Saturday, 18 August 2012

Big Mama

You know, having one child was lovely. Heather was a great baby - she ate and slept well and developed beautifully into a beautiful - if boisterous - toddler. When my lovely little Megan came along I sat back one morning in those early days and was overwhelmed with a sense of completeness. My little family was done.

Obviously I cook for me and Richy, but I've always cooked from scratch for the girls too: neither have ever had jars or packets of baby food, and that's not to say there's anything wrong with them, it just wasn't for me. Heather had purées of every variety before moving on to proper food, and although we didn't all eat together very much in her first years, what she was offered was almost always healthy, wholesome grub, which she consumed with gusto. Megan also got the purée treatment, but unlike her sister wasn't find of the spoon and so quickly we ditched mush and moved on to real food. No more pureeing? I call that a result. Luckily both of my kids love their food, and the cuisine they love most has to be Italian. To be fair, they eat most things - traditional British dinners, curries, Chinese etc, however Italian is most definitely where it's at. These days there is barely a weekend goes by that I'm not bubbling up a pot of something. Sometimes chilli, sometimes curry, but in the past two weeks alone I've made a massive pot of ragu and again another pot of tomato sauce, like some big Italian Mama, stirring and chopping away to feed the brood.

Two things I absolutely must have in my fridge are a jar of homemade tomato sauce and a tupperware tub of soffrito. I make my soffrito by blitzing in my food processor a head of celery, 6-8 carrots, 2-3 onions and about 6 cloves of garlic until finely chopped. This will then keep in a sealed box in the fridge for several weeks and it's the ideal base for risottos, tomato sauce or pretty much any Italian base. The flavour it adds is immense and I am lost without it.

The soffrito is then the base for my tomato sauce. Sweat down a good laden wooden spoon full of soffrito in frylight for 10-15 minutes, add a tin of quality tomatoes, 2-3 tsp of Italian herbs, 2tbsp tomato purée and lashings of salt and pepper. You can add chilli, red wine and worcestershire sauce too if you like - just add what feels right. That's what I do and I always end up - after 20-30 minutes of simmering - with a sweet, rich, thick tomato sauce. Pop in a jar in your fridge and it keeps for weeks, always ready for a quick supper.

Once you've got these ingredients you have the necessary agents for the new Black family tea of choice! Tomato and mozzarella linguine bake has been on our table several times in the past week. Heather eats it with gusto and since Megan eats everything with gusto, that adds it to the Family Tea List. You can make it in advance, it's cheap, satisfying and with your jar of tomato sauce in the fridge, it's quick. Plus, using your A choice, it's free on Extra Easy. Here it is, to serve 4.

400g spaghetti or linguine (my choice)
2/3 batch of tomato sauce
180g mozzarella, sliced or grated

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees (fan).

Boil the pasta according to packet instructions.

Add the pasta to the sauce and stir well. Transfer to a shallow baking dish and top with the mozzarella. Bake for 15 minutes until golden.

Serve with extra Parmesan (don't forget to syn it SWers!!)

This sounds so simple - and it is - but I swear this just adds to its joy. You will, I hope, love this as much as we do.

As for the rest of the tomato sauce, well it's in the fridge, ready to add to a pizza topping, a chicken breast or add cream cheese to it and make it a creamy pasta sauce. There are so many things you can do with a homemade tomato sauce, and the soffrito makes a flavoursome risotto.

Try the bake out, kids. This Soon-To-Be-Not-Quite-So-Big Mama and her brood highly recommend it.


  1. Aww, what a lovely post! I need to try the soffrito out. I'm still trying to get my head round eating pasta again!

  2. This blog is brilliant!! Just found you and have read all your archives from day one in one sitting! (am on hols at the moment so I can lol) I intend to start back at SW when I return home next week - having spent a fortnight in the US I will certainly need to! Your blog has provided me with so much inspiration and i can't wait to get going now. Will be using some of your recipes too. Like you I have two girls and I have to say I am in total awe of what they eat - mine are thirteen and ten and nowhere near as adventurous as your little ones! I guess it's all about how you start out with them. Obviously I can't change the past but I am planning on dishing up your amazing recipes from now on and hoping for the best :-) Love the blog so much, will be following avidly to see you realise your dreams x