if you want my gravy, pepper my ragu

I guess the food I grew up on wasn’t fancy. Things like 2-minute noodles, boiled potatoes, microwaved frozen mixed veges were standard. I’ve probably said it before, but for a long time we mostly ate just microwaved food (sure, Mum had this amazing golden syrup sponge pudding recipe, but there’s definitely a reason why ‘Microwave Gourmet’ cookbooks are always over-represented at op shops and book fairs). Anyway, we ate just fine, and I should count myself lucky to have got regular meals anyway. But I wonder if it’s a product of my non-fancy upbringing, plus maybe some general deep-seated New Zealand backwards-in-coming-forwards-ness that I sometimes feel a bit bashful with fancy sounding recipes. Just realised I’ve said fancy about twelve times now. Anyway, the reason I got to thinking about this was that I have a recipe for Ragu Di Piselli – Italian for Pea Ragu – and for some reason my mind automatically went “well I’ll just call that peas and tomatoes”. Why? False modesty? At what? It’s not like I have to worry about Tim not eating his dinner because it doesn’t sound familiar (ha!). It’s not like you readers can’t handle some culinary Italian language.

Really, you can call this what you like, although it’s nice to acknowledge the lineage of something, food or not. I found this recipe in a Cuisine magazine (September 2005) and if nothing else, the Italian name cleverly masks the fact that this sauce is just peas and tomatoes. Maybe the sort of person who would sneer at an unrecognisable name for their dinner would also sneer when they found out that their dinner largely consists of two vegetables. Maybe these people can deal with it and learn something – it’s seriously delicious. From my own experience, Italian food can be aggressively simple. It’s good to just go with it, rather than be nervous that what you’re serving isn’t ‘enough’. (as I learned with the Peaches In Muscat back in February.)
Ragu Di Piselli/Pea Ragu/Peas and Tomatoes

From the September 2005 issue of Cuisine magazine

50g butter
1 T olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
100mls white wine
200g frozen peas (or fresh, but frozen is mostly how they arrive)
400g can cherry tomatoes or whole peeled tomatoes
One teaspoon tomato paste
Salt, pepper, parsely and Parmesan to serve

Melt half the butter with the olive oil in a pan. Saute the chopped onion till translucent, pour in the wine and allow it to fizz up and evaporate slightly. Now, add the peas and tomatoes. If you’ve got cherry tomatos, handle them carefully so they stay whole, but if you’ve got bigger tomatoes mash them up. Add the tomato paste, simmer on a low heat until the sauce thickens slightly. Stir in the remaining butter and serve.
  • Canned cherry tomatoes are getting easier to find. But the usual whole or chopped ones are fine.
  • One teaspoon of tomato paste is an annoying measurement. If you don’t have any, just leave it out.
  • I’ve made this before with sake when I didn’t have any white wine. It was awesome.
  • I added some frozen soybeans along with the frozen peas here.
  • If you just use olive oil and leave out the Parmesan (which I hardly ever have anyway) you’ve got yourself a vegan dinner. If you want to take things in the other direction, chorizo or bacon could be added.
  • The recipe apparently serves six, but…nahh. This amount fed two of us.
  • I served it on a huge pillowy pile of polenta, which I’m a bit obsessed with, but pasta is obviously good and what the original recipe recommends.
Simple, sure, but also amazingly delicious. The tomato becomes sweet and soft and intensified, the peas give texture and bite, while the wine imparts a mysteriously good flavour once it makes contact with the hot pan. Something about the vibrant colours and juicy tomatoes means that it doesn’t feel like you’re just eating two vegetables stirred together (a bit like the soup from last time). Whatever you want to call it, this dinner can be made entirely from stuff at the back of your cupboard and freezer, which is really awesome for when you want to make dinner but feel like there’s nothing around. Sometimes I do run out of frozen peas and canned tomatoes…that’s not fun.
The conference last week up in Auckland went really well – my presentation bit was hitch-less, I learned heaps and I had an amazing lychee shake at a Vietnamese restaurant in Panmure that I really want to recreate. I got back on Friday night absolutely exhausted though, so even though I had grand plans to head out again, I ended up quickly faceplanting, unfortunately missing the fireworks. Luckily people round Wellington have interpreted this as “Guy Fawkes Season” rather than sticking to the actual night itself, and so there have been plenty of lit-up skies. I love fireworks (and still have a soft spot for sparklers) so it was a shame to miss the big show on the waterfront. The weather on Friday night was particularly brutal though, so I was happy as to just flag it and go to bed. Either way, it felt so, so good to be back in Wellington.
Title via: The cast recording of Chicago (Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, Jerry Orbach, hello!). The 2002 film soundtrack I can hear in its entirety just by closing my eyes thanks to an aunty who played it a lot (something I can totally understand.) From it comes the beautiful Queen Latifah’s portrayal of Matron Mama Morton, whose big number When You’re Good To Mama is where this title comes from.
Music lately:
I know I mentioned her last week, but whatever. On Saturday night we saw Ladi6, back in New Zealand after some significant creative time in Berlin, at San Francisco Bath House. She was amazing and I wrote some thoughts here at 100s and 1000s. Her punchy ode Like Water from new album The Liberation Of… has been rippling persistently through my mind ever since then.
Gomez, Bring it On, from their album Liquid Skin. I’m not sure how consistent these guys are but there’s a lot of amazing stuff on this album – maybe I’m a bit biased as I listened to it a lot back when I was in England – I love the mix of layered, bluesy sounds and voices.
Next time: I’ll probably start panicking about how close to Christmas it is. I’ve found some photos from the first recipe I made from Nigella Kitchen (apple cinnamon muffins) so I should really blog about them sooner rather than later…

10 thoughts on “if you want my gravy, pepper my ragu

  1. Hannah says:

    Oooh, vegetarian ragu! And you added edamame… brilliant brilliant. And there was somethign else *vitally* important that I was going to say, except now that I'm on the comment page and not the post page, I can't remember…

    Wait, yes! I was going to say that we had one of those glorious microwave puddings on rotation when I was growing up too, except ours used maple syrup :_


  2. Kay says:

    When you compare how long it used to take to make a genuine steamed pudding, you will come to appreciate the appeal of the instant microwave version. (Feather pudding, from memory). The only thing was, that microwave feather pudding became increasingly bouncy (i.e. rubbery) the longer it remained uneaten.


  3. hungryandfrozen says:

    Kate: the trick is, I use a polenta recipe that serves six, then more or less halve everything except the butter.

    Hannah: Ooh, maple syrup would be excellent. I am pretty fond of just plain golden syrup though 🙂

    Mum: Yes, it's all coming back to me now…”Feather Pudding”, near the Microwaved Spotted Dick in the book.

    Zo: All good!

    Helen: Thanks!


  4. Mel says:

    Haha, title is awesome!

    Love the look of this dish and appreciate the note on the tomato paste – too true – will bear in mind when I (hopefully soon) try it!


  5. millie mirepoix says:

    I made something similar recently, but minus the peas and plus mushrooms and white beans. Okay, so it was a bit different, but I served it with polenta and it was delicious. I may well try it with peas next time!


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