Finely chop the zucchini and add it in the same bowl as the carrot.

Finally, add the canned whole tomatoes in the food processor and puree them.

In a medium-sized saucepan, add the olive oil, heat over medium-high and add the chopped onions-shallot-garlic. Sauté, stirring constantly, until softened and golden.

Add the finely chopped red and green bell peppers and sauté until they have dried a bit (you want most of their water to have evaporated). Then add the finely chopped carrot and zucchini and sauté for 3-4 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and sweet red pepper paste (if using) and stir well. Add the pureed tomatoes and stir again. Fill the empty can of tomatoes with hot water, swirl it around a bit to get the remaining tomato bits and add it to the saucepan. Then fill it again by half and add this too. Finally, add the smoked paprika, salt and black pepper to taste, and bring to the boil.

Turn heat down to low, put the lid on and simmer gently until you have a thick and rich sauce. I simmer it for at least 1 hour. If it’s watery, simmer more without the lid until it reaches the consistency you prefer. Check the seasoning and correct if you need to.

Serve with pasta or use in another dish.

It’s great in any dish that requires a tomato sauce.



Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Greek Lagana sandwich with burrata, harissa and cured meats

Next time you make Greek Lagana (yeasted flatbread), or an Italian Schiacciata, consider cutting a large piece and slicing it in half to expose the crumb.

Then, proceed to slather both sides with plenty of good-quality rose harissa and add a few slices of melting cheese. Gruyère would work so good here. Briefly toast the bread in the oven, just until the cheese starts to melt over the bread.

Once ready, add some smoked or roasted chicken slices and Hungarian salami, which is my personal fave, a handful of baby tomatoes, cut in half, some fresh mint and of course the pièce de résistance, buffalo milk burrata, in all its creamy, oozy glory.

Drizzle with some olive oil, salt and pepper liberally, close the sandwich up and enjoy.



Friday, March 10, 2023

Radicchio salad with mandarin, olives and Grana Padano

I’m in a bitter mood lately. Bitter greens mood that is. Cavolo nero, endive, rocket and radicchio were all part of our meals this past week.



I cooked cavolo nero on Sunday, as part of our lunch, boiled and served with lots of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice (much like I did here), and earlier last week I made this salad with radicchio. The bitter and lightly spicy flavor of this red radicchio with white veins is simply amazing for all those of us who embrace bitterness in our food.


I paired the crunchy leaves with a few sweet and juicy mandarin segments, shaved Grana Padano cheese for its umami and salty flavor, wrinkly Greek olives for their briny bitterness (another excellent source of bitter flavor that I adore), pumpkin seeds for extra crunch and earthiness, and mint for its herbaceous freshness.


I made a creamy, ultra vinegary sauce, a zingy vinaigrette if you will, that if tasted alone you’d think you have added too much vinegar, but you’d be mistaken. Paired with all the salad ingredients, all tasted in one bite, you will find the balance, and it’ll make your palate do a little happy dance, as did mine.


More of my recipes with bitter vegetables or frutis:



Radicchio salad with mandarin, olives and Grana Padano

For those of you who are not familiar with radicchio (part of the chicory family), it has thin, soft, silky leaves and crunchy veins. It is not like purple cabbage whose whole leaf is thick and very crunchy. 

I love having this kind of salad as my lunch with a chunk of good bread.

It is also wonderful served alongside a main meal and it would make a nice pairing with grilled fish, a rich pasta dish or braised meat.


Yield: enough for 2 people



9-10 radicchio leaves, rinsed, well patted dry and torn in half

2 large mandarins, peeled and cut into rounds

Grana Padano cheese, shaved or thinly sliced

Black olives, I used Greek wrinkly ones called throubes

A handful of pumpkin seeds, toasted if you want

Fresh mint leaves

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper


for the vinaigrette

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp honey, I used Greek wild thyme honey

1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper




make the vinaigrette

Add all ingredients in a small, deep bowl and whisk well to combine and emulsify.

make the salad

Place radicchio leaves on a large plate, add the mandarin rounds and scatter some olives.

Add a few pieces of shaved Grana Padano, sprinkle some pumpkin seeds all over, as well as a few mint leaves, torn if too large. Add some salt and pepper, and drizzle with just a little bit of olive oil to moisten the leaves.

Then, use a spoon to add the vinaigrette. Don’t use all of it at once. Add some, toss the salad and check if it needs more. Everyone’s taste is different and you may need less or more.

Grab some good sourdough bread and enjoy! Or serve it alongside your main meal.

If you have any leftover vinaigrette, keep it in the fridge in a small jar for 2-3 days and use it in salads, with grilled vegetables or in sandwiches.