Every time I serve dishes that feature this sauce, they get rave reviews and, I shit you not, tears. Real tears. Once. The dude I had fed it to, over a bit of savoury, cheesy bread pudding, said it was the best tomato sauce he had ever tasted in his life and shed some tears. I blame the chili flakes, but will take the compliment.
I’ve always referred to it as a puttanesca sauce, which is or is not appropriate, depending on one’s level of puttanesca puritanism, but in the interest of fending off the formalist foodie fusspots, I put forward the very humble notion of calling it Melanesca sauce.
All in favour, say “aye”.
It is certainly made in the same spirit as puttanesca, in that it goes together lickety-split with just a few modest ingredients, letting you get on with your bad self as it simmers away until it reaches its final form as a delightfully bright sauce, with a depth of flavour that does not seem likely of such facile fare.
And it’s incredibly versatile. I’ve served it with greek meatballs, grilled seafood or seafood cooked in the sauce, roasted veg, with the aforementioned savoury bread pudding, as the basis for some mightily righteous beans on toast, over polenta, rice, pasta…I think you get the picture, so let’s get on with it, shall we?
This recipe makes enough sauce for 4 hefty servings – about 2.5 cups.
What you need:
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 medium-sized red onion, finely diced
- 2 cups of grape tomatoes
- 1/4 cup of dry, white wine
- 3 cloves of garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- A pinch of cinnamon
- 1/4-1/3 cup of oily-brined artichoke hearts or eggplants or olives + 2 tbsp of their brine
- About 1.5 cups of water (you’ll need more if you let it simmer longer.
- 1 hefty pinch of pepper of your choice – I like chili flakes or Aleppo pepper, black is great, freshly ground white is fantastic.
- A goodly handful of fresh, finely sliced or chopped herbs to finish
What you do:
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat and toss the butter and one tablespoon into it.
- Once the butter is melted, toss in the onion and cook until it’s translucent.
- Turn the heat up to high (like, not HIGH high one would use to boil water, but, like, 8 on a dial of 10 high) and toss in the other tablespoon of olive oil and the tomatoes. Let the tomatoes cook for about 30 seconds, then give them a stir. Continue this process until the tomatoes are blistered all over and the onions are browning.
- Reduce the heat to medium and deglaze with the wine. Stir in the garlic, nutmeg, cinnamon, preserved veg, brine, 1.5 cups of water and some pepper.
- Let this simmer for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You can let it simmer longer, but add some water (or wine) to keep it loose.
- About a minute before serving, stir in the fresh herbs, taste test and add adjust seasoning as necessary.