My all-purpose rich and tasty veggie ragù.

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vegetarian ragu

Few days ago I was hanging around on my old Genoese cooking books looking for some ideas for a traditional meat dish and I bump into the recipe of Tomaxelle, the Ligurian meat rolls.

Why not? At the end of the day meat rolls are an old-time dish. At home my granny used to prepare them quite differently, filled with parsley frittata and cheese, but I will tell you about them in another post. That day, instead, I was looking for something I had heard taking about (mainly by old ladies) under the parasol or queuing at the butcher, something that could not miss in a well reputable Genoese restaurant.

I was thinking that tomaxelle were a plate to prepare in one hour, but I had to change my mind when I scrolled the list of ingredients and read “all purpose sauce”.

Good heavens! “All-purpose tomato sauce” is not tomato sauce, it is not tomato puree, nor it is tomato paste. It is not a raw ingredient you can buy at the supermarket — of course unless slipping on ready canned sauces — but it needs its time and your due attentions.

Old-time housewives for sure used to prepare each time a huge pan of it and cook with it all the week long. Many Ligurian recipes actually requires homemade “all-purpose tomato sauce” as sparring partner for more noble ingredients.

There are many versions of our “all-purpose sauce”, some with meat, other without.

As I prefer accompanying main ingredients such as meat and fish with vegetables ‑ also in order to keep lighter and fresher even complex dishes ‑ my “all-purpose tomato sauce” (when I prepare it…) is vegetarian and so good that you don’t miss the meat.

la cucina di strettissimo magro

For my “all-purpose tomato sauce” I took inspiration long time ago by a very old cooking book edited for the first time on 1880 titled “Cooking for the days of hard abstinence” and wrote by Father Stefano Delle Piane, a Franciscan friar of Genoa.

A surely smart and cheerful friar used his ingenuity to develop in the kitchens of his monastery more than 400 recipes to help Ligurian cookers during Lent, when eating meat (and its derivatives including eggs and milk) was strictly forbidden.

Practically it’s a treasure trove of old-times pescetarian recipes or even vegetarian if you remove from most of them the salty anchovies that Father Stefano (we got friends in these years) cannot do without!

He calls his “all-purpose tomato sauce” “ordinary sauce” which is funny because his sauce is not ordinary at all! I believe that pine nuts make the real difference: Father Stefano smashes them in the mortar first, then add a couple of spoons of cold water and stir creating a white milk-like liquid and then pour it in the sauce at mid cooking. The oil of the pine nuts makes the sauce velvety whilst their pieces creak under the teeth like well-done meat.

Now here below is the recipe of my “all-purpose tomato sauce” whilst I will give you the Tomaxelle recipe in the forthcoming post.

vegetarian ragu ingredients 2



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Ciao! I’m Enrica

a home cook, food researcher and experience curator born and bred in Liguria.
I study, tell, cook, share and teach Ligurian cuisine and the culture surrounding it.
Here we celebrate Liguria’s gastronomic diversity and richness through its recipes, producers, traditions and shops.

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