There are few things I love more than a heaping bowl of pasta swimming in a homemade tomato sauce. Couple that with a crusty loaf of bread doused in olive oil, fresh garlic and Parmesan, and I'm in heaven. Since my husband and I have become vegan, we’ve had to alter our pasta nights, but we still find ways to enjoy a decadent Italian feast.
The first time I made my own pasta sauce, I couldn't believe how amazing it tasted. All this time I'd been buying sauce from jars, spending upwards of $6 to $7 on organic low-sodium concoctions that still tasted too salty and much too sweet. One day, my husband suggested I make my own. I looked at him, perplexed. "From scratch?" Instantly, I envisioned plucking fresh tomatoes from the vine, wearing an apron, and swirling a fat glass of wine in my right hand. "Done," I said.
The ease of making your own sauce is wonderful. It doesn’t have to take hours (although the longer it's over the heat, the better) and can be made in one pot. As a vegetarian, I find the addition of vegetables, especially portabella mushrooms, provide the desirable meaty texture.
We typically eat quinoa pasta, a delicious alternative that tastes similar to the regular kind. However, if grains make you sluggish, especially pasta, consider a zucchini variety. Low in calories, this fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!) is also packed with fiber and vitamin C and is 95 percent water (making it incredibly hydrating). It's also a good source of vitamin B6 and is easy on the digestive system.
Top it with a homemade tomato sauce and a light sprinkle of Parmesan. Vegans can add some nutritional yeast for a good dose of vitamin B12.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
1 to 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup diced white onion (or dried)
4 garlic cloves, minced
Paprika, cayenne, and oregano, to taste
8 vine-ripened tomatoes
1/3 cup red wine
1 jar organic low-sodium tomato paste
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 portabella, chopped
1/3 cup basil, chopped
1. In a large pan, heat oil. Add a little water, onion, garlic, and spices and sauté until just tender.
2. Add tomatoes to pan. Pour in red wine. Cover and let simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until tomatoes start to reduce.
3. Once tomatoes have reduced, add tomato paste, stirring frequently. Add veggies, such as bell pepper or portabella, and continue cooking. Once you have about 5 minutes left, reduce heat to low and add basil and start zucchini pasta.
3/4 Tbsp coconut oil (or extra-virgin olive oil)
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
3 zucchini, peeled into strips
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan, grated
1. Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add garlic and lightly brown. Add sesame seeds.
2. Stir-fry zucchini until golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Top with homemade tomato sauce and Parmesan.
Tip: You can make a light variation of this recipe by sautéing the zucchini strips in the sauce instead of stir-frying them.
Rea Frey runs her own food blog, Clean Convenient Cuisine, hosted by Chicago Tribune. She also writes a vegan and relationship column for Cheeky Chicago and is the Senior Editor of Chic Galleria. As a certified personal trainer and nutrition expert, Rea has helped countless individuals reach their nutrition and fitness goals by simplifying their lifestyles and breaking that "diet" mentality. A regular contributer on WGN radio, she discusses food and relationships and hopes to help bring simple solutions to any lifestyle problem. Her book, The Cheat Sheet: A Clue-by-Clue Guide to Finding Out If He's Unfaithful (Adams Media) will be released this summer.