A few days ago, I tweeted that I had a very crappy lunch at a family chain restaurant. I hadn't eaten there in ages, and that meal reminded me why. The fish was badly prepared - panfried for the purpose of merely cooking, and being neither browned nor crisp around the edges. The oil they used had obviously been frying something else prior. The fusilli that came with it was flavourless and hardened. The peach cake tasted neither peachy nor cakey. Worse, it was served with generous lashings of commercially-made, medicinal-tasting fruit puree.
"Just like airplane food," my daughter remarked. I disagree - Singapore Airlines serves way better food.
I know we are never going back again. EVER.
I also realised something else: I seldom eat bad food, and when I do, it shocks my system. Most of the time, I eat at home. Simple fare, no doubt, but fresh and unprocessed. And that alone, makes all the difference. When I do eat food outside of home, I usually go to my favourite hawker stalls where I know I will be assured of flavourful streetfood, or at quality (not necessarily expensive) restaurants.
But yes. Sometimes, I foolishly veer off the familiar path and walk straight into hell's kitchen.
I am honestly perplexed how some eateries refuse to make the effort to serve real food. If we - untrained home cooks - can whip up decent meals in our own kitchens, why can't these places - manned by trained chefs, mind you - do better? Tsk, tsk, tsk.
(Actually, I already know the answer: because there are many people out there who can't tell good from bad nosh. Or who choose ambiance over food.)
All right then, end of rant. I just needed to get that out before I move on to today's recipe.
Now, usually when I cook tomato-based pastas, I would rely on this recipe. It's a great recipe, as long as the tomatoes used are very ripe and sweet. If they aren't, you'd get a rather tart sauce which you'd then have to add some sugar to take the edge off the sharpness.
BUT, today's version knocks the socks off every other Tomato Pasta Sauce I have ever made! And the secret ingredient? Pumpkin!
I bought a wedge of pumpkin at the market, just so that I wouldn't have to continue listening to the lady boss go on and on about the benefits of this vegetable. When I got home, I suddenly had the idea of incorporating it into tomato puree for a pasta sauce. And it turned out so amazingly smooth, sweet and velvety, I knew I had hit the jackpot with this one.
Here are the ingredients you need (enough for 2 servings of pasta):
- 300g pumpkin (more or less won't hurt), skinned and cut into large chunks and steamed till fork tender
- 200g passata (again, more or less won't hurt)
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 white onion, diced very finely
- 1 clove garlic, minced very finely
- Some extra virgin olive oil
Ignore my youngest. He is just doing what he does best - being effortlessly cute. ^.^ (And blocking my sunlight!)
1. Puree the steamed pumpkin using a wire sieve. Leave aside. In the meantime, heat up a shallow pan with a drizzle of olive oil, and saute the onions and garlic until the onions have softened but not browned.
I have been using this brand of passata for years because I like that they use only Italian tomatoes which are free from skin and seeds, and contain nothing else but tomatoes and salt. I usually get mine from NTUC or Giant.
2. Bring out your passata and add it to the onions/garlic. I used about half the bottle (about 200g). Now, add in the pumpkin puree and stir to mix well. Next, add salt. Let the sauce bubble and simmer for about a minute. If the sauce is too viscous, thin it out with some water.
Your sauce is ready! BTW, like my new tasting spoon? :)
You will notice that the consistency is creamy and velvety, and adheres really well to the pasta strands. And the natural sweetness which balances the tartness of the passata? Perfect. All thanks to the humble pumpkin. :) It's the thickening and sweetening agent ... and one that is very good for you. You can use this sauce for pasta or lasgana or as a base for other dishes.
My sweet friend ♥Monique♥ obviously expects big things from me. ;) Merçi again, Nana! I am a chef in my own kitchen, I am. :) But first, I have to keep this beautiful tasting spoon away from little hands.
I cooked my pasta the same time I was sautéing the onions, and it was ready when the sauce was simmering. I drained the pasta, added it to the sauce in the pan, and then tossed to mix well before transferring to a serving plate. Top it off with a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese and parsley before serving.
I hope you'll all try making this. I am mighty proud of this sauce because it really tastes awesome and because I can now make my children eat more pumpkin without them even knowing ... muahahahaha! :)