I know, I know. Pasta isn’t generally considered “healthy”. But hear me out on this one, okay? We’re in the trenches of the winter months here in Maryland. It’s wet, gray and dreary most days. It’s cold enough to chill you to your bones but doesn’t have the decency to snow enough for the kids to really go out and play in it.
These are the days I long for comfort food. And for me, comfort food is pasta in all its forms. I grew up with ‘pasta night’ every Wednesday. My father would take a whole Saturday to make a giant pot of the family recipe that would later turn into spaghetti with meatballs, lasagna, and stuffed shells. Sadly, he’s never shared that recipe with me…even after plenty of begging.
BUT, aside from plenty of seasonings, what I remember most is that the family sauce required a good bit of sugar to balance out the acid in the tomatoes. That’s definitely not healthy.
Years ago, I bought a copy of the book Cook Once a Week, Eat Well Everyday. Aside from how it changed the way I look at leftovers, it gave me the basis for what would become my go-to healthy pasta sauce. I don’t think you can call any well-flavored meat-based pasta sauce healthier than this. It’s all about the vegetables, and instead of adding sugar to balance out acidity, the secret to this sauce is frozen mashed squash. The natural sugars in the squash are a fantastic counterpoint to the tomatoes while adding a few extra vitamins and some fiber.
After some research, I also found that draining and rinsing higher fat content ground beef can significantly reduce the saturated fat content. That said, doing this can reduce some of the ground beef flavor, which I balance by cooking the beef in the stockpot that is going to hold the sauce. Cooking the vegetables in the small amount of remaining beef fat avoids the need for any additional fats and also imparts a bit more of the beef flavor into the sauce.
So, let’s recap:
– Full of vegetables
– Limited saturated fats
Let’s just call this a winner, winner, pasta dinner!
Healthy Pasta Sauce
(recipe is for a triple batch, made in a 12-qt stockpot)
adapted from Cook Once a Week, Eat Well Everyday
Approx. 24 large servings
3 pounds ground beef
3 onions, diced
8 carrots, diced
3 bell peppers (any color), seeded, cored and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 T Italian seasoning
1 T fennel seed (optional)
3 packages frozen mashed winter squash
3 26-oz cans tomato sauce
1 12-oz can tomato paste
1 bottle red wine (I prefer something bold like a Cabernet)
1. In a 12 quart stockpot, brown meat over medium-high heat. Remove from stockpot. Drain and rinse meat in a strainer to reduce as much fat as possible.
2. Cook vegetables over medium heat until soft, starting with the carrots, then bell peppers and finally onions. (This allows the firmer vegetables to soften without burning the onions, which are more tender). Add garlic and Italian seasoning and cook until fragrant; about a minute.
3. Add squash and heat through. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste and wine. Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce until smooth. Add fennel seed (if using) and ground meat.
4. Simmer for 2 hours on low. Enjoy with high-fiber pasta or spaghetti squash.
To store for later use: Let mixture cool completely. Spoon about 5-6 cups into a gallon-sized bag and freeze flat. (Note: Each 5-6 cup portion feeds our family for two meals with some additional leftovers)
What is your favorite comfort food?
Do you have any tips for making your favorite comfort foods healthier?
Don’t forget to check out these awesome posts: