Sometimes recipes become traditions a little later in life – or we add them on from other family members as we go. For me, a vegetable-tomato sauce is one of those recipes.
My husband’s grandmother – Marianna – who unfortunately passed away earlier this year at 92 years old, shared many recipes with us. In fact her little black book of recipes is one of my husband’s cherished items. Even before we were married she would recite recipes from memory to me at the kitchen table. She grew up in Italy with five brothers and would help her mother prepare food each day to sustain them all, including bread batches so large that when she was a little girl she had to knead the dough with their feet just to keep up. When she came to Canada with her husband, she did her best to cook wisely and on a budget and this included making traditional tomato sauce with a twist. Whenever she had extra vegetables from the garden, she would throw these into the pot as well, making a sauce that was healthy, yes, but also sweeter and lighter. And it also meant that nothing went to waste.
Soon after she told me this, I gave it a try and I love vegetable sauce, in fact sometimes I even prefer it. The first time I had it, I also paired it with homemade pasta with a new pasta extruder so I could make short shapes of pasta. Now that I have a child (who eats pretty much nothing but pasta) vegetable sauce has been the perfect way to get more nutrients into him. We bottle it, freeze it and make it last minute even during the winter. In honour of Nonna, here’s her vegetable sauce recipe.
It’s so easy, here it goes:
Tomatoes or Tomato Passata
Any other vegetable you have from the garden or in the refrigerator. I’ve used beans, spinach, kale, eggplants and hot peppers depending on the spice level you like.
If you are starting with fresh tomatoes, be that the quantity of tomatoes make up at least half of the total vegetables you are using. Peel and de-seed the tomatoes and cook them down over medium heat until they have broken down completely. Otherwise, start with tomato passata, making sure the quantity of this is at least half of pot, and heat this up to boiling.
Meanwhile, peel your onions, garlic and eggplants (if using). There’s no need to remove peels from tender zucchinis or carrots, just be sure they are washed well. Remove the stems from all the vegetables and chop them into large chunks. Add them to the tomatoes and allow them to boil on low together for two to three hours or until all the vegetables have broken down.
Using an immersion blender, or transferring the sauce to a blender, whiz up the sauce until smooth. If you really want to get traditional, you can use a vegetable mill. Return the sauce to a pot on the stove and cook down until it reaches the consistency you like – if you want it any thicker. Add in salt and herbs (parley, oregano, basil) as you like.
The sauce can be stored in food-safe containers in the freezer or jarred, using a canner to seal the jars. We make big batches when we are doing our traditional tomato canning but also a small pot full when we have the last few vegetables coming out of the garden at the end of the season. The sauce is smooth and slightly sweet, and my son can’t tell the difference from the regular stuff. Nonna always knows best!