Early on Sunday morning, I was taken to hospital in an ambulance following my fifth unexplained episode of anaphylaxis in recent months. I was kept in for a couple of days, and discharged with adrenaline pens, steroids, a referral to an allergy clinic, and a very long list of foods to avoid until the trigger has been identified.
I read the list in my hospital bed at 3am on a noisy ward, absolutely incandescent with frustration, and frightened and bewildered about yet another twist in the rollercoaster that my life seems to be. ‘I’m a food writer’ I wailed at the gentle doctor at the foot of my bed some hours earlier. ‘I’ve literally just written a book about canned tomatoes and fish, and now I need to give them up?’ He nodded, sympathetic, but apologetically firm.
I lay awake most of the night, sulking and petulant, wondering how the hell I was going to do my job from here. A few days later, I’m sitting at my desk, writing a list of the foods I can’t have…when it occurs to me that maybe I should flip this around, and look at the foods I can have instead. I’ve survived worse than this. Hell, I’ve written recipes based around ‘the foods I can have’ being from a food bank box, the basics range, and occasional luck at the reduced chiller. It doesn’t do to sit around fuming ‘why me?!’ – instead I’ll just approach this as a whole new challenge, and hope that in the process, I can help some other people navigate this tricky road as well.
So, I’m embarking on a series of tomato-free recipes for a bit – I might be able to have them again after the allergy tests, but the waiting list for those is LONG, so, in the meantime, I’ve got to get creative. This is the first of many – and I can’t wait to share them with you all. Although I have to admit, when I got the words ‘find what you love and let it kill you’ tattooed on my hand, I didn’t mean for the Universe to interpret that as literally as ‘kill me with canned tomatoes’, but, here we are. I have a basic Nomato sauce recipe underway – there are seven different jars of my own concoction sitting in my kitchen as I write – but until I’ve tweaked it to perfection, this ought to be a good start.
To make this recipe Vegan or Vegetarian, simply substitute the sausages with your favourite vegan or veggie kind. I’ve tested this recipe with Linda McCartney Red Onion & Rosemary Sausages and they work beautifully.
Serves 2-4 from 47p each. Prices correct at time of publication. (I provide links to the ingredients that I use so you can see how I calculate my recipe costs, and I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any ingredients.)
320g onion, 19p (60p/1kg, Asda)
320g carrot, 16p (50p/1kg, Asda)
200g red pepper, 32p (£2.75/1.75kg, Asda)
300ml chicken-style or vegetable stock, 3p (39p/12 stock cubes, Asda)
4 fat cloves of garlic, 6p (50p/3 bulbs, Asda)
1 tbsp light cooking oil, 2p
6 sausages, 27p (91p/20, Asda Smartprice)
400g can of pinto or other beans, 55p (55p/400g, Asda)
200g diced squash, swede or potato, 18p (35p/400g fresh diced swede, Asda)
1 tbsp mixed dried herbs, 5p (30p/18g, Smartprice at Asda)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, or 2 tsp vinegar and 1 tsp sugar or honey, 3p (59p/250ml balsamic vinegar, Asda)
First make your base: the easiest way to do this is in a small bullet blender, or a jug blender if you don’t have the bullet kind. Peel your onion and roughly chop it, and pop half of it in the blender, leaving half for later. Slice your carrot and add half of that too, then all of the pepper, discarding only the green stalk – the seeds will get liquidised, so you can leave those in. Add 300ml of stock, and blend to a liquid. Set this to one side for a moment.
Pop the remaining onion and carrot in a large nonstick pan. Peel your garlic and halve it lengthways, and add that too, along with the sausages. Drizzle with the oil, and place on a medium hob ring on a medium heat. Cook for 5-6 minutes, nudging it with a wooden spoon or spatula every now and then to stop it from sticking to the pan.
Pour over the base sauce. Drain and rinse the beans and add them to the pan, along with the squash (or swede or sweet potato). Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the herbs, and season with a little salt and pepper. Cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the sausages are cooked and the squash is soft. You may need to add a little extra water, depending on your pan and the veracity of your hob, so keep an eye on it and give it a stir every now and then.
This is a dish that improves with a long slow cook, so if you can spare the time and energy, cook it for 30 minute more, topping it up with water or stock as necessary. If you have other things to do, or you’re watching your energy bill, remove it from the heat and cover tightly, and leave to cool for 30 minutes instead, then blast it through to piping hot to serve. Finish with balsamic vinegar (or ordinary vinegar and a dash of honey or sugar) and stir through before serving.
All text copyright Jack Monroe.
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