Pizza Sauce

Time saver: whip up a fresh-tasting pizza sauce in no time.

I’ve been making a lot of pizza recently, and as a result I’ve been running out of the tomato paste I’d normally use for the pizza sauce. So, to save a trip to the supermarket I figured I’d make my own. It takes a little longer (not too much longer once you know what you’re doing), but tastes great and is definitely worth it.

This works really well on the New York Style Pepperoni and Mushroom, Blue Cheese and Pesto pizzas. I make this in a large saucepan since the bigger surface area leads to faster reduction.

Pizza Sauce (makes enough for two 12-14″ pizzas)

  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove or ½ tsp crushed/finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp salt
  • (optional) freshly cracked black pepper to taste (crack over sauce once it’s spread on the pizza base)
  • (optional) 1 small onion, peeled, cut in half along equator OR 2 celery stalks cut in half lengthwise, chopped into 10cm lengths – these are used to imbue a bit of flavour, but are removed from the sauce before it’s used
  1. Heat oil in large saucepan, then add garlic and onion/celery if using. Saute briefly, then add tomatoes, sugar, oregano and salt.
  2. Stir frequently to prevent the sauce from catching, and keeping on a high heat, reduce down to about a quarter of the starting volume.
  3. Remove saucepand from heat, and then remove onion/celery from sauce and discard.
  4. The sauce may still have a few bigger chunks of tomato in it – I like these, but you could mash/blend/stick-mix them out.
  5. Spread 3-4 Tbsp over each pizza base, then season evenly with freshly cracked black pepper.
  6. If you’re only making one pizza you can freeze the leftover sauce, or keep it in the fridge for a couple of days.

Midori and Lemon Sorbet

Time saver: Summer’s on its way, cool down with a refreshing sorbet.

Midori and lemon sorbet - in shotglassesThis is a variation on the classic lemon sorbet. The sweet melon flavour of the Midori complements the tartness of the lemons, while also adding a little colour. Although I’ve used Midori, you can probably get away with any of your favourite liqueurs/spirits.

Your freezer needs to be quite cold when making sorbet (or you’ll have to wait a long time for it to freeze). If you leave the sorbet too long without beating it (particularly before the first round of beating) the syrup may freeze solid. if that happens, just leave it to thaw for a few minutes, then beat and return to the freezer.

Midori and Lemon Sorbet

If well beaten, this recipe makes just shy of 1 litre.

  • 2 c water (use filtered/bottled water if the tap water is chlorinated)
  • 1½ c white sugar
  • 1 c freshly squeezed lemon juice (around 6-8 lemons, more if they’re small)
  • 3 Tbsp Midori Liqueur
  1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan, heat on a hot element, stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Let it come to the boil, and simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat.
  3. While the syrup cools, juice the lemons. Strain the juice through a sieve into the saucepan of syrup, add the Midori, and mix well.
  4. Pour the syrup into a shallow freezer proof bowl and place bowl in the freezer. (I normally just use an old 2 litre ice cream container.)
  5. Leave to freeze for a couple of hours, then retrieve the bowl and beat with electric beaters/stick mix. After beating, return to the freezer.
  6. Repeat the beating process a couple more times, with hour long intervals. The more you beat it, the lighter and smoother the sorbet.
  7. Serve in chilled glasses. For a palate cleanser, use 40ml shot glasses, for dessert use larger chilled martini glasses.

Midori and Lemon Sorbet - in cocktail glass

Pan-fried haloumi with balsamic roasted tomatoes and salad

Time saver: Is it possible to transcend deliciousness? To go so far beyond it that mere words could never capture the experience? To leave people speechless with nothing to do but lick their plates? But of course…

Haloumi Balsamic SaladI came up with this as the entrée for my Retour tribute menu. It uses pan-fried haloumi, along with balsamic roasted tomatoes and a balsamic reduction to really pack in a lot of flavour. (The reduction is sweet, sticky, strong flavoured, with a tart fruity flavour. The tiniest of drops is a taste sensation. If you haven’t had it before, it’s almost unbelievable that balsamic vinegar can be transformed like this.)

This gives two lunch sized main servings. For entrée sized servings, use the same amount but distribute between four plates.

Pan-fried Haloumi with Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes, Pine Nuts and Salad with a Balsamic Reduction

  • Balsamic roasted tomatoes, prepared according to the recipe
  • 200g haloumi cheese, cut into slices around 5mm thick
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp (approx 15g) pine nuts
  • ½ c balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 90-100g mesclun salad greens
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  1. Toast pine nuts in a small frying pan over a medium-high heat – stir or shake the pan frequently to cook evenly. Once browned, remove from heat and transfer pine nuts to a small bowl/plate and set aside.
  2. Add the balsamic vinegar to a small pan and bring to the boil over a high heat, then add the sugar. Stir constantly to avoid burning the vinegar, and reduce to around ¼ of its previous volume (i.e. this yields about 2 Tbsp of reduction), at which point it should become syrupy. Avoid breathing in the fumes as you’re cooking, it’s essentially boiling hot acid and you will know about it.  Remove from heat and set aside. (As it cools the reduction will thicken – if it’s too cool it will be hard to drizzle, so you can heat it a little or add a little hot water to get it free-flowing again.)
  3. Divide the salad greens between two plates, piling them into the centre of the plates.
  4. Heat a large (ish) frying pan over a medium-high heat.
  5. When hot, melt the butter in the pan, then quickly add the sliced haloumi. Fry on the first side for around two minutes till golden brown, then flip and fry for another 60-90 seconds on the other side. (The pan needs to be quite hot before adding the haloumi to ensure the cheese fries and browns, rather than melts.)
  6. Transfer haloumi to a standby plate, then assemble the meal as follows.
  7. Place around half the tomatoes on top of the plated salad, then arrange the fried haloumi on top of it. Distribute the remaining tomatoes on top of the haloumi. Sprinkle each plate with 1 Tbsp each of the toasted pine nuts. Using a teaspoon, drizzle balsamic reduction over the tops of the salads, going side to side across the plate in a weave pattern. Then turn the plate 90 degress and drizzle 1 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil on to each salad, again in a side to side weave pattern. Then serve.

Haloumi Balsamic Salad 2

Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes

Time saver: if you’re going to eat tomatoes, eat them like this…

Balsamic Roasted TomatoesThese tomatoes have an intense flavour and are great as part of an antipasto platter or in a salad. Mum taught me how to make these. I’m not sure if she got them off a recipe or made it up herself, but I’ve come up with the measurements below and they seem to work.

Note that you can use all sorts of different tomatoes when making these, you may need to adjust the cooking time down if using really small tomatoes, but the basic principle will be the same.

Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes

  • 500g fresh ripe tomatoes (about 4 medium-large ones) or 300g smaller tomatoes
  • 1-2 cloves finely chopped/1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • several sprigs of fresh thyme (or ½ tsp dried thyme)
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  1. Heat oven to 200°C.
  2. Cut tomatoes into segments. If large, cut into sixths or eighths, if smaller, cut into halves or quarters.
  3. Arrange tomatoes skin down (cut sides up) in a small roasting pan (optionally lined with baking paper).
  4. Distribute the garlic evenly among the tomatoes, dropping a little bit onto each one with a teaspoon. Be sure to get some on every piece of tomato.
  5. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  6. Lay sprigs of thyme across the tops of the tomatoes, again, ensure that all tomatoes come into contact with the thyme. Alternatively, if using dried thyme, sprinkle evenly over the tomatoes.
  7. Gently drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes, then do the same with the balsamic vinegar.
  8. Place tomatoes in the oven, and cook for 60 minutes. Check at 10 minute intervals after cooking for 40 minutes. When ready the tomatoes will have reduced in size, and be starting to brown around the edges. (If you keep cooking past this point they’ll get smaller and crispier – they’re still surprisingly tasty even when well-charred…)
  9. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool, then remove the sprigs of thyme from the top, transfer the tomatoes to a serving dish and serve.

Balsamic Tomatoes Ready For Oven

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

Time saver: Phil gets cold, busts out the soup.

Two bowls of spicy pumpkin soupIt’s been a few days between posts, but never fear – I haven’t stopped cooking. In fact I have a bit of a back log of recipes to write up, so hopefully my ambition is matched by motivation.

We’ve had some pretty bad weather over the last few days, and winter seems to have really set in. When it gets cold there’s nothing quite like a bowl of hot soup, so bust out the stock pot and let’s get cracking.

Just a quick note about the pumpkin. I’m really sorry, but I’ve never weighed it. If you think a large pumpkin is one that wins prizes at country fairs then you’ll probably want to go with half a small pumpkin. Also, if you’ve got the time and the inclination, you’ll get a richer flavoured soup if you roast the pumpkin first. If you’re short on time or just can’t be bothered, then don’t worry about it. Note that if you do roast it, the actual time to prepare the soup will be less. So you could roast the pumpkin the night before, and then make a fresh hot soup pretty quickly the next day. If that’s your thing.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup – serves 4-6

If roasting the pumpkin, heat oven to about 220°C-230°C. Put pumpkin chunks in a roasting dish, pour in a couple of Tbsp of oil (I used peanut oil for a bit of flavour, but olive oil or whatever you have handy is fine) and mix the pumpkin around to get it evenly coated. You can season it if you like, but you’ll need to adjust the soup seasoning accordingly. Roast for 15 minutes, then give the pumpkin a bit of a stir around, reduce heat to 200°C and roast for another 15 minutes.

  • ½ medium-large pumpkin, peeled and chopped into smallish chunks
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced into crescents (if you don’t have celery handy, just use another onion)
  • 1 tsp or 2 cloves crushed/finely chopped garlic
  • 1 litre liquid chicken or vegetable stock (if you don’t have it you can use powdered stock, 1 tsp per 250 ml) + additional stock/water if required
  • 1½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 Tbsp oil/butter
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • sour cream/unsweetened plain yoghurt/greek yoghurt
  • chopped parsley to garnish
  1. Heat oil/butter in large stockpot over a medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion, celery and garlic to pot and cook till clear (around 3-5 minutes).
  3. Add pumpkin, stock, cumin and spice and stir thoroughly.
  4. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the pumpkin is soft and cooked through. (If using roasted pumpkin, simmer for 5-10 minutes, if using raw pumpkin this takes around 30-60 minutes.)
  5. Blend soup till smooth, either by blending it in batches or (carefully) with a stick mix/hand held blender. If the soup is very thick you can add more stock or just add water.
  6. Season with ground black pepper and salt, to taste.
  7. Serve with toasted/warm bread. Add a generous dollop of sour cream/plain yoghurt to each bowl, and garnish with a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley.

Bowl of spicy pumpkin soup