We’ve all done it. It’s late on a weeknight. You need a hot meal, but you don’t really want to exert any effort… or thought… and what you really need more than anything is comfort. So, you reach for that blue box of elbow macaroni, pull that big jar of processed red off the shelf, put the two together and top it off with a sprinkling of white sawdust labeled as cheese in that plastic green cylinder caking in the back of your fridge, and voila. Your dinner…. or what you call dinner… Well, let me assure you, the starving artist can do better. A lot better.
I’m an Italian, which means I love my mom’s tomato sauce. In fact I’m sure just about every family has a good sauce recipe that takes them back to their kitchen table as a kid. But, the only problem with a classic sauce like my mom’s is that it cooks all day on the stove (or in the slow cooker) and it makes a gigantic amount. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love making a big batch of mom’s sauce with sausage and meatballs… but sometimes I want to get that same comfort but a little quicker, a little more fresh, and just for me. And so was born my weeknight tomato sauce. I combine canned fire roasted tomatoes with the sweet freshness of cherry tomatoes and cook them down with zucchini, onions, mushrooms, garlic, and spices. It comes together quick, with minimum prep, and, as is obligatory for the starving artist, has a plethora of uses and ways to vary. The best part? Fresh, slow-cooked flavor in practically no time at all. No muss, no fuss. And of course you can switch out the veggies for your favorites, use less, add more – whatever you like. Get creative!
Truth be told, I originally created this recipe to stand on its own. A hearty vegetarian meal, almost no calories, and you still get that comfort that only tomatoes can bring. However, I was recently gifted several pounds of high quality gourmet pasta, which I had been keeping out of sight so as to avoid eating it. Pasta (at least for me) is not conducive to maintaining one’s weight, so I completely got out of the habit of purchasing it. But, we all have to indulge… and there is nothing like a good bowl of pasta with tomato sauce covered in grated cheese. Let me tell you, maybe it was because it had been so long, but this sauce with linguine is to die for. My roommate agrees. And just let me say a quick word about that grated cheese. There is no excuse for buying that horrible stuff you find on the shelf next to the pasta. Most grocery stores with grate and package their own cheeses for really reasonable prices – check the refrigerated cheese section or sometimes near the deli. They’re in clear plastic tubs and sold by the pound. I’m a Romano cheese guy, and I can get a container at Trader Joe’s for less than $5, which lasts me forever. Frugal is good, but know where it’s worth it.
AND for those of you who really have to satisfy that tomato sauce craving but don’t want to deal with the calories and temptation of pasta, I have the answer for you: broccoli slaw. Instead of pasta, blanch a bag of broccoli slaw for two minutes in salted boiling water, strain it, toss it with the sauce, and I swear it will fill that void right up with almost no calories. I tried it last night – brilliant. No, it’s not pasta, but it’s a creative (and cheap!) way of eating super healthy. And I promise it will be just as satisfying. That’s how the starving artist rolls.
Try it out and let me know how you like it!!! Did you come up with any fun variations?