The Pandemic Pantry – Basic Quick Tomato Sauce

 

“We’re cleaning out the freezer.  We have plenty of leftovers to eat up.”

…said She Who Must Be Obeyed.  Since this Executive Order was issued the frozen stockpile of meals has been gradually dwindling.  Last night’s dinner was a mash up meal that used some leftover frozen ricotta/chicken/spinach filling and a freshly made Alfredo sauce.  The leftover ricotta filling was the result of making far too much for cannelloni a few weeks ago.  Then last night I made too much Farfalle and now I’m staring at the reality of having leftover leftovers for lunch today.

So I thought to myself, Self…wouldn’t this be good with some tomato sauce?  Of course I answered to myself and went to an old favorite cookbook for inspiration.  My quick tomato sauce is inspired by a recipe from:

Cooking from an Italian Garden Paperback –
by Paola Scaravelli and Jon Cohen

Paperback: 372 pages
Publisher: Harvest Books (November 15, 1985)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0156225921
ISBN-13: 978-0156225922

But as I have discovered over the years I’ve accidentally created my own recipe.  Here it is.

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 celery rib, tiny dice
  • 1 small carrot, tiny dice
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • pinch dried oregano
  • pinch dried basil
  • pinch dried parsley
  • a splash of white wine
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can organic stewed tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, lower the heat to medium and saute the carrot and celery until translucent.
  2. Sprinkle the herbs and vegetable powders in the pan and saute briefly.
  3. Add a splash of wine to de-glaze the pan.
  4. Add the tin of tomatoes and bring to a boil.
  5. Drop the heat down to low.
  6. When the tomatoes start to soften begin crushing them with the flat side of a wooden spoon.
  7. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
  8. Adjust your seasonings.  Add sugar.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Serve over leftover leftovers (freshly made pasta works too).

Tips

Sugar is only needed to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes.  You might not need any sugar at all.  I wanted to use as many pantry items as possible.  If you feel you can spare a fresh onion or fresh clove of garlic, use them.  The wine is a luxury but can probably be eliminated if you don’t have an open bottle in the fridge. Taste as you go because stewed tomatoes are sweeter than plain canned tomatoes and come already seasoned.

Here’s a list of pantry items.  Hopefully you have many if not all on hand as we shelter in place.

Pandemic Pantry Items

  • Canned tomatoes in 14.5 and 28 ounce cans.  Diced, crushed, diced with green chilies and stewed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Brown and white sugar
  • Dried oregano, basil, and parsley
  • Onion and garlic powders
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Dried pastas

Stay safe, stay well.

 

 

Turkey Ragu 2

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This recipe is Tiny Taste Tester Approved.

One of the more interesting aspects of capturing your recipes online is seeing how your recipes change over time.

“I made your sauce.  I followed the recipe but it doesn’t taste the same.

So I look at my original Turkey Ragu recipe.  Sure enough, I made it differently today.  Too many episodes of Food Network in your head changes your recipes.  Just my opinion but I’m sticking with it.

So I look at The Boss and say, “How about a fresh batch of meat sauce?”

And this is how I made it today with the changes from Ragu One in bold.

Turkey Ragu 2

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced plus 1/2 to 1 T garlic granules

1/2 cup sweet onion, diced

1 medium carrot, fine dice

1 celery stalk, fine dice

1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 fresh green pepper, finely diced

1 pound ground turkey (use 93/7)

2 T dried basil

1 T dried oregano

Pinch of Thyme

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup white wine

1 28 oz can tomatoes diced San Marzano style with juice

1 28 oz can tomatoes, crushed

1 6 oz can tomato paste

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Brown sugar

1.  Heat two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over high heat in a large saucepot.  I prefer the taste of Spanish olive oils and Borges is my favorite.  If you can’t find Borges look for the Star brand which is made by the same company.  Substitute your favorite regular olive oil if desired.

2.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic, onion, carrot, celery and green pepper.  Saute for a few minutes until limp.

3.  Add more olive oil to prevent sticking and add the ground turkey.  Break up the meat and brown.  Add basil, oregano, and thyme and continue browning until the herbs become aromatic.  With the heat still on high, add the wine and cook until the wine is almost completely evaporated.

4.  Add the can of diced tomatoes with juice.  Toss in the bay leaves, mushrooms, and green pepper.  Stir until well mixed and lower heat to medium.  The sauce ingredients should be bubbling mildly.  Leave uncovered until the tomatoes release their juices and the liquid in the pot is mostly evaporated.  This step concentrates the flavors and will take 15 to 20 minutes.

5.  When the sauce becomes thickened, add the can of crushed tomatoes and the can of tomato paste.  Stir to incorporate well.  Partially cover, turn the heat to low, and simmer for a minimum of one hour.

6.  Taste for seasonings and add more basil or oregano if desired.  Salt and pepper if you must but there is plenty of salt in the canned tomatoes.  If the tomatoes are highly acidic, add brown sugar a half teaspoonful at a time until the acidity is reduced to your liking.  A little bit of sugar will cut the acidity and add smoothness to the ragu.

7.  Find some cooked pasta and plenty of grated cheese.  Eat!

 

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagne

  • 10-12 lasagne noodles (more if you’re making a big pan of lasagne)
  • one big butternut squash, halved, seeded and baked
  • a bunch of fresh spinach leaves, 8 ounces minimum
  • one large sweet onion, sliced, caramelized
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups bechamel sauce
  •  dash of nutmeg
  • salt and peppers (black and white)
  • grated parmesan
  • shredded mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Take the squash halves, lightly grease the cut sides with olive oil, and place cut side down on a baking sheet.  Bake for approximately one hour.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  3. Once cooled, scoop the squash into a mixing bowl.  Smash with a fork and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Set aside.
  4. Caramelize your onion and set aside.  No salt or pepper at this step.
  5. Wilt the spinach in a pan over medium heat.  Cool, chop, season with salt, black pepper, nutmeg and set aside.
  6. Prepare your bechamel sauce (half stick of butter, 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup parmesan, 3 cups milk, salt, white pepper).  Set aside.
  7. Cook the noodles until al dente.  Use more or less noodles, depending on how big you want your tray of lasagne to be.
  8. In a baking dish large enough for the desired dish of lasagne, cover the bottom with several spoonfuls of bechamel sauce.
  9. Arrange a layer of lasagne noodles in the baking dish. Spread prepared squash evenly over the noodles.  Sprinkle parmesan and mozzarella.
  10. Fold the spinach and onions into the ricotta.   Add another layer of noodles.  Spread some sauce, the spinach/onion/ricotta mixture, and cheeses evenly.
  11. Keep layering, alternating the vegetable layers, and ending with a plain noodle top.
  12. Cover the top with bechamel and cheeses.
  13. Bake uncovered for for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly.
  14. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

I had forgotten how much time it takes to make lasagne.  This recipe in particular takes hours due to the vegetable prep.  The next time I make this I’ll prepare the vegetables the night before and assemble/bake the next day.  There are a billion of these squash and spinach lasagne recipes on the internet.  I bet virtually none of them tell you how long this sucker takes to make.

But it was worth it!  If you like butternut squash and you like spinach you will like this veggie pasta bake.  But in the effort of full disclosure I thought I’d screwed up this lasagne because when I got to the final naked noodle layer I realized I had left out a few steps.

I forgot to put any parmesan or mozzarella on any of my layers.  I forgot to add parmesan to the spinach/onion/ricotta mixture.  Too late to deconstruct so I put the dish in the oven and hoped for the best.  To my surprise I didn’t miss the missing cheeses.  The lasagne turned out OK.  Less cheese allowed the flavors of the vegetables to shine.

I guess this recipe is a keeper.

 

 

Marinara Sauce Number Two

I have a lot of cookbooks and one of my favorites is Cooking from an Italian Garden by Paola Scaravelli and Jon Cohen.  There are over 300 vegetarian recipes in this book.  Over the years I’ve made virtually none of the recipes in the book.  Yes, virtually zero.  This cookbook remains a favorite because it is inspirational.  You can prepare simple healthy meals without animal proteins.  The section on sauces alone is worth the price of admission.

The following is my adaptation of a flavorful marinara sauce that I recently prepared for a Stack Project recipe.

  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 1 carrot diced
  • 1 stalk celery diced
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes
  • handful fresh basil, chopped (or healthy pinch of dried basil if fresh is not available)
  • handful fresh parsley, chopped ( or dried, if fresh is not available)
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  1. Saute the vegetables until wilted.
  2. Add the canned tomatoes, herbs and simmer uncovered for one hour.
  3. Salt lightly and add just enough sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.
  4. Done.

Tips

Garlic???  By all means if you have to have garlic, use some.  The quality and acidity levels of canned tomatoes vary tremendously.  Use sugar only when necessary.  This sauce freezes well.

Lasagne Stacks

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I know, it’s been a while since I posted a recipe.  The problem is that the original intent was to post family recipes from a time long long ago so that they would be preserved for future generations to enjoy.  But I ran into some problems.  I can’t remember what I cooked 25 years ago.  Sometimes I can’t remember what I fixed yesterday.  Life changes and you change too.  I can’t remember the last time I made lasagne.  If I made a tray of lasagne now, we would be eating it for a week.

Then I discovered a unique concoction called the lasagne stack.  For the noodle layers you use those refrigerated won ton wrappers that you’ve never bought before because you vowed at one point in your life never to make won tons from scratch.  But the wrappers are just pasta.  And you don’t have to boil them first.  You layer, bake, eat.

I feel guilty about never progressing past six or seven dishes you can make with a cooked chicken.  So I’m not numbering these recipes.  And the kids never ate anything similar to this dish when they were little.  I made this up because I was in the mood for lasagne and for the first time in my life, bought won ton wrappers.  Welcome to the first recipe in The Stack Project.

Quantities are for four stacks.

  • 24 won ton wrappers – six per stack
  • a handful of fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 cup bechamel sauce
  • 1 cup ragu
  • grated parmesan
  • shredded mozzarella
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a baking dish large enough for the number of stacks to be made, cover the bottom with several spoonfuls of ragu.
  3. Arrange four won ton skins in the baking dish. Leave enough space between each so when fully baked they won’t all glump together.
  4. Start stacking.  Spread some sauce, spinach, cheese on each wrapper.  Add another won ton wrapper and repeat.  Alternate between white and red layers.  Get creative.
  5. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  6. Uncover, add more mozzarella to the top of each stack and bake for another five minutes or until the cheese melts.
  7. Enjoy.

This dish came into being because I had leftover homemage ragu and an urge for lasagne.  I wish I had this concept when the kids were little.  Including prep time, this took all of 45 minutes.

One Rotisserie Chicken, 50 Meals – #6 Pasta with Chicken, Vegetables, Oiive Oil and Garlic

Pasta with Chicken, Vegetables, Olive Oil and Garlic

Parmesan cheese (lots)
3 medium carrots
2 small zucchini

2 small yellow squash
1/2 red bell pepper, diced

4 oz mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil for sauteing, 3-4 tablespoons for dressing the pasta
1/2 an onion, chopped
2 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 lb cooked, drained bow tie pasta

One Rotisserie Chicken, carved off the bone, cut into pieces that match your pasta shape.

  1. Cook pasta according to directions on the package for al dente.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Cut carrots and zucchini on the diagonal into thin slices about 1/4 inch thick.
  3. Heat 1 T olive oil (preferably extra virgin) in a frying pan.  Saute the carrots and squashes for several minutes on each side until golden brown and caramelized.
  4. Add the onion, red pepper, mushrooms and garlic.  Saute for several minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add more olive oil if necessary to prevent sticking.
  5. Toss chicken into the pan and stir until the chicken is warmed through.
  6. Add pasta to the vegetable chicken mixture and stir to mix well.  Add remaining olive oil.
  7. Sprinkle with fresh basil and grated Parmesan.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Top each serving with more shredded Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

 

It was hard figuring out how this dish started.  When the kids were little time was always limited, especially around dinner time when they needed to eat RIGHT NOW.  One night there was leftover spaghetti in the fridge.  It got tossed with some sautéed onion and garlic, topped with cheese and served.  Not only did the pasta get eaten, but the kids requested the dish again.  We had discovered a fast meal without resorting to fast food.

Over the years this simple meal evolved.  More vegetables got added.  The browning of the squashes came later, spurred by a memory of a dish eaten in some Italian restaurant a long time ago.  Chicken was added to make the dish more substantial and to take advantage of the cooked birds that every market started to prepare and sell.

TIPS – use a good quality extra virgin olive oil.  Add crushed red pepper in Step 4 if you want some zing.  You’ll need a nice loaf of bread and a salad to complete the meal.  Either red or white wine will work but if you choose red, get a lighter bodied Italian red like Bardolino.

Italian Sausage and Beef Meatballs

I was at the grocery store this past weekend and found sweet Italian Sausage and Aged Angus Ground Beef both on sale for $3 a pound.

I’ll have a pound of each please.

When I got home I started thinking about what to make with a pound of Italian sausage and a pound of ground beef.  Meatballs!
Toss these into some Tomato Sauce 2.  You really didn’t want a vegetarian meal anyway.

Italian Sausage and Beef Meatballs

1 lb ground beef (80/20)

1 lb sweet mild Italian sausage, bulk

Leftover Italian or French bread, coarsely chopped

Milk

1 egg

1 cup Parmesan cheese

White wine

  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the coarsely chopped Italian bread with just enough milk to moisten.  Beat in the egg, add a pinch of oregano or basil (optional) and incorporate the Parmesan cheese.
  2. Mix in the meats and blend well.  Chill for 20-30 minutes in the refrigerator.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Form 1.5 – 2 inch meatballs and spread evenly in a roasting pan large enough so that the meatballs don’t touch one another.
  5. Add a little white wine and water to the bottom of the roasting pan and bake the meatballs for 40-45 minutes.
  6. Cool and drain the meatballs on paper towels to absorb as much grease as possible.
  7. Toss into Tomato Sauce 2 and simmer for two hours.
  8. Serve over pasta or make into sandwiches.

 

Tips – note the basil and oregano are optional.  Go light on the herbs and spices because any Italian sausage you buy will already be seasoned well, and perhaps salted fairly well also.  When using sausage in meatballs, you won’t need a lot of additional spices.  When I was younger, I fried my meatballs.  Nowadays I prefer roasting my meatballs in the oven with a little wine.

Tomato Sauce 2

Tomato Sauce 2

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried basil
1 28 oz can tomatoes, puree
1 28 oz can tomatoes, crushed
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Brown sugar

  1. Heat olive oil in an 8 quart stock pot.
  2. Saute the carrot, onion, and celery until limp.
  3. Add garlic, mushrooms, basil, and oregano.  Saute for another minute.
  4. Add both cans of tomatoes, simmer for 30-45 minutes.

 

This sauce recipe is a rough adaptation from the cookbook Cooking From an Italian Garden by Paola Scaravelli and Jon Cohen.  The cookbook contains Italian vegetarian recipes (long story here).  I’ve served this sauce on pasta and it’s OK.  But rather than use this sauce as is, I’ve always used it as the base for my version of Sunday Gravy.  My family never really cared for giant chunks of animal protein in their sauce.  So Tomato Sauce 2 became my base for meatballs and sausage.

Tips – salt and pepper to taste.  Use sugar only if the tomatoes are overly acidic.  You’ll be glad you used an 8 quart pot once you toss in the meatballs.  Italian Sausage and Beef Meatballs