I’ve shared my fresh tomato sauce before. But what happens when tomatoes are out of season? Besides general sadness, that is.
No worries. I use the next best thing: canned tomatoes.
And what if I want a sauce that has a heft more like a meat sauce, chunky, more complex than a simple tomato sauce (as good as that is), but I don’t want to use meat?
The big secret behind great tomato sauce is to start with good tomatoes. I can hear my kids’ voices in the background now:
Thank you, Captain Obvious!
I know, I know. But lousy tomatoes taste like lousy tomatoes no matter what you do to them.
Sometimes I might find a hydroponic or hot house variety at the organic grocery. But it’s hit or miss in the off-season. And besides, tomato sauce is one of those things that I’ve rarely planned for in advance. It’s a spur of the moment dish more often.
“Hey, who wants spaghetti?”
Fortunately, I always have a can of tomatoes in the pantry. Of course you have to be careful and read the labels. Yes, even on something as basic as tomatoes. Check out Mari Uyehara’s article, San Marzano Tomatoes: The Fake Rolex of Canned Foods.
No rants today, I’ll just get right to it. I really like Bianco DiNapoli Organic Whole Tomatoes, 28oz can. They’re affordable and I can get them at the local grocery. Not even in the organic section of the store but right there on the tomato shelf in the middle of the store. Granted, bottom shelf.
Funny story: we have three organic specialty grocery stores in town and not one of them carries these. I don’t get it.
Real Food, Redux
One more thing. When requested, I’ve used vegetarian meat crumbles before. But honestly I’d rather not. I’m not naming names but look at this.
WATER, SOY FLOUR, WHEAT GLUTEN, SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, CORN OIL, CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF CHICORY ROOT FIBER, YEAST EXTRACT, NATURAL FLAVORS, BLACK MALT POWDER, SALT, SOY SAUCE (WATER, SOYBEANS, SALT, WHEAT), DRIED CANE SYRUP, GARLIC POWDER, ONION POWDER, ONION JUICE CONCENTRATE, SPICES, TOMATO POWDER, CITRIC ACID, NIACINAMIDE, XANTHAN GUM, IRON (FERROUS SULFATE), NONFAT MILK, EGG WHITES, VITAMIN B1 (THIAMIN MONONITRATE), VITAMIN B6 (PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE), VITAMIN B2 (RIBOFLAVIN), VITAMIN B12.
And the words textured vegetable protein have never once made me hungry. Sorry.
To each his own. You be you.
So, just like my fresh sauce I use tomatoes, onion, garlic, and basil. I won’t spend real time here on it again but basically:
- a glug of olive oil in your pot
- sauteé the onion for a few minutes
- add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes
- add the tomatoes and basil
- if you want a little heat, you can add some crushed red pepper flakes
- reduce the heat to simmer and let it cook for half an hour to get rid of the raw tomato taste, stirring occasionally
- immersion blender to smooth it out
- season with salt and pepper to taste
To add the texture and heft, I use cremini mushrooms and chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans).
I don’t own a mushroom brush. And I don’t spend truffle-caviar money on my mushrooms. Which is why I say it’s just fine to rinse your mushrooms. Briefly. As long as you do it right before you use them. They’re mostly water anyway (80-90%), so a little more water won’t hurt. The label on the package mine came in said specifically to wash them first anyway.
Chop the mushrooms into smaller chunks. If you want to use a food processor, go right ahead. Just pulse them a few times. But you’ll still need to chop the mushrooms up a little bit first or the food processor will turn them into mush. (I’m quicker with a knife than it would take to wash the food processor. Standard dish washing avoidance behavior.)
Then drain, rinse well, and rough chop the chickpeas. Or a few pulses in the chopper. Perfect cuts aren’t the goal — meat doesn’t perfectly crumble, right?
I treat this somewhat like ground beef. I mix the mushrooms and chickpeas together, heat a couple tablespoons of butter in a skillet, and then I fry the mix. Takes 8-10 minutes over medium-high heat. The mushrooms will release some water and that should boil off.
Season it too with a bit of salt and pepper to taste.
Once both the sauce and the mushroom-chickpea mix are done, pour the one into the other and stir. Let it all come to temperature and serve.
A go-to marinara with cremini mushrooms and chickpeas standing in for ground beef. Filling but lighter, still protein-rich, and delicious. Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes
- small handful of basil leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- 8 oz cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
- 15 oz chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)
- 2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Make a basic tomato sauce (see https://suppertimeblues.com/simple-fresh-tomato-sauce/ if needed)
Wash / rinse and finely chop the mushrooms and chickpeas.
Combine in a skillet with butter or oil and cook until done -- about 10 minutes.
Combine the filling and the sauce. Heat through and adjust seasoning to taste.
Serve over pasta.