Create Your Own Bite #24
1/2 Cup Bottled Pasta Sauce
3-5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Cup Baby Bella Mushrooms, Diced
1/4 Sweet Onion, Chopped
1/2 Cup Mini Pearl Tomatoes, Quartered
Salt and Pepper, To Taste
Optional: Grated Parmesan Reggiano
Estimated Calories: 55 Per 1/2 Cup Sauce (Makes 2 Servings)
If this post were an episode on the Food Network, it’d be Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee. So today, just call me Sandra. As much as I’d love to sit down every night and make a delicious, healthy dinner completely from scratch, there isn’t always the time or the means.
Since moving to Brooklyn, I’ve realized that things take a lot longer in New York than they did in Boston. Finding a job, for example, and a trip on the subway. Lines at the grocery store are longer, and the wallet needs to stretch a lot wider. While I try to save money and make the most of my time, I’ve been looking for innovative ways to keep my kitchen running at a comfortable speed.
Bottled pasta sauce is precisely the type of supermarket product that can be a cheap, helpful time-saver. Even though there’s nothing more delicious than a housemade sauce full of thick, simmered hothouse tomatoes, and even though housemade sauces tend to be far more healthy than the off-the-shelf variety; every once in a while, that plate of leftover spaghetti squash is truly begging for a quick fix.
That’s why I always keep a jar of spaghetti sauce in my pantry. Always. The second I use one, I go right out and buy another. Like dried herbs, or vegetable bouillon, there are some things you just need to be able to fall back on.
But if you have a few extra minutes, and a handful of ingredients, it’s best to give these thin, soupy sauces a boost up from supermarket shab. Start with a bottle of basic marinara sauce. Stick with a cheap, basic option; but watch the calories and sodium. Clear Value’s wallet-friendly Pasta Sauce with Mushrooms has only 45 calories in a half cup, whereas many simple sauces have as many as 80 or 90 per serving. Trader Joe’s simple marinara is also a low-cal, affordable option. It has only 50 calories in every half cup, and is slightly thicker and more flavorful than the Clear Value option.
Either way, the point of this project is to transform even the blandest, thinnest sauce into something savory. So don’t shy away from Clear Value’s sauce, or other comprable store-name types.
I was inspired by the mushrooms Clear Value claimed to flavor their sauce with. While I couldn’t taste them, or find them in the sauce, I ran with the theme and used mushrooms as the base for my dish.
With any sauce you upgrade, incorporate a solid base of fresh garlic and onions, simmered until transluscent. These are fundamental flavors for pasta sauce, and can be more than enough if you are seriously low on time and ingredients.
Because I had mushrooms and tomatoes on hand, and the time to cook them, I moved on to the tomatoes, macerating them with a wooden spoon and cooking them down until they were extremely tender. Mushrooms don’t require a lot of time on the heat in order to cook, so put these in the pan last, adding at the same time as a serving of pasta sauce.
Now, add your herbs of choice, as well as salt and pepper. Basil is the most common, but fresh thyme or rosemary would work perfectly here, too.
Once all the ingredients are fully incorporated, and your mushrooms have cooked down (they should be soft and considerably smaller than they started) you’re ready to top off whatever vegetable pasta of your choosing. If you’re not adhering to a vegan diet, a tablespoon or two of fresh-grated Parmesan, added into the sauce and cooked down for only a minute, adds an extra level of richness and salt that will completely disguise any residual notes of Supermarket-quality Italian.
In the Little Word Bites kitchen, the most important rules to live by are happy, healthy eating. We all need to turn to the microwave and shake out a haphazard serving of bottled spaghetti sauce on busy nights when we’re running between our (theoretical) jobs and yoga classes, or between the gym and drinks with a long-awaited friend.
That’s where I’m off to now. A quick bite, before celebrating Bastille Day with my friend Laura – who I have known since childhood and could only see in the offhand chance I was passing through France, or on the rare occasion she was dropping by New York.
Which today, she is.
Cheers to life, liberty, and the pursuit of healthy, affordable, semi-homemade dishes.