Pasta week continues. Wednesday was orzo, a small but mighty pasta. Today is about the sauce, rather than the pasta. You can pair this easy topping with spaghetti or another strand-type pasta, such as capellini/angel hair (thinner) or linguini (fatter). It also goes well with various smaller pastas such as rotini or fusilli (spirals), farfalle (bowties), penne or ziti (tubes.) The basic idea is to dress up a jar of prepared pasta sauce.
Prepared sauce – gasp! If the thought puts you off immediately and you’ve got the time to make the suace from scratch, that’s fine. But if you want a simple alternative to expensive and often overly salty take-out, the prepared sauce gives you a headstart on a great dinner. Of course, if you are adventurous and confident about how to season, you can start with a jar of canned tomatoes and add salt, pepper and herbs (oregano, basil), instead of beginning with prepared sauce.
Veggie tomato “red” sauce and pasta
Use whatever vegetables are handy to transform ready-made into a much-tastier sauce. A 24-26 ounce jar of plain pasta sauce costs under $3.00. If you load it up with fresh veggies, and ladle that sauce over hot pasta, serve with grated cheese on the side, good bread and a salad, you’ve got a nourishing and satisfying dinner for under $5 per person.
When choosing among prepared sauces, read labels carefully. Check especially for sodium (salt) and sugar content. Pick one that has relatively little of those ingredients, without added chemicals or other fillers. I buy the plain sauce, or one with only basil added.
The basic pattern is to chop the vegetables or slice them into bite-sized pieces, then sauteé them in olive oil in a large, high-sided pan until the vegetables are tender before adding the sauce. You can add as many vegetables as you like. I suggest a minimum of 2 cups and maximum of 4 cups of uncooked vegetables for 1 jar of sauce. I like my sauce chunky, so I chop vegetables accordingly. Whatever you consider bite-sized will work. Try adding carrot and celery. They provide a wonderful sweet and crunchy touch to the sauce.
The veggies in the first picture, using 1 pepper (1/2 green & 1/4 red) totalled 4 cups uncooked.
Note: If you want to add chopped meat, before cooking the vegetables, brown 1 pound of meat in the pan.
After the chopped meat is completely brown, drain off the water and fat that have separated from the meat. Put the liquid in an empty can and freeze it before disposing of the can and its contents in the trash. Don’t put the liquid down the drain! Set the meat aside in a bowl, before adding the olive oil and starting to cook the vegetables.
Start cooking the vegetables that take longest first. Pre-heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. (Don’t let it get so hot that it smokes.) Cook onion, peppers and other “hard” vegetables (garlic too, if you like it) under medium-high heat for about 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is transparent, the celery is getting lighter colored and the other vegetables remain slightly crisp. Then add soft vegetables, such as zucchini and mushrooms. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, continuing to stir, so the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pan. They will cook down.
Eggplant can work, but it soaks up oil when you sauteé it unless you salt the peeled eggplant pieces, let them sit for 15 minutes or so, then rinse them thoroughly and dry them in a paper towel before adding them. Also, eggplant takes longer than other soft vegetables – cook it with the”hard” vegetables. So, eggplant is tasty but more complicated to include than the other vegetables mentioned.
Once the vegetables are tender, add the jar of sauce to the pan. Bring the sauce and vegetables to a simmer (occasional bubbles on the surface) and leave the sauce simmering on a low light, while you prepare the pasta and salad. The vegetables and sauce are enough for 1 pound of pasta and will serve 4 people as a main course.