Somewhat successful… Crockpot spaghetti/marinara sauce

I usually use jarred spaghetti sauces when I’m making pasta; they are simple, often tasty, and have a great consistency. However, with a few quarts of tomatoes canned, I wanted to see how my own tomatoes fared in a sauce. The answer was… okay?

Basically, I got home from work and we wanted to go for a run. I’m running a 6 mile race in two weeks (!!!) so I’m feeling the pressure to practice. I wanted to start on dinner though, so I lugged out the crockpot and chopped onions to put in the bottom while it heated up. I added oil, lots of herbs and spices, and tons of powdered garlic. Once it started to smell nice, I added in a quart and a bit of my canned tomatoes, the ones that didn’t have lemon juice in them and thus have been living in the refrigerator. Then we went to the gym and stopped by the grocery store, all of which took about an hour.

The sauce still looked pretty soupy when I got back, so we did all the things we needed to do: put away groceries, threw some fettuccine on to boil, browned some ground beef to add for substance. I pulled out cheese to put on top, Husband set the table and, despite being on high, the sauce was still just.. thin. I took my stick blender to it, hoping that some of the tomatoes, which were nearly whole when they were canned, would smooth out into a thicker sauce. We heated up some baguettes with garlic on them in the pan where we browned the meat, making some nice toasty garlic bread. The sauce was indeed more consistent, but still had a lot more water than needed. We were very hungry after our run (I ran 43 minutes! So crazy for me, who used to quit when I had run 6 or 7 minutes.) so we decided to proceed.

In the end, the sauce was delicious – well flavored, very tomato-ey, but had pooling edges of water outside the piles of pasta. If I had it to do again (and I probably will next week), I’d put the tomatoes, spices, oil, onion, etc. in the crockpot in the morning and give them all day to meld and really break down, as well as evaporate off a little. The meal was wonderful, especially because we were quite hungry, but there’s always room for improvement.


The Little Blogger who Can… Can.

This weekend was when we hit a lot of milestones – I had three ripe butternut squash sitting on the counter and more than 11 pounds of tomatoes in the freezer, so I decided to take the kitchen that Husband so lovingly cleaned and cover it in canning equipment and tomato guts. I also did some cooking and roasting of butternut squash, but I’ll save that for another day.

I knew I was starting at a disadvantage with the whole canning process, because I had too large jars and too small a pot, but I managed to fit 3 jars into my pot at a time, which was good. I cooked down the tomatoes with a little water for hours, maybe 3? because I hadn’t taken the skins off or cut them up much to begin with. I figure, when I want to use the sauce, I can chop up the sauce a little in the food processor if I don’t want it chunky. Then it was the old standby: clean jars and lids, sanitize jars and lids, add sauce, put lids on to finger tight, and process for whatever amount of time multiple blogs say is right (45 minutes was the consensus for mine).

For my first batch, I forgot the lemon juice until I realized they were already processing with the lids on, so I decided those would get used in the next couple of weeks and could live in the fridge. No one said your first canning experiment is perfect. But for the second batch, I mixed in tablespoons of lemon juice to get the acidity up and I think that will be enough. I really recommend following some old-school directions (from a box of mason jars, or from a canning cookbook) on this – there are so many steps in the process that could introduce germs/bacteria/something else into your tomatoes that it’s good to follow to the letter. I would prefer to throw more tomatoes into my next few meals than to save them all winter and find them moldy or full of poisonous substances.

Overall, I see the accomplishment people get from canning, but I also understand the impulse to just give away ripe tomatoes if you have too many, so that others can enjoy the garden flavors. It really isn’t a money saver, at least not this first year, but I liked the sense of accomplishment on what was otherwise a pretty lazy Sunday for me.


Spiced Veggie-Packed Sauce

So, I recently made an amazing discovery: with a bunch of veggies, some spices, and a secret ingredient, I can make a sauce that is super savory, convinces me that it’s creamy, and makes rice, toast, other veggies, chicken, you name it taste wonderful. You need a food processor to work this magic, but I assure you, it’s worth it.

General Directions for the Veggie-Packed Sauce

  1. Salute your favorite (or cupboard clean-out!) veggies together with just a tablespoon or so of olive oil. I used a can of tomatoes, a bag of spinach that was almost to the point of going slimy, an onion, and 3 cloves of garlic. If you don’t use at least one canned veggie, you may need some broth or water, because it should not be dry.
  2. While the mixture cooks, add a substantial amount of spicing: I used a tablespoon of a spicy stir-fry mix I’ve got, but curry would work, or if you like hot-hot, use some chipotle or red pepper flakes. Make sure you use quite a bit because your sauce will be on top of other things.
  3. Put the mixture, after it’s fully cooked, into the food processor. Pulse a few times, then add some CHICKPEA FLOUR. This flour, along with the little bit of oil, will help your sauce hold together and seem smooth and not just like a veggie paste. I don’t know how much flour I used, but I would estimate I started with a 1/4 cup and added another 1/4 cup later.
  4. Taste and add things as you need them: a bit more flour, a bit more oil, or a bit more spices. If you love chunky sauces, you can stop after a few pulses, but I really like this as a smooth sauce: very flavorful but doesn’t make you feel like you are eating something “healthy.”

Serve over rice, flatbread, chicken, on toast… anything! Obviously, this is too vague to be a mantra in itself, but the principle of sautéed veg+oil+chickpea flour+spices seems to be working for me lately. I added just a little shredded pepper jack to mine, though it was tasty without it so you can totally keep it dairy-free!

While I didn’t make this as a curry, I was inspired by the way that curries and other Indian sauces are so flavorful that you can use them to flavor other, more bland parts of the meal, like the bread or the rice. I am quite happy to be able to add so much nutrition to my rice and take it to work with me!