Early one Sunday morning last November, I was taken to hospital in an ambulance following another unexplained episode of anaphylaxis.
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, sitting at my desk, writing a list of the foods I can’t have, it occurred to me that maybe I should flip this around, and look at the foods I can have instead.
I’d survived worse than this. Hell, I’ve written recipes based around ‘the foods I can have’ 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 just approached this as a whole new challenge, and hoped that in the process, I could help some other people navigate this tricky road as well.
So, I embarked on a series of tomato-free recipes – I am able to have them again in moderation now after introducing them slowly back into my diet after a period of elimination, but this recipe is a handy one to have if you are allergic, don’t have any canned tomatoes in stock, or keep going to the supermarket only to find the shelves bare.
How to make nomato sauce
200g red pepper (fresh, frozen or jarred are all fine)
300ml chicken-style or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon light cooking oil
2 teaspoons of vinegar, any kind
First make your base: the easiest way to do this is in a small bullet blender, food processor, or a jug blender if you don’t have the bullet kind.
Peel your onion and roughly chop it, and pop it in the blender. 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 the oil and vinegar, and blend to a liquid.
Pour the liquid into a saucepan, season generously with salt and pepper, and simmer for 25 minutes until thickened and reduced.
Allow to cool completely, then use as you would use canned tomatoes, in a bolognese, casserole, lasagne, curry or wherever you fancy.