Tomato Sauce

There are a gazillion recipes for tomato sauce, or Italian sauce, or varieties thereof. And people’s sensitivities can get a little ruffled if you call things ‘Italian’ when Italians would be horrified! I remember seeing Antonio Carluccio on the BBC TV show ‘Two Greedy Italians’ making tomato sauce and being absolutely adamant you do NOT, under any circumstances, put garlic in tomato sauce. And local award winning chef Marco Roccasalvo, of ‘Campo de’ Fiori’ here in Bray, has recipes that are also absent of garlic…but we all consider garlic a ubiquitous Italian ingredient. So let’s just call this ‘Tomato Sauce’ from p.184 of the wonderful ‘Avoca Cafe Cookbook’ (No.1), and not ascribe nationality to it. And It has (of course) some minor tweaks by myself.

Tomato Sauce - Ingredients


2 onions, peeled and finely diced

Olive oil

6 large garlic cloves or equivalent garlic paste

2 X 400g tins of tomatoes. (as always, use good quality whole plum tomatoes and chop or hand blend them)

A glass of red wine. I fill one of the empty tomato tins half way and rinse out the tins with the red wine

Teaspoon sugar. I use unrefined golden cane caster sugar, but any good brown sugar is fine.

50g sundried tomatoes. I finely chop these before adding to the sauce.

Good bunch of fresh basil, chopped


Gently sauté the onions over a low heat until softened. 6-7mins should be enough

Add garlic and stir, cooking for about one minute. Add the red wine, tomatoes, sugar and season well with salt and pepper. Bring up to high heat and then turn down to a simmer until reduced by about a third or more, lid half on…should take about an hour or more. Stir occasionally. Add the sun dried tomatoes and basil, and simmer further for another 10-15 minutes. Blitz a few times with a hand held blender, but don’t ‘liquidise’.

This sauce is fabulous as a base for ragu (or bolognese if you must!), or for meatballs, pizza, etc or just on it’s own with pasta of your choice.


Recipe © Hugo Arnold. Published by Avoca Handweavers Ltd. 2000

This blog post © David Wilkins. Oct 2014

Chicken Liver Paté

We haven’t had a recipe in weeks. And, frankly, they didn’t come much simpler than this. I’ve made paté a number of times but the only shop that I knew that would regularly keep chicken livers was Superquinn (now SuperValu), on the other side of the town. So laziness meant it’s been a long while since I made some.

While doing the grocery shopping on Saturday I noticed that Tesco, just around the corner, had started to stock them, so I added some to my trolley and made paté today 🙂

There’s dozens of different recipes available, and you can make pate out of lots of things non chicken liver. And there’s a range of ingredients you can use. Assorted types have port, or sherry, herbs or no herbs, are sealed with clarified butter…or not. But I tried this really simple recipe I found on the Manor Farm website,


250g chicken livers
140g butter
1 onion, finely chopped – I used a red one…
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp brandy


Melt half the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat and cook the onion for 3 – 4 minutes until soft and transparent. Add the garlic and continue to cook for a further 2 minutes.

Check the chicken livers and remove any discoloured parts using a pair of scissors.

Add the livers to the frying pan and cook over quite a high heat for 5 – 6 minutes until they are brown in colour and fully cooked. Season well with salt and pepper and add the mustard and brandy.

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Process the pate in a blender until smooth. Add the remaining butter cut into small pieces and process again until creamy.

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Spoon the paté into a serving dish or small ramekins, smooth the surface and cover and leave in fridge until set and ready to use. Typically paté is sealed with clarified butter with a bay leaf atop. But frankly these will keep perfectly in the freezer for months…and simply won’t last long when they’ve been opened. I’ve used cling film, pressed down onto the surface of the paté.

Serve any way you wish, the usually with slivers of toast and red currant jelly / jam if you have it.



Recipe © Carton Group t/a Manor Farm

Blogpost © David Wilkins Oct 2014

Spicy Autumn Meatballs – Domini Kemp

One of the things I love about Saturdays is a leisurely breakfast followed by an hour or two with The Irish Times and the supplements that come with it. Domini Kemp is a wonderful chef who writes a weekly column for the Irish Times weekend magazine, and has been the source of many wonderful recipes over the years. I love cooking hearty meaty dishes, and this weekends edition featured this Middle Eastern inspired Spicy Meatball dish which was right up my street. Not for the diet conscious, I served it with lemon couscous. Alan thought the meatballs themselves were ‘heavy’ enough not to warrant any carbs to accompany them. And to be fair to him the recipe did suggest serving these with a crunchy salad. In any case the meatballs and sauce are really tasty and will be cooked again.



For the Meatballs
250g minced lamb
250g minced beef
1 large onion grated
4 cloves garlic, crushed
30g ground almonds
1tsp sweet smoked paprika
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1tsp harissa paste
Salt and pepper
Pinch cinnamon
Few knobs butter

For the sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
30 g butter
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 bay leaves
Squeeze honey (two big ones)
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp harissa


Preheat an oven to 200 degrees/gas 4.
To make the meatballs, place all the ingredients in a bowl and with clean hands, mix them together thoroughly.


Form into small balls – about one-and-a-half inches across. Arrange on a roasting dish, sprinkle with a few small knobs of butter, and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the sauce by sweating the garlic and cinnamon stick in the butter until soft, and then adding the rest of the ingredients. Cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the flavours are well mingled. Remove the meatballs from the oven, pour the sauce over them and bake for another 25 minutes. Serve with a crunchy green salad.


Recipe © Domini Kemp – First published in The Irish Times – Saturday 13th September 2014

This blog post and images © David Wilkins September 2014

Spaghetti Bolognese – with no apologies to Dolmio!!

I know, I know, I know. Spag Bol…Jesus, Wilkins what are ya doing!! Probably the most abused ‘Italian’ dish on the face of the planet. I deliberately ‘bracketed’ Italian there. Marco Roccasalvo, Chef Patron and owner of what is reputedly Ireland’s most authentic Italian restaurant, “Campo de’ Fiori” here in Bray, is horrified by what recipes have been murdered and called ‘bolognese’. Apparently what we’ve all been making for decades are bastardised versions of a traditional Italian dish called ‘Ragu’. And even then there are dozens, if not hundreds, of variations depending on where you’re from in Italy.

I must’ve tried 7 or 8 different recipes at least, including my own sauce that has about 15 ingredients. But I’ll soldier on and give you a take on this really tasty version that I found on the Weight Watchers Ireland website. Again, diet or no diet dozens of great recipes are on there worth having a go at, and tinkering with as I am want to do.This is a really simple recipe. There’s no reason to ever buy jars of pre-made sauce, like Dolmio or Ragu.

Serves 4


  • 4 sprays Cooking Spray. I used a couple of glugs of olive oil.
  • 400 g round steak mince.
  • 1 medium Onion finely chopped.
  • 1 medium Courgette, grated, top and tail, but don’t bother peeling.
  • 250 g Carrots finely chopped.
  • 1 medium Yellow Pepper, deseeded and chopped.
  • 200 g Mushrooms, sliced. I didn’t use any, someone in our house isn’t a fan…<ehem>.
  • 2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped or crushed. Again I used the pre puree’d garlic, so easy.
  • 800 g tinned Tomatoes – see Top Tip on tomatoes below.
  • 2 tbsp Tomato Purèe.
  • 1 tbsp Mixed Herbs.
  • 1 Stock Cube made up with 200ml boiling water.
  • 1 pinch each Salt & Pepper.
  • 240 g Pasta. Use spaghetti or whatever pasta you like. I used wholewheat spaghetti.
  • Fresh basil leaves to garnish
  • Grated Parmesan cheese. Not in the WW recipe.

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I’ve modified the WW method somewhat. For those who must know the unabridged WW version is 9 ProPoints. Main difference is they brown the mince then add in the veg and other ingredients. Unless I can see a reason not to, I always sweat the onions over a low heat, lid on, for 8-10 mins first.

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Heat a large saucepan and spray with calorie-controlled cooking spray / olive oil. Add the mince and brown it well all over. Usually 10 minutes will do. Set aside the browned mince, and the juices, in a bowl or dish, and add a little more oil to the pan. Sweat the onions over an initial medium heat, then a low heat for 8-10 minutes, with the lid on, stirring a few times. Add a tablespoon of water if they look like they’re drying. Add courgette, carrots, pepper, mushrooms, and garlic, stir and cook for another few minutes. Add back in the browned mince incl. any juices, tomatoes, stock and herbs. Mixed together well and bring to a high heat.

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The recipe says bring to the boil, but I’m a firm believer that boiling sauces in cooking kills flavour. Yes, heat it to a very high heat, but try and avoid actually boiling the sauce for long. Similarly when reheating sauces, do it gently over a medium heat and then simmer. It really does help the flavours. Reduce to a simmer and half cover with the lid, and cook for 50 to 60 minutes stirring a few times. Serve with whatever pasta you like, and a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese. Leftovers can be used to make lasagne.

This is one of those dishes that tastes even better the following day. This sauce is suitable for freezing.

Top tip on tinned tomatoes from the aforementioned Marco Roccasalvo. Never ever buy tinned chopped tomatoes. Always buy good quality plum tomatoes. With chopped tomatoes your getting bits of possibly not great quality mixed in. With plum tomatoes you can see you’re getting the whole thing. Usually 5 per tin. I completely agree, and usually blitz them with a hand blender before cooking. You can hand chop them if you wish.

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Original recipe © Weight Watchers International. Link here:

Blogpost © David Wilkins – June 2014

Chicken Badami by Gordon Ramsey

Alan gave me this book of Indian recipes by Gordon Ramsay, “Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape”, some time ago for either Christmas or a birthday. I’ve tried a few of them, and decided to give this one a go as I hadn’t tried it before. Badami means almond apparently, in which of India’s 22 official languages I’m not sure. It has a lot of ingredients but it’s really not difficult as most of them are flavours or spices and mostly go in all together.

This recipe serves 4, though I only made it with two chicken breasts.

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  • 500g boneless chicken cut into chunks. (Thighs or breasts)
  • 4 Garlic cloves (I use ready crushed garlic)
  • 2 cm root ginger peeled and finely grated (I use ready grated ginger)
  • I tbsp lemon juice (absolutely no more)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 25g slivered almonds
  • 2 tbsp ghee, or melted unsalted butter
  • 2 onions peeled and finely chopped (I used one very large spanish onion)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cardamon pods slightly crushed
  • 3 cloves (I didn’t use any as I really don’t like them)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 300ml natural yoghurt

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Toast the slivered almonds over a medium heat in a dry pan. This takes only a couple of minutes. Keep an eye, they’ll burn faster than you might think. Tip onto a plate or ramekin and leave to cool.

Return pan to heat and add the melted butter and onions, and cook for 8-10m minutes stirring occasionally. (recipe says 6-8 mins)

Add cinnamon, cardamon and cloves – fry for 3-4 more minutes. (recipe says 2-3 mins)

Add all remaining spices and ground almonds. Stir in briefly.

4 badami

Increase the heat slightly and add the chicken and stir, covering with the spice mix, until the chicken starts to whiten.

Reduce the heat to low, add in the yoghurt, stir until well mixed, cover and cook on a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. It’s a mild flavoursome dish. It was really nice, though I used too much lemon and it really sang. Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamon pods before serving.

I served with basmati rice, sprinkling the toasted almonds over the sauce.

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Recipe © Gordon Ramsay from his book “Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape” published by Harper & Collins UK – 2010.

Blogpost © David Wilkins – June 2014

Home made Oven Chips

A friend passed a comment related to homemade chips subsequent to a photo I recently posted on Facebook. I had never thought to make homemade oven chips. So today I gave it a whirl. It is stupendously simple to do and only adds 5 to 7 minutes extra than cooking from a bag from the freezer.



I used a spud I had to hand, a rooster. But the given wisdom seems to be to use Maris Piper, King Edward or Desirée varieties. I’d recommend one large per person minimum, but what ever you want. Pre heat the oven to 220-230 degrees centigrade. Peel the potatoes, and either use a sharp knife to cut them into chips, or use a potato chipper gadget. These have been around for decades, my mum had one when we were little kids.



Rinse the chips well with cold water and cook them in a pan of boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Quickest is to boil a kettle of water while your preparing the chips and power that into the pan, on the hob. Drain them fully and leave to rest for a few minutes. This allows the surface to dry out and fluff up ever so slightly.

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You can use ordinary oil to grease an oven tray. I’d use groundnut oil if you have it, rather than olive oil, which burns quicker. I personally decided to try the olive oil spray as it was handy. I’d probably use groundnut in future. Arrange the chips on the oven tray, and drizzle oil across them, use your fingers to make sure they get well covered, but not too much oil. Again I sprayed them after I arranged them on the tray. You can sprinkle them with herbs of your choosing, thyme or rosemary but I just made them plain.



Season well and bake for 30 minutes at the top of the oven, turning once after 15-20 minutes. These really turned out delicious. Light and fluffy inside and crispy on the outside. And much more healthy than supermarket bought chips, which typically have a dozen ingredients besides the chips.

You can also use sweet potatoes for something a little different.