Although I must confess to buying pre-made spreads and sauces for the sake of convenience, here’s are the three I usually make at home. Keep these on hand, and you’re always ready to dine – or evenentertain – in style. Each of them can be used in myriad different ways.
1. Pizza/Pasta Sauce
2 large onions, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp garlic, minced
2 Tbsp dried or fresh herbs (basil, oregano, and thyme work best)
1/2 cup red wine
12 cups peeled and seeded fresh ripe tomatoes (reserve the juice)
salt and pepper to taste
Make it: Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot or saucepan. Add the onions and cook on medium heat until they soften and brown, then add the garlic and dried herbs and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine, and scrape the bottom of the pan. Cook for a minute or so more. Add the tomatoes and their juice and stir. Lower heat and cook for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Use it: In sandwiches. On pizza. As a cold dip for bread sticks or raw vegetables. As a marinade for grilled vegetables or fish. Pureed and heated up as a soup. On pasta: Toss over boiled pasta, adding sliced black olives and any sliced cold cuts or cooked vegetables you have on hand, then top with grated cheese for a complete meal.
2 cups boiled chickpeas (channa)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tsp cumin
Garlic to taste (optional)
1 Tbsp tahini (optional)
Water as required
Make it: Place all ingredients in a blender and mix to a smooth, thick paste, adding a minimal amount of water, if necessary, to achieve the desired consistency.
Use it: As a dip for tortilla chips or raw vegetables. As a spread in a sandwich, pita, or wrap. On crostini as an appetizer. Thinned down, heated up, and served as chickpea soup. Or, stirred into other soups as a thickener instead of cream and butter. As a side to a salad. As a mayonnaise substitute.
1/4 cup pine nuts (or shelled walnut), lightly toasted and crushed
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley
1/4 c. fresh grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Make it: Place all ingredients in a mortar and pestle (or food processor if you want a shortcut), and blend to a thick, grainy paste.
Use it: As a marinade for fish or chicken. As a spread on bread. As a garnish for soup. In pasta. With vinegar and pepper as a salad vinaigrette. Heated up in a little cream as an accompanying sauce for meats. In mashed potato for a burst of flavor.