Have you ever made Italian pasta sauce from scratch from your own home-grown produce? It’s so rewarding and satisfying and the end result couldn’t be more fresh or good for you! Here are some tips on how to successfully grow all the ingredients.
How to grow tomatoes for pasta sauce:
Small tomato plants are ideal to start off with – a favourite variety is Sungold, which are yellow/orange when ripe and so sweet that small children eat them by the handful. They are a tall, aka, cordon type, best grown in a greenhouse or, failing that, next to a sunny wall. Another favourite variety is tumbling tomatoes, which are available in red or yellow. They can be grown in a pot or hanging basket, and are sweet, heavy croppers, and easy to ripen, even when the British Summer hasn’t been scorching hot.
When you replant them, plant the baby plant up to its leaves in compost. They will grow roots from the stalk and you end up with a much sturdier plant. Plant them outside in the middle of May and use a good compost such as the Tomorite planter (if you don’t want to use it as a growbag, you can always empty it into your pot, or use it as compost in your garden), give them as much sunshine as you can, and keep the watering steady as they don’t like getting dried out or sitting in wet compost (both can lead to the dreaded Blossom End Rot). When you see the first curly yellow flowers appearing on your plants, start to feed every fortnight with Tomorite, which will improve yields and the tastiness of your tomatoes.
With Sungolds and other cordon types, you need to remove the side shoots, which are the little shoots that grow from the base of the mature leaves, as they take energy away from the main plant. Tumblers can just be left to go wild. Most tomatoes can get a fungal disease called blight, which causes brown patches to appear on the stem of the plant and the plant to collapse. This is worse in cool, wet Summers, and it’s a good idea to break off all the plants’ lower foliage in August to decrease humidity around the base of the plant, which reduces the risk of blight attacking.
How to grow oregano for pasta sauce:
Oregano is the classic Italian herb for pizza and pasta sauce, and is one of the easiest plants to grow. You can make room for a pot of this even if you just had a windowsill to grow it on! Buy a small pot of oregano and replant it into a pot at least twice as big as it will grow fast. Pop it somewhere warm and sunny. Keep it watered regularly, and feed every couple of weeks with a well-balanced liquid feed like Maxicrop. After a few weeks, you can start to pick it; trimming over the top couple of inches, which will keep it nice and bushy, and with lots of new shoots coming through the Summer. It will die down completely over the Winter, and then start to shoot up again the following Spring.
How to grow basil for pasta sauce:
Basil is a sensitive little plant and needs to stay inside until mid-May. It will thrive best under glass in the UK, so it’s a great choice for a kitchen window sill. Remember it really prefers a spot that is out of full sun at midday. It does get big, so replant into a pot at least 20cm deep and wide. Let it grow undisturbed for a few weeks without picking, then when you do pick some, just pinch out the top 3-4 pairs of leaves. This will keep it bushy and new shoots coming. Again, feed regularly with Maxicrop, and in September when it’s about to die (it can’t cope with temperatures below 10C), pick at all and make pesto.
Basic Italian pasta sauce recipe (Serves 4)
6 home-grown chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
2 crushed garlic cloves
2 tsp sugar
1 large chopped onion
1½ tbsp tomato puree
½ tbsp chopped fresh oregano
¼ tsp red chilli flakes
1 bunch torn fresh basil (keep some back for garnish or use parsley)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Saute the onion and garlic in the oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat until the onions are translucent.
2. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, chilli flakes, oregano, basil (keep back a few tbsp. garnish), sugar, salt and pepper and simmer until the mixture is thick.
3. Serve with a torn basil or parsley garnish or freeze for future use!