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Friday, April 3, 2020

RAG Pasta & Semi Homemade Sauce

After my first couple recipes did not go according to plan, I decided to take a moment to think about where I went wrong. I didn't come up with an answer.

So I asked myself what are some of my favorite things to make that consistently come out good. My first answer was pasta. It's quick, it's easy, and reminds me of family holidays. My mom's side of the family is from Italy, and I was about 14 years old before I realized no one else had cavatelli at a local park to celebrate Independence Day or Labor Day. I just thought it was....normal. 

What is it about this meal that makes me feel accomplished? Turns out, that was hard to answer too. You see, I don't have a recipe for how I make it. I've just....kind of....figured it out. My Grandma wouldn't let anyone write down her recipes (she'd slap your hand and make you leave the kitchen if you tried). You had to learn by doing. Unfortunately, she died before I was really able to get into the beauty of homemade meatballs and pasta sauce. It takes years to learn, and I was only able to have one session with her.

But, in the end, my pasta was a tasty success! Since I have no formal recipe and no Official Grandma Training, I took a stab at writing down my semi-homemade version. The measurements for this recipe are very iffy. I've never measured ingredients for pasta before, so I am going with an "educated" guess. The nice thing is, this recipe is very hard to mess up. Final star ratings are below.

Final Star Rating
Taste: ***** (5 stars - delicious award)
Texture: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Easy to make: **** (4 stars - I've impressed myself)
Overall rating: ****.3 (4.3 stars - I've impressed myself)

Here's my best shot at a recipe:

RAG Pasta and Semi-homemade Sauce
Serves 6-8

1 tbsp garlic infused olive oil
1 tbsp basil infused olive oil
2 cups frozen, chopped bell peppers
1 1/2 cup frozen, chopped onion
1 tbsp Mrs. Dash tomato basil seasoning
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp garlic powder
1 box Barilla gluten free pasta
1 (24 oz) jar marinara sauce
2 (14.5 oz) cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1 (3.8 oz) can sliced olives, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 pkts (2 tsp) Splenda
1 pkg turkey pepperoni, chopped into quarters
additional Parmesan cheese for topping, as desired

  1. Fill stock pot about half way full with water. Place stock pot on stove and turn burner to high. 
  2. While waiting for water to boil, coat bottom of large skillet or sauce pan with flavored olive oil. Add peppers and onion and ground beef to skillet. Turn stove to medium high and stir to break up meat. Add Mrs. Dash, Italian seasoning and garlic powder, and continue to stir until meat is browned. 
  3. Add gluten free pasta to boiling water. Stir periodically to make sure noodles don't stick together. 
  4. To the skillet, add pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, olives and any other vegetables you would like to add. Gently stir to mix, cover with lid, and turn heat down to medium. Let simmer for 2-3 minutes. 
  5. Remove the lid and add Parmesan cheese and two packets of artificial sweetener. Stir well, breaking up any cheese clumps. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. 
  6. Remove noodles from heat and use a strainer to drain the water. Rinse noodles with cold water to remove starch. Let sit in sink to continue draining.
  7. Chop bag of turkey pepperoni into quarters. Add to pasta sauce, stir, and let simmer an additional 2-3 minutes. 
  8. Return pasta to the stockpot. Turn off stove top and remove sauce from heat. Pour on top of pasta and stir together. Dish pasta into bowl and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired. 
  9. Eat, enjoy.

Nutrition Information (calculated by hand)
6 servings per batch / 8 servings per batch
calories 595 / 466.5
total fat 21g / 16g
       saturated fat 6.5g / 5g
sodium 1440mg / 1080mg
total carbohydrate 68g / 51g
fiber 7.5g / 6g
sugar 11.5g 9g
       added sugar 0g / 0g
protein 36g / 27g

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Notes for Next Time: Generally when I make this meal, I can just zone out and automatically add everything without thinking. The more I paid attention to what I was doing, the more I realized there are actually quite a lot of steps that go into making this. I tried to make it as simple as possible. If you want to try some different things to change the sauce up a bit, below are some suggestions.

For seasonings, you can also add additional basil and/or oregano. Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb seasoning would also be a good addition. The spices will get stronger the more they have time to simmer and sit in the sauce. If you have any leftovers, you will notice a more intense flavor the next day. This is always my favorite part, as I feel Day 2 gives me the best taste. If you have the time, you can also let the sauce simmer for an hour on the stove top, on low heat, to give the flavor time to meld together. 

If you're interested in trying different meats, I have also made this with ground turkey and grilled chicken breast (cut into small cubes). I marinated the chicken breast in Balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, and Italian seasoning for about 3 hours before grilling, and cooled the chicken completely before adding it to the pasta sauce. I have also made this meatless. If you do this, you'll want to find a way to add additional protein - either through chickpea or lentil noodles or tofu. 

Vegetables can also be added to this recipe. Really, the only modification you have to make with additional veggies is to cook the sauce just a tad longer to make sure they have time to soften. I usually add an entire (10 oz) bag of spinach to the sauce since it shrivels up to three leaves after cooking. In the past, I have also added shredded carrots (can omit 1 pkt of sweetener if you add this), mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, and basically any other non-starchy vegetable.

If you're new to dumping things into pasta sauce, start by reading the sauce label on the jar and adding more of the vegetables that show up there. You know you won't mess up the flavor because you're adding what's already present. The more vegetables you add, the more fiber you have and a wider variety of nutrients. The sweetener added to the sauce helps cut down on the some of the acidity of the tomatoes, as there are A LOT of them in this recipe.

You may notice the sauce is a bit watery at the end. That's good. Gluten free noodles are desperate for moisture, so they will soak up all the extra liquid. This is especially important if you have leftover noodles. Without that extra liquid, they turn into gluten free paste with a light Italian flavor. For best results, very slightly undercook the noodles so they finish cooking as they absorb the sauce, and don't turn to mush on your plate or in your fridge.

Pasta. One of the few things I can do right without even trying. 

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