Fresh ingredients make for great food

I’ve been watching the programme Cooked based on the book by Michael Pollan. Pollan also presents this fascinating four-part documentary series, which takes an anthrological look at four elements of food – earth, fire, water and air.

As Pollan says, food is a primary issue in our world, related inextricably to health, environment and poverty but he argues there is often not much thought put into what we put in our bodies.

He shows how food was conceived and prepared originally, making an impassioned plea to consumers to get back to their roots by making some attempt to cook “real food”.

So many people these days buy convenience food that is very far from its original source, and while a lot has to do with the rising costs, there is a crying need to be mindful of what and how we eat.

I was thinking this when I bought some really beautiful ingredients last week – going back to the way one should cook – by buying what’s available and fresh and building a meal around it. I spotted some stunning ripe, deep red tomatoes last week along with aromatic basil and lovely little button mushrooms. To bring out the flavour of all the ingredients I made a pasta dish: penne with a fresh tomato mushroom sauce.


4 or 5 medium-sized ripe tomatoes

1 handful fresh basil, torn or cut into thin strips

2 tbs chopped garlic

1 punnet button or other mushrooms, cleaned

rind of quarter lemon, pithed and cut into thin strips

250 g wholewheat penne or other pasta

olive oil

salt and black pepper


Wash the tomatoes and grate on the big part of a grater, leaving behind the skins.

Fry the garlic until just translucent and add the tomatoes. Don’t worry about the extra water, it will cook out.

Cut the mushrooms into slices and sauté in a separate pan and when ready add to the tomato mixture. Add in the lemon rind and the basil and, optional, is to add in some chopped flatleaf parsley.

Add in salt and pepper to taste and allow to gently simmer.

Cook the pasta until just al dente and drain. When the tomato sauce is reduced to a thick consistency and when the liquid is cooked out it’s done.

Spoon the pasta into indivudual bowls, coat with a little olive oil and top with the sauce, addiing freshly grated parmesan or pecorino or any strongly flavoured dry cheese.