We eat a lot of pasta in my house. Part of that is simply because it's how I was raised (I am half Italian after all), but it's also incredibly easy, inexpensive, and kid-friendly. A bowl of pasta always goes over well with my kiddo, almost regardless of what it's served with, so we eat it at least once a week. But this is not a post about pasta—it's about the sauce. During the summer, we try to stockpile as many tomatoes as we can to make salsa and simple tomato purees. I love fresh tomato sauce, but I'm just about through my frozen supply and I don't love spending more for jarred sauce* every week when I know how easy (and inexpensive) it is to make a flavorful version at home. Here's my basic method:
1-29 ounce can diced tomatoes + 3 cups chopped vegetables = vibrantly flavored marinara sauce
Sure, I also add in a little olive oil and butter, but it's really that simple. The result is fresh, flavorful, and it's filled with vitamins A and C—and a little extra vitamin C never hurts at this time of the year. And while I don't regularly advocate hiding vegetables in our kids food because it feels a little dishonest to me, this is a case where I don't see the harm. And as long as you use lightly colored, orange, or red vegetables to blend in with the natural color of the tomatoes, it will look like regular old sauce. (This is not a place to add kale—those green flecks are a dead giveaway that a veggie is lurking inside!)
You can make a big batch of this on the weekend and store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it during the week, which is what I like to do. You can double the recipe easily and cook it in your slow cooker. You can start by cooking a half pound of ground beef or bulk Italian sausage in the olive oil and add the rest of the ingredients to make a meat sauce. And if you happen to have any leftovers, let them cool and freeze for up to 3 months in a zip top freezer bag.
If your little one prefers pouches, try mixing this with a small pasta like pastina or well-cooked quinoa or millet and serve it in a reusable pouch. Otherwise, serve this with your family's favorite pasta—ours is currently bowties, or "farfalle" since L recently learned that the word means butterfly in Italian—for a simple dinner whenever you are needing a little healthy comfort food.
Veggie-Loaded Marinara Sauce
You can use any combination of the vegetables listed below, though I usually do 1 cup onion, 1 cup carrot, and 1 cup either celery or squash. And how long you cook it is a bit of a personal preference—the longer it cooks, the thicker it gets, so reduce the time if the veggies are cooked through and you prefer a thinner sauce.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups any combination of these vegetables, roughly chopped:
onion, carrot, butternut squash, sweet potato, celery, and/or cauliflower
29 ounces canned diced tomatoes with juices
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the vegetables, stir, and cook until just starting to soften, about 6-8 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat so the simmer is low (both to avoid splatters everywhere to avoid scorching the pot).
2. Cover loosely—put the lid on sort of off kilter to keep the splatters in but still allow some steam out—and cook for 30-45 minutes until all of the vegetables are very soft.
3. Puree with an immersion blender or in a regular blender. Season to taste and stir in the butter. Serve with 1 pound of your favorite pasta and Parmesan cheese.
To make Meat Sauce:
Brown 1/2 pound ground beef or mild Italian sausage in Step 1 after you warm the oil. Proceed as directed.
To do this in a Slow Cooker:
Double all ingredient amounts and add to the slow cooker. Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or until everything is softened. Finish as directed in Step 3.
Serve this as a tomato soup alongside crackers and cheese or grilled cheese.
Cook this down until very thick, add 1 teaspoon pizza seasoning, and use it as pizza sauce.
Use as dipping sauce for scrambled eggs, bread sticks, or even toast.
*I actually grew up on the jarred sauce from Roselli's and it's still my all-time favorite sauce. It's not sold around here though, so the only way we get it is when my parents drive a few cases the 19 hours to see us...