I have a confession to make. I grew up on Italian-American style “spaghetti sauce.”
In our Northwest neighborhood, there were only two pastas in those days—spaghetti and macaroni. Spaghetti had only one sauce. As I recall, it involved a can of tomato sauce, ground beef, and a packet of spices. I loved it because it was a change from the daily grind of mashed potatoes and gravy. Simpler times for simpler folks.
Fast forward several decades. Spaghetti is now only one of dozens of dried pastas in my pantry. And I make fresh pasta as well.
There’s no such thing in America as an ubiquitous “spaghetti sauce” anymore. Even if we narrow the options down to tomato-based sauces, the opportunities are wide.
Do you want a fresh tomato sauce or a long cooked tomato sauce? Maybe something in between? Perhaps with fresh herbs? Fennel? Cream? Beef? Pork? Anchovies? Capers? Olives? These sauces all fit within the Italian tomato sauce repertoire. I love them beyond measure.
But Italy isn’t the only country to put their distinctive mark on tomato sauce. Most of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea utilize this most basic of sauces. And the spicing can be quite different from European versions.
Here’s a Tunisian Tomato Sauce, for instance, which takes the concept in a different and thoroughly delectable direction.
Spicy Tunisian Tomato Sauce with Olives & Preserved Lemon
Tomato sauce is infinitely adaptable. This version takes the basic Italian sauce and heads south with it, across the Mediterranean Sea, to Tunisia. It includes either Baharat or Ras el Hanout spice blend, along with paprika, cinnamon, preserved lemons, and olives.
It’s fabulous as the base for a Moroccan Tagine (and is specified for Moroccan Kefta Tagine (Spicy Meatballs & Tunisian Tomato Sauce). But it’s also delicious tossed with linguini or strozzapreti pasta, Italian-style.
Note Check out The Cook’s Thesaurus for a romp through olive territory.
¼ cup cold pressed, extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced (2½ cups or 10 ounces minced)
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
½ cup dry white wine
28 ounces canned, crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon wildflower honey, plus more to taste
1 cup large cerignola mix, calamata, or green olives, pits removed, and cut into quarters lengthwise
½ cup small preserved lemons, cut into quarters or eighths lengthwise, pits removed
¼ cup chopped cilantro
- In a large sauté pan, over medium-low heat, heat the oil and add the onions.
- Cook the onions slowly, partially covered, until soft and translucent but not browned, about 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring to incorporate.
- Add the baharat or ras el hanout, cumin (if needed), paprika, and cinnamon. Stir to incorporate.
- Turn the heat up and add the wine. Simmer until almost all liquid is evaporated.
- Add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Simmer slowly, partially covered for 15 minutes.
- Add the olives and preserved lemons, and continue cooking for about 15 minutes longer, until sauce is slightly thickened, with a silky sheen. Total cooking time will be about 30 minutes. If the spices still taste harsh at this point, add a little more stock, and simmer longer.
- If needed, thin the sauce with additional chicken stock. Sauce should not be too thick.
- Taste for seasoning, and add salt, pepper, and honey to taste.
- Just before serving, add the cilantro.
- Sauce can be used immediately or cooled and refrigerated for up to 3 days. It’s even better on day two.
Makes about 2 quarts.
More Luscious Mediterranean-Inspired Dishes from LunaCafe
- Chicken Tagine with Baby Artichokes, Green Olives, Apricots & Preserved Lemon
- Egyptian Dukka (Dukkah)
- Harissa: North African Hot Chile Sauce
- Italian Giardiniera: Summer in a Jar
- Kicky Tomato Strawberry Gazpacho
- Lime-Marinated Steak Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce, Tomatoes, Onions, Feta & Mint
- Moon over Tunisia (Baharat) Cookies
- Moroccan Kefta Tagine (Spicy Meatballs & Tunisian Tomato Sauce)
- Moroccan Ras el Hanout
- My Tabouleh
- Red & Orange Bell Pepper Salad with Mint, Parsley & Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette
- Roasted Red Bell Pepper Gazpacho
- Smoky Spanish Zarzuela with Chorizo & Emmer Farro
- Warm Spiced Red Kuri Squash & Orange Soup with Cinnamon Harissa
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- Pinterest: Tagine
- Pinterest: Tunisian Food
- Smitten Kitchen: Shakshuka
- TasteSpotting: Tunisian
- Wikipedia: Tunisian Cuisine
Copyright 2014 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.