Tag Archives: pasta sauce

Back-to-School Freezer Fillers 1: Basil Pesto

29 Aug

My darling son starts kindergarten this week. Yikes!

And I go back to the classroom to teach next week. Double Yikes!

Drying blanched basil

I look upon school food with deep suspicion; I haven’t spent the last five years nurturing a good and healthy eater only to surrender him to the deep fryer as well as the public education system. And for myself, I refuse to waste $10 a day or more eating lunch out when I can eat better for less in the comfort of my office, listening to Pandora and checking my emails. Continue reading


Golden Tomato Pasta Sauce (freezeable! or make from frozen tomatoes…)

30 Jul

“Tis the season for the tomatoes to overwhelm. In fact, last year we were so overwhelmed that I had tomatoes in the freezer all winter. The texture isn’t as good as in the middle of summer, but the incomparable bright, fresh flavor is still there.

Yes, these icebergs are actually frozen golden tomatoes (yellow seems a bit more prosaic here). The freezer burn was minimal and the flavor was great!

So this is a terrific simple sauce that you can make from frozen or fresh. Instructions for blanching appear at the end!

Golden Tomato Sauce

Golden Tomato Pasta Sauce

¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Cup shallots, chopped

¼ tsp hot red pepper flakes

1 Tbs oregano (less if oregano is not your favorite; this is a pretty generous amount)

Pinch sugar

5 lbs golden tomatoes, cored, blanched and peeled*

10-20 basil leaves, chopped

Heat olive oil at medium-high in a heavy-bottomed soup pot until liquid and fragrant. Add shallots, stir to coat and lower heat to medium low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are soft and translucent. Stir in hot red pepper flakes, oregano and pinch sugar and cook one minute. Add tomatoes, bring to boil then lower to a lazy simmer and cook for an hour or until fat begins to separate from tomatoes and you have reaced desired consistency. Add basil leaves and cook for an additional five minutes. Serve over pasta, as pizza sauce or on bruschetta, or freeze in quart containers for another day.

*To blanch and peel tomatoes, set a big pot of water to boil. In the meantime, core the tomatoes and fill a big bowl with ice water. When the water is boiling, drop tomatoes in so they fit comfortably. They blanch in under a minute, generally. As soon as you see the peel start separating from the flesh, pull them out and drop into the ice water. You can leave the peel on if you are going to freeze them (in gallon freezer bags is fine) or peel once they have cooled to use immediately.

Grilled or Roasted Tomato Pasta Dressing (so light! so bright!)

12 Feb

The temperatures here in New York have started to drop some, but so far 2012 is The Winter That Hasn’t Been (I like the present perfect tense here rather than the past tense “wasn’t”, because there is still time for some apocalyptic winter weather to strike).

That means that many of us have been firing up the grill as if it were summer. If you are one of those people, here is a fresh, uplifting recipe that will brighten up the day and feel easy on the digestion.

I made it the other day from tomatoes grilled the night before at our friends’ house during an impromptu and convivial burger night (more on the amazing sauteed onion and mushroom topping soon!).

A glimpse of the salad the same night - with grilled asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes! Heaven.

The tomatoes (Campari’s which I bought out of season because I couldn’t resist the clearance price) had none of the rich acidity and fullness of a summer tomato, but grilling and roasting add some depth of flavor and the garlic and vinegar give a very pleasant tang. So, should you succumb to a good price or simply the need for a tomato that didn’t come out of a tin during the winter months, this recipe will enhance a lackluster product. To my surprise, Leandro really dug this pasta and ate the extra serving I had intended for my own lunch the following day.  I should have been totally pleased and delighted and flattered, but this imperfect Mommy was kind of annoyed. And frightened. If he eats like this at four, how much is he going to eat as a teenager?

Grilled or Roasted Tomato Pasta Dressing

(Special tools: about six BBQ skewers. If using wood, soak the skewers in water for about 20 minutes)

1 lb medium length pasta such as penne or rotini

1 pint small tomatoes: grape, cherry or Campari, preferred

2-3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1-2 tsp red wine vinegar

3 cloves garlic, minced

(optional: 1 tsp chopped fresh basil or parsley)

Salt, to taste

Heat grill and skewer tomatoes, leaving ample space between tomatoes. Grill tomatoes for about five minutes, or until beginning to wrinkle and just beginning to brown (or preheat oven to 350° and scatter tomatoes on a baking sheet or foil and cooking for 15 minutes or until beginning to wrinkle and brown)*. Smaller tomatoes will cook faster. Do not char. Chop tomatoes roughly. Do not discard liquid or seeds.

In the meantime, prepare pasta according to package directions. Keep the pasta warm after draining.

While the pasta is boiling and the tomatoes are grilling, whisk olive oil and vinegar together until blended in a large bowl. Add garlic, tomatoes with juices, and still-warm pasta. Add optional herbs, salt to taste and serve with your favorite grated cheese.

*You can grill or roast the tomatoes while firing up the grill or oven for something else, place cooked tomatoes in a tightly sealed container in the fridge, and make the recipe the following day.

Fresh Tomato Sauce – Criollo-Style!

27 Aug

We anticipate a lot of flooding from Hurricane Irene, but the inundation I have been dealing with is far more pleasant: tomatoes. At Restoration Farm pick-up on Thursday, Farmer Dan’s dad, Daniel Holmes, heard I intended to make sauce and came up with four generous pounds of “seconds”: tomatoes that were harvested but don’t look pretty enough for distribution; a little bruised, maybe split, over-ripe – glorious grabbing for a peasant-hearted person. I was eager to take them, then of course got home and thought…oh s**t, I have to do these like, now, or what’s  the point?

And then I wasn’t sure how well my food mill would work – it seems to be missing a piece  – but I was in NO MOOD to blanch, peel and seed all these smaller tomatoes before cooking, so I went for it, just quartered them and dumped them in the pot. Luckily for me, I was able to rig the food mill to work, but if you are wondering what to get me for my birthday…(an egg timer would be equally welcome)

So, here is a very simple recipe for tomato sauce that tastes just like what my grandmother and her sisters used to make, often cooked with chopped eggplant or chicken thighs on the bone…I am not quite sure what I am going to do with my quart of sauce – it is in the freezer where it will keep for a few months, but I suspect that I will soon be misting up with nostalgia for my abuela over a bowl of eggplant and this sauce over rice.

If you are looking for an Italian style sauce, substitute the sofrito with a couple of sprigs of fresh basil (I may actually be doing that this afternoon with another batch while we still have electricity ) and add julienned basil at the end of cooking.

This sauce can be made anytime, substituting tomatoes from a can, but it is at its most fresh, light and charming when you take advantage of really ripe tomatoes.

This is pasta sauce the way my grandmother used to make it

Fresh Tomato Sauce – Criollo-Style

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 lbs ripe tomatoes, quartered if you have a food mill, peeled, seeded and diced if you don’t

¼-1/2 tsp sugar

4 Tbs homemade or prepared sofrito or two ice cubes worth if you have frozen (https://hotcheapeasy.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/sofrito-for-freezing-puerto-rican-mirepoix/)

Coarse salt, to taste (you’ll be adding it by the half teaspoon)

In a heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Do not allow to burn.

Add the tomatoes, sugar, sofrito and ½ tsp salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low (a gentle simmer) and cook, stirring often until thickened. I simmer at least 30 minutes, but juicier tomatoes take longer.  Taste and add salt, as desired.

If using a food mill, use the medium blade. The peeled and seeded tomatoes will break up on their own, but you can run through the blender for a smoother texture.

Makes about 1 quart.

It’s Winter and I Am Roasting (vegetables)

17 Jan

Moving and angst are natural partners. We’ve been moving upstairs and emptying a storage unit  this week — as in:

“I didn’t even know I still (or ever) had this!”

“Where the f**k did all this crap come from?”

“I have never seen a dust mouse that big. Ever.”

“Oh God, how am I going to get all this done before the semester starts on Tuesday?”

“Leandro please don’t run in front of: the moving truck/hand truck/person trying to move a big box up the stairs/me. ”

“Sweet Jesus, the moving guy just looked in that long-unopened drawer before I  had a chance to remove the scandalous lingerie that I had completely (and sadly) forgotten about.”

…etc. etc. etc….

and add to that an aching, frigging back from said moving, ’cause the ten years that have passed since I last saw that stuff haven’t made me any younger. Heavy sigh.

So, our diet has not been virtuous – Chef Boyardee was on the menu more than once; reheated pizza, Cheese-Its, leftover Halloween chocolate, cheese and crackers, cheese and crackers, salty popcorn, basically a diet of shut-up food all in front of the T.V. and endless repeats of a Scooby-Doo video — where can I buy those Scooby Snacks, anyway, cause Lord knows they would fit right in with my current mode…

But within the frenzy, I have made some good food happen too, thanks to some of the very recipes you have seen here. The spinach sauce for pasta served for a couple of meals, especially because I used farfalle (bow ties), which Leandro really really digs (and which grip a lot of spinach).

I made the basic seasoned ground beef in a big batch, a third of which went into an impromptu pasta dinner for friends on Friday, another third into chili con carne with rice Saturday, then on tortilla chips with cheese today (Sunday) and another third is frozen for next week and the new semester.

I also roasted vegetables.  This is something I do all winter (it’s too damn hot in the summer to turn on the oven) and then eat the vegetables all week in different formats. This is just one version (as I continue to crave asparagus in the off-season). It really is best with the linguine, but I was pressed for time and my son is not yet interested in this kind of dish, so I just served it to myself (several days running) with leftover rice and a dash of soy sauce. I also gave a plastic tublet to Leandro’s godmother (a teacher) for her take-to-school lunch.

Roasted Vegetable Linguine

2 packets (about 20 oz) baby bella mushrooms, washed and sliced

1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces

1 bunch broccoli crowns, separated into florets

1 red pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, chopped

3 Tbs olive oil

½ tsp red pepper flakes

1 cup cherry tomatoes

½ cup white wine

½ lb linguine

½ cup torn fresh basil leaves or 1 Tbs dry oregano

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Toss all vegetables (except tomatoes and herbs but including red pepper flakes!) and oil into a large roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Get your pasta water on the boil and prepare pasta according to package directions. Save ½ cup pasta water when draining.

Add tomatoes to pan and roast 10 more minutes. Transfer vegetables to a bowl. Set pan on two burners on medium heat and add wine, stirring and scraping off burnt bits. Simmer for 3 minutes or so, until wine has cooked off then add reserved pasta water.

Return pasta to pot, add vegetables and liquid from pan. Warm to serving temperature and add herbs.

Three common ingredients = one uncommonly good pasta sauce, FAST

5 Jan

So we spent another evening in the emergency room and Leandro got another four stitches, this time in the forehead. With that kind of excitement going on, you can be sure that once the chocolate ice cream dinner for brave boys was up, I was STILL going to be too tired for anything elaborate in the kitchen.

Marcella Hazan to the rescue. This queen of the kitchen’s Essentials of Italian Cuisine is a much loved and much soiled recipe book over here. These days I don’t have the resources for some of the more ambitious dishes, but her tomato sauce with onion and butter is simple and perfect: three ingredients resulting in one glorious, sweet, rich sauce that you barely have to stir!

I have adapted it slightly to make it even faster (puree, rather than whole tomatoes, adjusted the butter, for example). The beauty of this one is that it can be done in the time it takes you to boil up the pasta.

Marcella recommends potato gnocchi under the sauce, but the pre-prepared ones are generally yucky and I ain’t making gnocchi myself any time soon (oh for the heavenly days that Fabiola made it for me in Rovereto!).

These days I buy fresh ravioli from Fairway Market (no preservatives and a variety of fillings – $6 for 24) and actually freeze it. It breaks off into convenient serving sizes and takes about 15 minutes to cook after you drop them in the boiling water and the boil comes back. They re-heat pretty nicely, so I make extra for my little guy’s lunch box, just adding a dab of butter to the hot ravioli so it doesn’t stick.

I used cheese ravioli this time. “Mama I really love this!”


Steamed broccoli can be dipped in the sauce

Tomato with Onion and Butter

28 oz. can tomato puree

6 Tbs butter

One onion, peeled and cut in half (I prefer red onion for extra sweetness, but use whatever you have; yellow is fine)

Cook all three ingredients together in a deep pot with a lid at medium to low heat until the fat begins to separate from the tomato (about 20 minutes, or the amount of time you spend boiling the pasta). The longer you cook it, the sweeter it gets, so if you have more time, use it!

Spoon over your favorite pasta and serve with loads of good grated cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano or Gran Padano)

Latin Seasoned Ground Beef: Transforms into sauce, stuffing, chili…and more

27 Oct
Basic Seasoned Ground Beef

You can build on this dish to make many different meals

Mondays don’t completely suck, but they are the busiest day of my work/mom week.

Out of the house with dressed toddler and breakfast and packed lunches in the car by 6:45 a.m., teaching and office ’till 2:15 then walk back to the daycare to pick up the little man; shopping or playground till 4 p.m. swim class (on the cheap at the county pool) then pick up vegetables at Sophia Garden C.S.A. (more on that in another post) to get home around 6 p.m. to make dinner — whew!

So, it is crucial that dinner be fast and and brainless and provide leftovers for the next day lunch.


This Monday was a triumph. Why? Because I had my Basic Seasoned Ground Beef at the ready. I make three pounds of it at a time, divide it in three and freeze it down in plastic bin things so when I am in a bind, I can do any number of things with it that get a relatively wholesome, tasty meal ready in a flash.

I had remembered to take a tublet out of the freezer in the morning, plus I had a bag of tortilla chips (organic blue corn are our favorites, low-salt works better, but oh well, not today) and cheddar cheese slices, so I was good to go.

Heated the oven to 350, spread the tortillas on a baking sheet, sprinkled some of the meat on top and sliced up the slices into thin shreds (why pay more for a chintzy bag of the pre-grated which is dry and tasteless?) and put it in for about 15 minutes, et voila! le diner.

Hot sauce for me (sriracha, my fave) and plain for the boy. Done! We usually have some sliced avocado on the side too, which counts as a vegetable in my world and should in yours too.


Forgot to take the meat out? This is a problem many on-the-go moms I have spoken to say happens all the time. With Basic Seasoned Ground Beef, it doesn’t matter. You just switch gears. As Mark Bittman, The Minimalist from the New York Times and a personal hero, has suggested, whenever you get home, just put a pot of water on the boil, ’cause then you have it going for whatever comes up.

So I boil up some pasta (we love Bionaturae whole wheat organic – no kidding, better than white!) and dump the (still frozen) beef in another pot with a 28 oz. can of tomatoes (whole, peeled; diced; pureed – whatever I have) and an extra tablespoon of whatever dried herbs I am in the mood for (oregano for Spanish flavor; basil for Italian, for example; bay leaf never goes astray) and let that simmer up while the pasta boils. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Gran Padano on top and luscious!


In fact, while we ate our insta-nachos this particular triumphant Monday, I had the next-day pasta on the boil and the remainder of my tublet of seasoned beef with half a can of tomatoes…easy-peasy.

The best part, of course, was that I actually had everything under control. Really! With a little more time, I might have taken the same beef, same 28 oz. can of tomatoes AND a 15 oz can of red kidney beans, added a tablespoon (or more) of chili powder and a tablespoon of cumin powder, put it on rice and called it chili con carne.

With loads of time, I would have boiled and mashed yuca and made Puerto Rican shepherd’s pie in the oven. What I am trying to say is that with a tub of Basic Seasoned Ground Beef in my freezer, I can do anything!

BASIC SEASONED GROUND BEEF (this is half of what I usually do to freeze. To do 3 lbs. at a time, double everything)

2 Tbs extra virigin olive oil

1 baseball sized onion, chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, minced (go for more if you like – I do!)

1.5 lbs. ground beef

(Optional1/4-1/2 C. chopped red pepper fresh or roasted from a jar)

1/2 tsp adobo powder* (if desired – I generally don’t use it, but some people love the extra salt and the umami)

1 heaping Tbs capers, drained

10 manzanilla olives (pitted and stuffed with pimientos)

(optional 1/2 cup tomatoes from a can – diced, chopped, whatever or a spoonful of tomato paste you need to use up)

Heat oil on high in a large saucepan until thin and fragrant. Add onion and cook, stirring, for two minutes until well coated and getting translucent. Lower heat to fairly low and cook for five minutes, add garlic and cook for another minute. Raise heat to high and crumble in ground beef, stirring and breaking up frequently until fully-browned. Spoon out fat or pour off (don’t make it too dry!) into sink (carefully!).

Return to heat, add red pepper, optional adobo, capers, olives and optional tomato. Mix completely. Lower heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes until fat begins to separate from sauce. Serve or freeze.

 *instead of adobo powder, mix 1/4 tsp salt and 1 Tbs mixed chopped fresh herbs (oregano, rosemary, parsley) or 1 tsp dried

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