Basic Pasta Tomato Sauce Recipe

Basic Pasta Tomato Sauce (photo by Michael Rao)

Basic Pasta Tomato Sauce (photo by Michael Rao)

One of my former magazine colleagues, Fina Scroppo, has turned her hand to writing a cookbook, and I wanted to share a recipe or two with you from her excellent “The Healthy Italian–Cooking for the Love of Food and Family.” (It’s published by Danvid and Company Inc., and the photography is by Michael Rao.)

In this lively and easy-to-follow cookbook, there are 150 recipes that are authentically Italian, yet still healthy. “This cookbook is personal passion of mine,” says Scroppo. “Growing up Italian, food has always been at the epicentre of my life. But the challenge has been to cook Italian healthfully without compromising taste, fit it into my day and feel good about serving those meals to my family.”

Scroppo feels it’s never been easier to cook healthy meals, thanks in part to grocery stores stocking more nutritious options that can also be convenient–an aspect she pays close attention to, without losing focus on taste. “My family wouldn’t have it any other way!”

A tomato pasta sauce has become a staple in many Canadian kitchens. But many of us rely on jarred sauces. So try this one (and make a big batch to freeze): It’s packed with vitamins A and C–and it’s deliciously, authentically Italian.

Basic Pasta Tomato Sauce (Salsa di Pomodoro)

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp no-salt-added tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cups no-salt-added tomato puree (passata)
  • 1 small carrot, grated (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp Italian herb seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste.

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onions are softened, about 2 minutes. (If you like it spicy, add 1 tsp dried crushed red pepper flakes.) Add tomato paste and stir in water to dissolve. Stir in tomato puree, grated carrot, herbs, salt and pepper.

Reduce heat to low, cover and bring to a gentle summer. Cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard bay leaves before serving tossed with pasta. Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week and freezes for up to one month.

U.S. Road Trip, Part 2: Nashville Hot Chicken

The music scene wasn’t the only thing that opened my eyes in Nashville. On the advice of our Indianapolis friends, who said it was a “can’t miss,” we tried the Hot Chicken. Who knew it was an iconic Nashville dish, and that there is even an annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival? Not me, nor my husband. We were still savouring the excellent dinner of southern barbecue we had on our first night (at Jack’s Bar-B-Que on Broadway) when we ventured into a world of hurt.

We both love spicy food, and I can tolerate it a little better than my husband. On our list of options our friends gave us were Prince’s, Hattie B’s and Pepperfire. We went to Pepperfire, placed an order for two, with medium spice–and there was no going back. I didn’t mention it was easily 35 degrees Celsius outside, and humid. In the corrugated metal shack with picnic tables that served as shade from the sun, but a hotbox where fried chicken was being churned out to lunchtime customers, it seemed like the hottest place on earth. That was before we even tasted the “medium” spiced chicken.

Pepperfire. Describes the ambience, and the food, very well.

Pepperfire. Describes the ambience, and the food, very well.

Served traditionally, on a slice of white bread with a few pickle chips (plus we ordered sides of collard greens and slaw), it looked innocent enough. But man, what a sensation taking that first bite. It was delicious, and so, so spicy. Burning-mouth spicy, the kind that makes you frantically wave your hand in front of your face, and not even cold Cokes and water helps. But you had to keep eating. It was absolutely delicious.

Heeeellllppppp!

Heeeellllppppp!

Jules, taking it one bite at a time.

Jules, taking it one bite at a time.

I later learned about how it’s made. Every hot chicken place in Nashville has their secret method, and ingredients, but here is one example that I found, an Epicurious recipe . Basically, you dip chicken pieces into a buttermilk batter made with hot sauce, then dredge it in flour and deep fry it. Then comes the Yikes Factor: You brush it generously with a sauce made from some of the hot frying oil and LARGE amounts of cayenne pepper.

My order of Pepperfire's Nashville style hot chicken

My order of Pepperfire’s Nashville style hot chicken

I’ve only found one place in Toronto that serves it, Parts & Labour on Queen St. West, and it was fairly similar to the stuff we had at Pepperfire, but I have to say, it did pale in comparison (and was much pricier). If you like spice, you have to go to Nashville just to try this unique meal.

Best-Ever Potato Soup

Best-Ever Potato Soup

Best-Ever Potato Soup

I had a bag of potatoes from the farmer’s market that I’d bought a couple of weeks ago, and knew I needed to do something with them before they started going soft. I also had a beautiful heirloom squash to use up. So I Googled a recipe for potato soup, and then modified it–a lot. It turned out amazing, if I do say so myself. The original recipe called for bacon and heavy cream, which I didn’t have, nor did I want to use. But the result is so flavourful, and creamy. Trust me and try this out!

  • 1 squash, peeled and diced
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 6 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 8 potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Small knob ginger, minced
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Toss the diced squash in a little olive oil and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and cook the onion and celery until softened. Add the diced potatoes and saute for a few minutes. Add the broth, then the garlic and ginger, cover, and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft, at least 20 minutes. Stir in the roasted squash.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour, then the milk, and finally the parsley. Whisk this mixture into the soup, and season to taste with salt and pepper. With a slotted spoon, remove about half of the diced vegetables from the soup pot and set aside. Use a handheld immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot (or run it through a food processor or blender). Add the reserved cooked vegetables back to the soup pot and stir. Enjoy this creamy, chunky and satisfying soup!

 

Swiss Chard & Mushroom Pizza

Swiss Chard & Mushroom Pizza

Swiss Chard & Mushroom Pizza

This thin-crust pizza is delicious. I made it for a weeknight dinner for my husband and I, and it was excellent with a fresh salad and glass of merlot. Here’s how to make it:

  • Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.
  • Caramelize onions or shallots in a skillet on a stovetop with a little olive oil; add fresh chopped rosemary, and crushed garlic. When softened and fragrant, remove from pan.
  • Brown around 8 to 10 sliced button mushrooms in the same pan. Remove from pan.
  • Add chopped Swiss chard leaves to the same pan and heat through until leaves are wilted; remove from pan and wrap in paper towels, squeezing out the excess water.
  • Meanwhile, generously sprinkle your pan with flour. I used a rectangle baking sheet. Stretch out a ready-made personal-size pizza dough into whatever shape your pan is and set it on the pan. (Note: We bought the pizza dough at a cafe on Locke St. South in Hamilton, Ont.: the Earth to Table Bread Bar. Three bucks!)
  • Spread on a few spoonfuls of jarred, chunky tomato sauce, preferably all-natural with no added sugar. Layer on the onions, herbs, garlic, mushrooms and chard. Add a few handfuls of grated mozzarella cheese, and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake for 15 or 20 minutes, or until crust is crispy and golden.

 

Greek Zucchini Salad

Greek Zucchini Salad--Opa!

Greek Zucchini Salad–Opa!

If you planted zucchinis back in spring, you are probably experiencing the same thing I am: too many, and they still keep coming. But, they’re delicious, and good for you. For one thing, they’re really low in calories–just 17 per 100 grams–and they are also a great source of fibre. Here’s a recipe to keep you using them in delicious ways.

  • Slice a medium zucchini in quarters lengthwise. Slice off the pulp and seeds from the core. Take a cheese plane and run it along the length of each quarter, piling the thin slices on a platter.
  • Throw on fresh herbs–I used basil and mint.
  • Add fresh peas, cherry tomatoes and olives.
  • Sprinkle on some crumbled low-fat feta cheese, and drizzle with some good olive oil.
  • Squeeze a half lemon all over the salad, and sprinkle on a little salt and pepper.

One-Pot Sweet-Potato & Quinoa Supper

A vegetarian go-to.

A vegetarian go-to.

Make this your go-to on Meatless Mondays, or any day. The sweet potatoes are considered a super-food thanks to being packed with vitamins A and C, plus fibre; quinoa is a great source of vegetarian protein; and let’s not forget the nutritional power of savoy cabbage, a leafy green. This meal can all be done in one pan; here’s how:

  • Dice 1 medium onion and soften it in a little olive oil in a large saucepan.
  • Add a sprinkle of ground ginger.
  • Meanwhile, peel and cube 2 large sweet potatoes; chop up enough cabbage to make 2 cups cabbage; slice a handful of mushrooms.
  • When the onion is softened, add the sweet potatoes and 2 cups vegetable broth.
  • Add 1 cup of red quinoa; cover pan and let come to a boil.
  • Stir in the cabbage and mushrooms, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cook on medium-low for about 15 minutes, until quinoa and sweet potato cubes are cooked through. (Add a little water if needed.)
  • Makes 4 servings. Great as a workday lunch the next day, too.

 

Crispy Spaghetti Fritters

Crispy Spaghetti Fritters

Crispy Spaghetti Fritters

What to do with leftover noodles? Make something totally different and tasty. The other night I boiled more pasta than we needed for our meal, but rather than throw out the extra, I made something with it a few nights later inspired by–you guessed it–my go-to Jamie Oliver. In my Jamie’s Italy cookbook is a recipe that gave me the idea for this version. Here’s what I did, for a weekday meal for my husband and I:

  • Sauté one small diced onion in a little olive oil. Add a handful of finely chopped green beans, half a shredded carrot, two cloves crushed garlic, and 5 or 6 diced mushrooms.
  • Add a few splashes of beer, wine or water and simmer gently. (Optional at this point: Add a cup or so of cooked ground lean ground beef or turkey; I had some of that left over, too, so I used it here.)
    Simmer mixture until heated through. Remove from heat, transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool.
  • Meanwhile, roughly chop up your leftover spaghetti (mine was whole grain) into shorter lengths. Also, finely chop some fresh parsley.
  • Stir pasta and parsley, plus 2 eggs, into the cooled mixture. Mix well.
  • Into a hot nonstick skillet, drop large spoonfuls of spaghetti mixture and then flatten them a bit. When golden and crisp, flip.
  • Serve hot with fresh grated Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper.

Apple Cinnamon Chia Oatmeal

Apple Cinnamon Chia Oatmeal

Apple Cinnamon Chia Oatmeal

I make this at least a couple of mornings a week for breakfast. Oats provide healthy fibre, and can naturally keep cholesterol in check. The apples add a naturally sweet boost, and the chia and cinnamon are both high in antioxidants. Use the “one-minute” or “three-minute” kind of oats; the instant type just isn’t as satisfying in texture, and often comes with a pre-mixed sugary mixture to add. Many people swear by steel-cut, and they are delicious, but not if you’re in a weekday rush, as they take a while to cook. Good old Quaker is my choice.

  • For every serving of oatmeal, add one cup of water to a saucepan. Add a little salt, and bring to a boil.
  • Once boiled, turn heat down to medium. Add a half-cup of oats for every serving of oatmeal (in other words, you use 2 parts water to 1 part oatmeal), plus a tablespoon of chia seeds, and stir well.
  • Chop half an apple and stir into the pot. Stir occasionally over a couple of minutes, remove pot from heat and cover. Let sit another minute, then serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • Top with coconut, soy, almond or rice beverage, or milk. Boost the sweetness naturally with a little honey or maple syrup.

Broccoli-Potato Soup

Broccoli Potato Soup

Broccoli Potato Soup

I made a HUGE batch of this soup and, once it cooled, froze it in Ziploc bags. The photo here is of the the thawed and re-heated soup. It was just as tasty, delicious and yes, pretty, as when I first made it. Here’s how to make it:

  • In the bottom of a large, heavy saucepan, saute one large chopped onion in a little olive oil until soft.
  • Meanwhile, dice 3 large potatoes; you can either peel them first or leave the skin on.
  • Chop one large bunch of broccoli, stems and all (but peel off thickest part of the stalks).
  • Add potatoes and broccoli, plus 6 cups vegetable stock, to the onions in the heavy saucepan. Season with salt and pepper, and a few pinches of thyme. Bring to a boil. Simmer until vegetables are soft. Add a little shredded cheddar cheese, if desired.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool. Run through a food processor in batches.
  • Reheat in the saucepan, or freeze.

Kale & Lemon Spaghetti with Chicken

chicken

Dinner for 2: So fresh, so easy. Here’s how to make this dish. Take two boneless, skinless chicken breasts and slice each horizontally into four “scallopinis.” Dredge them in a little flour. Saute in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan in a little hot olive oil on medium-high heat, turning once until golden on the edges and cooked through; remove to a plate and keep warm. Meanwhile, boil your multigrain pasta–enough for 2 generous servings–according to package directions (I used Artesian Acres brand ancient grain organic spaghetti). Drain the cooked pasta, but save about a half-cup of the water.

Next, to the pan you cooked the chicken in, add 2 cloves of crushed garlic and saute on medium heat for a minute or so; then add the juice of half a lemon and the reserved water and cook for a couple of minutes. Finally, add a couple of handfuls of thinly sliced kale and a handful of green olives. Stir-fry for another two minutes, until kale is wilted and olives are heated through. Season with a little salt and pepper. Add spaghetti to the pan and toss until well mixed.

Divide spaghetti between two plates, and add slices of sauteed chicken, plus freshly shaved Parmesan and lemon slices, if desired. Delicious with white wine–try a pinot grigio.