Day 183–Making Marinara Sauce


I came home from working an event on July 4th to find two lovely boxes of tomatoes on my doorstep, left by The Produce Box! The two, 10 pound boxes of field tomatoes are part of my next big challenge–making marinara sauce from scratch. If nothing, this make me more appreciative of all the mammas and nonas before me who made sauce with no air conditioning. As I type this, the sauce is simmering away (and will for another few hours) and my house smells AMAZING. In fact, I am starving and it’s only 10:00 in the morning–I’m sure this has much to do with the incredible aroma wafting through the house.

While making tomato sauce does take some work, much of the actual work is done on the stove while you can do other things around the house. The recipe I have called for blanching and peeling the tomatoes. I decided to skip that part and instead used a food mill to process the partially cooked tomatoes. MUCH faster and I didn’t add a lot of unnecessary heat to my kitchen. I’m keeping my sauce pretty simple. I’ve added some diced onion, minced garlic, and basil leaves, but that’s it. Since I don’t know how I’ll be using the sauce, I’m leaving any additional seasoning for when I open the jars to use them.

Here is the recipe I am using. There are so many tomato sauce recipes out there that you can find one to suit your preference fairly easily.

Easy Marinara Sauce

  • 20 lbs. tomatoes
  • 3 large onions, peeled and diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and diced
  • 3 Tbsp. lemon juice per quart jar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt per quart jar
  • 2 washed basil leaves per quart jar
  1. Wash, trim and quarter the tomatoes, making sure to cut off any bruised or damaged areas.
  2. Add about 1/4 of the tomatoes to a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Mash the tomatoes with a potato masher to extract the juices.
  3. Continue adding the cut tomatoes to the pot in batches and continue mashing with the potato masher until all the tomatoes are in the pot (NOTE: at this point, I needed two stock pots because even my biggest one wouldn’t hold all the tomatoes. Later, as the tomatoes cooked down, I was able to get everything in one pot).
  4. Simmer the tomatoes for about 30 minutes. Let cool a bit and add the tomatoes in small batches to a food mill set with a fine mesh blade over a large bowl. Continue processing the tomatoes through the food mill to remove skins and seeds. You will need to empty the food mill several times (save the skins and seeds for compost!).
  5. Return the tomato juice and puree to the pot(s). Add the onion and garlic and let simmer over medium low heat for about 3 hours (this will depend on how much water your tomatoes contain).
  6. Prepare and sterilize quart sized canning jars (5-6). Add 3 Tbsp. of lemon juice, 2 basil leaves and 1 tsp. of kosher salt to each jar. Ladle the sauce into the hot jars, leaving 1/2 ” of headspace. Release any trapped air. Wipe the rims, place lids and bands and process in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes.
  7. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let jars sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars from the canner and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals. Store for up to 1 year.

Day 172–Sharing the Kitchen and Spaghetti Tacos

I am, in general, a sharing person. There are lots of things I do share freely–laughing, bad puns, jam, pickles, and herbs from my garden. I find it difficult, though, to share my kitchen. First, my kitchen is small, which means that multiple people cannot be cooking at the same time without getting on each other’s nerves. Second, cooking is something I enjoy doing, but I can’t do it well and entertain people at the same time. So I like my alone time in the kitchen. But I also have an 11-year-old daughter who loves food and is very interested in cooking. And many of you who read this blog know that I despise the food industry’s focus on making cooking seem like drudgery to sell highly processed convenience foods. Cooking is a life skill. And, it is a wonderful creative outlet. So sharing my kitchen means giving my daughter a boost and letting her experiment with cooking dinner on weekends when she is with me. This weekend was her first dinner. Her choice? Spaghetti tacos.

To say I was reluctant about this meal is an understatement. For those of you who are uninitiated, the spaghetti taco phenomenon began with an episode of a tv show called iCarly. To say I hate this show would be an understatement. Overacting, highly dramatic teens who have no adult supervision and very few consequences is not my idea of entertainment. This show was banned from my house, but like a true video junkie, I know Ellie is still getting her fix elsewhere. Regardless, on one episode, the brother apparently created a dish called spaghetti tacos. From my Google search on the subject, this was actually intended to be a joke, but it has developed quite a following in the under 14 audience. So, this was Ellie’s suggestion. I only wish their joke dish had included quinoa and eggplant. THAT might redeem the horrible writing and acting for me.

So how are spaghetti tacos? Actually, they were pretty good! Ellie did a great job making the dish herself. I gave her suggestions and some input, but she did all the work. To try to eek some healthy benefits out of the dish, we added some fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market and we have some additional ideas (adding chicken Italian sausage) that could make it even better. Here is the recipe we used. Now, where is that cable channel blocker…

Here is Ellie’s recipe for the sauce (in her own words):

  • 1 teaspoon  of Hungarian paprika
  • 1 bell pepper(chop it up into squares)
  • 1/2 of an onion(chop into squares)
  • a pinch of Perfect Pinch Salt-Free Seasoning
  • a tablespoon of chile powder
  • a tablespoon of chopped dried Italian seasoning mix
  • a pinch of minced garlic
  • 1 fresh diced tomato
  • .all of a jar of tomato sauce

and boom the perfect sauce ever and I made this all listening to Pink Floyd (now she is a girl after my own heart!).

Spaghetti Tacos

  • Prepared taco shells (we used the corn shells from Trader Joes); 2-3 per person
  • Ellie’s sauce (above)
  • 8 oz. organic spaghetti, broken into thirds
  1. In a large pot, heat water for pasta.
  2. While water is heating, heat olive oil in a large saucepan. When oil is hot, add onion, green pepper and seasoning.
  3. When vegetables are soft, add the marinara sauce and heat through.
  4. Cook pasta according to package directions and heat taco shells according to directions.
  5. When pasta is done, drain (parents help here) and add pasta to sauce to coat.
  6. Assemble by filling taco shells with spaghetti. Eat up!

Day 48–Pasta Con Sarde


I am still perplexed as to why Eat Italian Food Day is not Eat Italian Food Month, but whatevs. We are not beholden to whoever makes those decisions. So in open rebellion of the “food of the day” policy makers, here is another recipe that we will be making this weekend. It takes advantage of Italy’s coastal waters as well as its love of the tomato. I am planning to buy fresh pasta at the farmer’s market tomorrow and I’m excited about that, but when left to my own devices, I like whole wheat angel hair pasta for this dish. Pasta con sarde is high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids and relatively low in fat. Basically, this is a fast, healthy and very inexpensive dish that is perfect for weeknights when you really don’t feel like cooking.

What? You don’t like sardines? My suggestion would be to have an open mind and try sardines that are packaged boneless and skinless as they have a milder taste to them. Trader Joes carries these for about $2 a can. And indeed, this dish would be better with fresh sardines rather than canned, but until global warming really kicks in, I don’t know that sardines will be swimming off the shores of North Carolina. If you are (like my child) absolutely resolute in your dislike of sardines, you could use cooked salmon or tuna and you would need very little (6 oz), just increase the amount of olive oil you use or the sauce will be dry. This is a great dish for stretching out what you have. And who doesn’t want to do that these days?

  • 1 package whole wheat angel hair pasta (16 oz.)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 (4 oz) cans sardines packed in olive oil
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (about 3-5 slices bread toasted and run through food processor)
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon, juiced + 1 Tbsp. grated zest
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to directions for al dente pasta.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook about 2 minutes until soft. Add the minced garlic and cook about 1 minute more.
  3. Stir in sardines with their olive oil and tomato sauce and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. When sardines are heated through, add bread crumbs and stir. Remove from heat.
  5. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water for the sauce.
  6. Add drained pasta to the sauce in the skillet and combine. If the sauce is too dry, add pasta water 1/2 cup at a time until you get the consistency you like. The sauce should cling to the pasta.
  7. Add lemon juice and lemon zest to the pasta, stir and serve with parmesan cheese.

Buon appetito!