I cook. A lot. You know that. But I am not always motivated to prepare myself an elaborate meal every day of the week. And I certainly have days when I have been rushing around or testing recipes that do not a meal make (yes, I have had hours in the kitchen producing only brownies and cake, or several different kinds of bread). But I try my best to make my regular, at home meals as healthy and sustaining as possible – and easy. So I try to keep some simple options readily available that are not purchased, processed freezer meals or involve a lot of dirty dishes. I love a simple tomato sauce on pasta and I make huge batches in the summer with fresh tomatoes and freeze it for use all year. I also frequently feel like maybe I’m not getting the variety of healthy vegetables I need in my meals, and that is the origin of this sauce. Over the years I have tinkered and tailored this to create a beautiful, flavorful sauce with a host of uses that provides a nutritious meal that I love and loves me back.
I am not a nutritionist, but I do know that the ingredients in this versatile sauce are packed with good things. I’m not saying it will cure what ails you or make you feel eighteen again, but it does make this a sauce you can feel good about. Onions and shallots have vitamin C and antioxidants, carrots are a good source beta carotene and fiber, parsnip has vitamin C and folate, celery boasts vitamins A and K and folate and fiber, fennel has vitamin C and potassium while sweet potatoes are chock full of vitamins A and C and manganese with some B vitamins and fiber for good measure. Tomatoes are a great source of vitamins C and K and potassium and folate, and let’s not forget garlic’s vitamins B and C, manganese, selenium, iron, copper and potassium. There are even vitamins in the herbs. All this goodness offsets the little bit of white wine that adds some depth and flavor (though even white wine has some antioxidants!), but you can easily swap it out for some vegetable broth.
I use this sauce on whole wheat pasta for a simple meal all the time, but it works in any way you use a tomato sauce. On grilled chicken sprinkled with a little parmesan cheese, tired into cooked ground turkey or lean beef for a meat sauce, layered in a vegetable or meat lasagna, swirled on a pizza base…use your imagination. This makes a huge batch, but It keeps in the fridge for several days, or do what I do and portion it into labeled ziptop freezer bags and keep it on hand for a quick meal solution. I have made up batches of this to take to friends who are felling poorly (delivered with some good pasta) or as a welcome change to the rounds of creamy casseroles and sweets that are often delivered in times of need. I am not a big believer in the wisdom of “sneaking” vegetables into children’s’ diets but this fits the bill. The color leans slightly more orange, but the tomato, garlic and herb flavor is at the forefront.
Vegetable Marinara – A Very Useful Healthy Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions
3 large shallot bulbs
4 medium carrots, peeled
1 medium parsnip, peeled (or one more carrot)
4 celery sticks
1 medium size fennel bulb (remove stalks, but save some feathery fronds)
2 leeks, white and light green parts
1 medium sweet potato, peeled
10 cloves of garlic, chopped
3/4 cups white wine (or vegetable broth)
2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 cup chopped basil
¼ cup chopped oregano
2 Tablespoons chopped fennel frond
5- 6 stems of thyme
Salt and pepper
- Cut the onions, shallot, carrots, parsnip, celery, fennel, leeks and sweet potatoes into rough, smallish chunks (all of this will reduce and be puréed, so they don’t need to be bite-size and precise). Pour the olive oil into an 8-quart Dutch oven or stock pot and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped vegetables and stir to coat in the oil. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften, the leeks are wilted and the onions glassy. The edges can begin to brown, about 15 – 20 minutes. Add the roughly chopped garlic and cook a further two minutes until fragrant. When everything is softening, pour in the wine (or broth) and cook until the liquid is mostly evaporated and the vegetables are beginning to break down. Add the crushed tomatoes, then fill one tomato can with water and pour that in. Stir everything around to combine, then drop in the chopped herbs and the thyme sprigs (remember how many so you can remove the stems later). Add several pinches of salt and generous grinds of pepper, bring to a bubble, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally, until the vegetable are broken down and the sauce is lovely and fragrant. Fish out the thyme stems, then use an immersion blender to purée the sauce to your preferred consistency. I like mine relatively smooth, but you can leave it a little rougher and chunkier if you like. If you do not have an immersion blender, cool the sauce in the pot, then purée in batches in a blender.
- You can refrigerate the sauce in airtight containers for up to five days or freeze it for several months.