Back to Basics - Classic Tomato Sauce and a Twist on Pesto

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This is a two for one post today – BONUS! I am super excited to share these recipes with you, we are going back to basics with two staples – a complex, rich tomato sauce and a beautifully vibrant pesto (my personal fav!).

While my tomato sauce is a pretty classic recipe, the simplicity of ingredients and low and slow cook is what makes it super special. The pesto, while still maintaining what makes it an Italian classic, has a few little twists that makes it my own (and now yours too!).

Look at the colour! Beautiful!

These sauces are both really easy to make and super versatile. They are the basics, after all. Both sauces serve as a foundation for an endless list of dishes. The tomato sauce is a great base for any Italian dish; think spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and peppers, puttanesca, linguine and clams, mussels in red sauce, eggplant or chicken parm, lasagna – see endless! Pesto is the same; it goes beautifully with any pasta – even a gnocchi, use it as a dressing on a cold pasta salad, drizzle over grilled veggies or as a dip with crudite, dress up a baked potato, use it to stuff a chicken breast or serve with fish or grilled meat. These are just a few ideas, if you like the sound of any of these dishes, comment below and I will post recipes.

Both of sauces only take a few ingredients to make, using kitchen pantry and fridge staples. They can keep in the fridge for at least a week, and also freeze really well, so feel free to double or triple the recipe. If you are freezing the pesto, use an ice cube tray, each cube is the perfect portion for one serving.

Tomato sauce – five ingredients, amazing flavour
Pesto – six ingredients pictured (seven total – I forgot the olive oil)

Tomato sauce makes about two cups, pesto makes about one and a half cups

Here’s what you’ll need:
Tomato Sauce

  • 1 can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • pinch chili flakes
  • olive oil
  • 4 leaves fresh basil


  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 garlic scapes (or one clove or garlic)
  • 1/3 cup of pecorino romano, grated
  • 1 bunch of rainbow chard (leaves only, stems removed)
  • 1 cup of basil
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon

A couple little notes about the ingredients

About the San Marzano; these canned tomatoes are a little more expensive, but totally worth it. What’s so special you ask? These sweet plum tomatoes are probably one of ltaly’s most famous exports, they are grown in rich volcanic soil, have a low acidity, very few seeds and a lovely sweet flavour. Spend a few extra dollars, you will not be let down (p.s. make sure they are marked D.O.P – the stamp means they are actually from Italy and real San Marzano’s)

About the walnuts; traditional pesto uses pine nuts, you can use these here too. Pine nuts are quite expensive, and I don’t think they are worth the extra cost. I’ve tried both (as well as other nuts like almonds and cashews), I find raw walnuts work best.

About the pecorino romano; you can use any hard, salty Italian cheese in this dish. I rotate between Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano, any one of these three cheeses works perfectly in the pesto. As with the San Marzano’s above, make sure the cheese is marked D.O.P, you need to use the real stuff here.

About the rainbow chard and basil; okay, so here is where I really add a twist. A classic pesto calls for basil only, I find that a bit boring. I like to use a basil in combination with some type of green. I used rainbow chard with this pesto, but I also regularly use any variety of kale, other types of chard, you could even use arugula, dandelion or beet greens. Once you nail this recipe, have some fun and play around with other combinations!

The recipes

Tomato sauce

In a heavy bottom saucepan drizzle in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add three cloves of garlic sliced as thinly as possible, a pinch of chili flakes, salt and pepper. Turn pan on the low heat. Heat ingredients until they become fragrant, about 3-4 minutes, do not let the garlic burn. Add the basil leaves.

The beginnings of something delicious

Next, add the entire can of tomatoes, juices too! Turn to medium heat, stir to combine. Once it starts to bubble, turn down to the lowest possible heat, and let it cooked uncovered for 2-3 hours. Stirring regularly, making sure to scrape down the sides of the pan.

Scraping down the sides, getting all that tomato goodness!

Have patience, it will be worth it. Low and slow is the way to go. After a few hours the sauce will have reduced quite a bit. It should be nice and thick. It should look like this, see how I can make a line through it and it doesn’t immediately fill in, that is what you want.

Nice and thick!

Serve as you wish, N wanted spaghetti and meatballs, so I quickly made a small batch of meatballs to serve with this tasty sauce.



This is also a super simple recipe; it comes together really quickly. Place the walnuts in a food processor and pulse until they are they are the size of coffee grounds.

Walnuts are the base

Next add the garlic scapes or clove and pulse until well combined. Add the cheese, lemon juice, salt and pepper, pulse to combine. It should almost be a smooth paste at this point. Add the swiss chard and some of the olive oil, puree until smooth. Every 30 seconds or so open the processor and scrape down the sides with a knife, adding more olive oil. Once it is all combined together, add the basil, and a little more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice to taste. Pulse for 30-60 seconds to combine.

Beautiful colour (taste too!)
Ready to add to almost any dish!

While N was having spaghetti and meatballs, I decided to have a nice, simple pesto pasta with whole wheat pasta, lemon zest and a little more cheese and basil.

One of my favourite comfort foods
Dinner for two, or two dinners for one


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