I kept wondering about making pasta sauce in an Actifry™. I had seen people wondering about it here and there, but no one really discussed whether they’d actually done it, and what the results were like.
(BTW, the recipe is at the end, so feel free to skip straight down there if you just need to grab it in a hurry.)
I’d already tried doing an Actifry pasta sauce last fall, with the veg right in with the tomatoes, hoping that the veg would fully cook along with the tomatoes. The tomatoes just all evaporated away, and I was left with crunchy veg covered in dry tomato solids.
So I rethought this, and my thinking went like this: because blown hot air is good at evaporating away moisture, the Actifry in theory could be good at making a good, thick sauce.
But because the sauce wasn’t going to be boiled for hours and hours on a stove top, the veg in it (the onion, etc), wouldn’t have hours and hours to soften. They would need to be pretty much softened first by the time the tomatoes entered the equation.
So, I figured, just cook all the veggies first, then add the tomatoes and I should be fine. (Granted, part of me did think I could just do it all in 15 minutes in my pressure cooker — but this is a hot air site.)
So. Let’s get started. Andiamo.
There’s my veg. Nothing fancy, just what I had to hand that wanted using up.
An onion, a green bell pepper and an orange one, and some mushroom.
Into the pan with some fresh herbs, and the obligatory 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
And let’s get started.
15 minutes: Above you see the veg after fifteen minutes.
It is basically perfect for stir-fry at this point. But we’re not aiming for that tonight, so onwards.
I’ll give it an additional five minutes. Easier to add more time than to subtract it, eh?
20 minutes: Above you see the veg after twenty minutes. Not a lot of progress; the onion was still crunchy. More time.
25 minutes: I didn’t bother to photograph this stage, as the onion was still crunchy
30 minutes: The onion is not bad, but it is still a tad more crunchy than you would expect in a pasta sauce.
[Update: I have since by told by someone that the secret with onions in an Actifry is to always give them a 5 or 10 minute head start on their own, so that they have a dedicated heat blast from the machine. Will experiment with this another time.]
But, I’m afraid that if I proceed any further without adding liquid, the veg will just shrivel away to nothing. It’s not dry yet, the oil is doing its job, but the veg is starting to shrink. I don’t want the onion to get tough and chewy, though: it’s happened to me before.
(Also, I’m getting aware that if I’d done this initial veg part in my pressure cooker or in a frying pan, not only would it be perfectly soft, but we would have been done this initial stage in 5 or 10 minutes.)
So time for the tomatoes to provide some moisture for the veg to cook in.
Normally I’d just use a can of tomatoes, and today I’m so busy I’d love to — but we’ve got a glut of tomatoes from our allotment garden.
That’s how many I used.
I weighed them, and they turned out to be 1.5 kg (a lil over 3 pounds).
Note from 2018, 4 years later: I did not peel at the time. Since then, my preference has changed, and I would now peel the tomatoes first to get rid of the bits of curled-up peel that end up in the sauce. This is a personal preference, not a safety matter. (For home-canning pasta sauces, you do need to peel to reduce bacterial load.)
Those tomatoes pictured ended up making about 2 litres / 2 quarts / 8 cups of puréed tomato after the trip through the trusty old blender.
Interesting, that the same ones that, when whole, filled that 8 cup / 2 litre / 2 quart jug also filled it when puréed. Anyway.
Normally canned tomatoes would be cheaper and faster than fresh tomatoes, but as I said, these are all from the garden begging to be used up somehow.
Into the Actifry pan with it, where it joins the almost cooked veg.
To start, I’m gonna give it 30 minutes, to see how we get on.
(By the way, when lifting an Actifry pan with a heavy load in it like this, I always support it underneath with one hand wearing an oven glove. I’ve had two handles come off on me with just a light load in them, so I sure don’t trust them with heavy loads.)
I’ve got tomato soup!
It smells and fresh tomato-ey, but of course it would anyway, with those tomatoes from our own garden.
I’m more than willing to throw all the tomato paste I need to at it — I often would anyway when making a pasta sauce in a pot — but first I want to see what happens without that kind of intervention.
So, back into the machine for another 20 minutes.
I’ve still got soup! A bit more tomato solids emerging from the primordial pasta sauce mass, but if you’re following we’re now at:
30 minutes for the veg
30 minutes sauce round 1
20 minutes sauce round 2
80 minutes total
Time for the secret weapon.
Tomato paste can be pricey for what it is and how little you get, unless you get it on sale. And most manufacturers chuck in a lot of unneeded salt and sugar, which is my real objection to it these days.
But anyway, needs are as needs must. I have no intention of giving this sauce another 2 hours to finish.
In we go with the tomato paste.
And we give it more time.
I gave it another 15 minutes.
If that 15 minutes plus the tomato paste didn’t fix it, it was going to go into a stove-top pot to be boiled the heck out of. This whole test was getting old fast.
Above, you see it after the final 15 minutes I was prepared to give it. To recap, the recipe so far has had 30 minutes for the veg, plus an additional 65 minutes after the puréed tomatoes first got added.
At first blush, it appears perhaps a little bit runny in the pan.
But looking at it, I realize that the liquid is just on the very surface and that right below that is a lot of thick sauce: once stirred up, and once it sits overnight in the fridge (I gave up on this for dinner long ago and had a sandwich), that’s exactly the right consistency.
And yep, look at it in the dish, stirred up. Looks perfect.
The onion I would not say is melt in your mouth soft. You know it’s there, and hear still a bit of a crunch. Someone has since said that I definitely should have staged the vegetables: onions for 10 minutes on their own, then the green pepper for another 10, then the mushrooms.
Even so, the tomato part by itself required an additional 65 minutes to thicken, and needed the help of tomato paste.
With 30 minutes for the veg at the start, that made for a total of 95 minutes of cooking time. Worth it, to do it again in an Actifry?
I’m not sure. Though granted, now that I’ve been through it and have figured it out, it does let me make a good pasta sauce practically unattended, and Lord knows, when I’ve tried unattended on a stove top because I got distracted on the computer, I’ve ended up soaking the burnt bottoms of many a pot. So there is that. And, it doesn’t have the boatloads of salt and refined sugar that they dump into cans and bottles of commercial pasta sauce.
Recipe for Pasta Sauce in an Actifry™
I really didn’t mean this to be a recipe, it was just an experiment, but since it sort of worked, here it is in recipe form.
Making a pasta sauce in an Actifry™
Prep veg: slice mushroom, set aside. Wash, seed, slice bell peppers, set aside. Peel onion, slice into rings, cut those rings in half. Set aside.
Heat oil in Actifry for 2 minutes.
Add onion, cook for 5 minutes.
Add green pepper, cook for another 10 minutes.
Add mushrooms, cook for another 15 minutes.
Purée tomatoes in blender if using fresh (or open the cans) and add to Actifry
Add herbs of your choice to taste (oregano, basil, marjoram etc -- either fresh or dried is fine. If using dried, about a teaspoon of each maybe?)
Add tomato paste, stir in to bury all the herbs so they don't get blown around.
Cook for an additional 65 minutes.
If you use canned, whole tomatoes, purée them in a blender or food processor before adding.
This is a very simple, neutral tomato sauce that you could take in almost any direction or use however you wanted: by adding roasted veg, cooked ground beef, using as a sauce on omelettes, etc.
Store sauce in refrigerator and use up within 5 days, or package and freeze.
Note: I’ve since found the “Tomato and basil pasta sauce” recipe in the Actifry Standard cookbook (UK edition, 2007, page 51), and it calls for tomato purée. That recipe calls for canned tomatoes, and red wine, and says total cooking time is only 30 minutes. I’ve provided a link to a screen capture of the page for easy comparison.
Makes 5 cups / 1.2 litres / 40 oz. That’s 5 servings of 1 cup ( 250 ml / 8 oz).
Per serving (1 cup ( 250 ml / 8 oz), there are 143 calories, and 4 Weight Watchers PointsPlus® (there are 18 points in the entire recipe.)
* Nutrition info provided by https://caloriecount.about.com
* PointsPlus™ calculated by hotairfrying.com. Not endorsed by Weight Watchers® International, Inc, which is the owner of the PointsPlus® registered trademark.
* Actifry™ is a registered trademark of SEB, France.