Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

Sauces

Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce with Gnocchi

Dinner, Comfort Food, Italian, Recipe, Sauces, Winter, Pasta, VegetarianLeannda Cavalier4 Comments

A rich, creamy pasta sauce with sweet onions, savory tomatoes, peppery seasonings and sharp parmesan. This sauce is versatile and easy to throw together with things you probably already have. 

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

My belly is growling. Jump to the recipe, please!

Have you ever noticed how much colder it feels when it's already been warm and the temperature dips back down? I've been walking around for weeks without needing a coat, and it's SNOWING today! My body is reacting like it's sub-zero in my nearly 70º house. I'm dealing. 

So on a shivery, grey day what better to warm up with than a hearty plate of gnocchi?

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I got the idea for this recipe while shopping at one of my favorite health food stores after a long day out in Knoxville. I was so tired, but I really wanted to eat well that night. Knowing I had a good hour-long drive home, I was looking for convenience food, but like, good convenience food. Something I would feel good about eating and re-eating for lunch the next day.

I settled on a few different kinds of frozen ravioli you can buy in bulk—red pepper eggplant, spinach ricotta, one with sausage, I think—and some vegetables. So I just needed a sauce.

I wandered over to the refrigerated section where they have fresh sauces I always want to try, and saw this incredible-looking vidalia onion sauce that REALLY pulled me in. I could smell it. I could taste it. I was ready to drink it. But it was too expensive for me to justify at that moment.

Listen, I’m not above spending nearly $8 on a little jar of sauce I want to try, but I was already almost over my grocery budget and the ravioli was reasonable, but not exactly cheap. Plus, I knew I could make it at home. I mentally noted the color and texture of the sauce, glanced at the description on the jar and made a plan. 

The best part? I already had all the ingredients. In fact I always have these ingredients, and if you cook often, you likely do too. 

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This sauce goes great with gnocchi texturally because while it’s thick, it’s pretty smooth. It wraps around the ravioli like the edible manifestation of a bear hug. Beyond that soft, pillowy gnocchi makes a tasty canvas for the sweet and savory flavor of this Roasted Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce.

This Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce is super easy to make, and it comes together pretty quickly. It's going to be really great for you if you aren't a fan of doing a lot of chopping, or if you're just too tired to do a bunch of that tonight—which I totally get. It's the reason I thought about buying the sauce in the first place!

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The plan I made in the store was pretty simple, and I was pretty sure I could knock it out in about half an hour. I just needed to roast some sweet onions until they were a little caramelly, and incorporate them into a simple tomato sauce. 

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Like I said, I was pretty worn out, and besides, roasting the onions whole seemed like the way to go. So what to do? Bring out the blender. It honestly made things go so quickly. I just simmered the tomatoes while the onions were in the oven, added everything to the blender, and voila! 

Beautiful sauce that tasted like a lot more work went into it.

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Now for some salt, fat, acid and heat action. A little honey, red pepper flakes, white wine vinegar, basil parmesan cheese and cream go in to build a sauce that tastes like it came from a restaurant (or an $8 jar at a health food store). 

Whirrrrrrr it up.

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I’ve also tried the sauce with pork loin (amazing) and I’m sure it would go with chicken or steak. Probably even with some seafoods like mussels or scallops. It would work well with long noodles such as spaghetti or linguine, with ravioli or other stuffed pastas—really with just about any pasta.

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I have mixed feelings on the “rules” of pasta. I get the point. Pesto goes will with pastas it can stick to rather than pool in. Pastas with hollow shapes are going to go well with sauces they can scoop up like tasty little spoons. The thing is, some people have hard and fast rules just for authenticity’s sake.

I think authenticity has a time and a place, and I can appreciate it. On the other hand, if I want bolognese sauce and only have angel hair on hand, I’m not going to the store just for authenticity’s sake. Besides, why shut down creativity or experimentation? 

Personally, I think it’s worth knowing the rules—if only so you can break them mindfully. 

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There's something so satisfying about knowing you made it yourself, right? 

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Oh, hey, and it's Lenten Friday friendly! I swear I didn't intend to post a chicken recipe on a Friday last time. 

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If you like this recipe, you may want to sign up for my email list for more. If you sign up, you get a free guide to overcoming one of the biggest commonalities of people who say they're not good at cooking—and one of the easiest things to fix! Just click on the graphic below to sign up and download.

P.S. If you ever need help with a recipe or have a question, please reach out. I'd love to help!

Did you make this recipe? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest.

Until then I'll be here trying to warm up, and hoping all our flowers still bloom and plums and grapes still come in, unlike last year after a 75º February and a bunch of cold snaps. Give me something to look forward to here. 

Let's get roasting!

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Nutrition Facts for Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce (without Gnocchi and Kale)

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Nutrition Facts for Gnocchi with Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce and Kale

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Spiced pork tenderloin with tomato peach sauce

Dinner, Recipe, SaucesLeannda CavalierComment

This main dish features tender, juicy pork tenderloin spiced with cinnamon and other Moroccan-inspired flavors. Tomato-peach sauce sweetens the deal with a tangy twist in this unexpected, but well-balanced pairing.

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend. I only recommend products I believe in. That means I've used it myself in most cases, and at the very least I've researched it thoroughly and find the company trustworthy—I would never recommend anything I wouldn't buy and use myself. Please reach out if you have any questions. 

Listen, I'm in a time crunch. Just give me the recipe.

It's the first week of fall! Sweaters. Soups. Sweltering Saturdays... hold up. What?

Them's the breaks living in the South. September is mostly an unforgiving sweatbox, made worse by the fact that I just want to burn pumpkin-reminiscent candles and drink hot tea, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Call me basic. Do it. 

 That's what I thought. 

That's what I thought. 

You know what's a nice perk though? Peaches. Big, juicy peaches. They're technically still in season here. A fall staple? Not quite. But for me, this time of year is generally a scramble to get them fresh while I can. Same with sun-ripened tomatoes, which are getting harder to come by, but still around.

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If you know me well, you know a good number of my favorite foods feature fruit and savory foods mixed. Pulled pork with blueberry adobo sauce (coming soon), steak tacos with pickled blackberries, and—quite possibly one of my favorite foods—tomato peach sauce with spiced pork tenderloin.

I've actually been making this sauce for years, while the pork tenderloin recipe is a little over a year old. I originally created the sauce to put on top of brie pasta. I had lots of peaches and tomatoes on hand, fresh basil and sage in the garden, and a bunch of free time.

Thus the sauce of a lifetime was born. 

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I put this on pork, chicken, cheesy pasta, plain pasta... It's pretty hard to go wrong. But there's something special about it with this spiced pork tenderloin. Tomatoes, peaches, basil, cinnamon, cumin, pork... not things often listed together, but I'm pretty sure it was destiny. 

I personally use the Ninja Master Prep Professional system to blend the sauce, but you can use any large food processor or blender. I love the Ninja system because a) it has sizes for everything I need, b) I can use multiple processors at the same time and it's not a pain because the power pod is small and light, and c) I can just throw the plastic parts in the dishwasher when I'm finished. 

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When pork browns, it starts to develop caramel-y notes that beg for sweetness to solidify the connection. Both sweet and savory need a little acid to lighten things up, which is where the tomatoes and a bit of vinegar come in. We turn up the heat with Moroccan-inspired spices, and basil and sage keep things fresh. 

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What's funny about this is that it actually ends up aligning with the fall vibes I'm craving. Fruit and meat is a classic pairing for fall. Ever heard of pork chops and applesauce? 

 Yeah, I said it. 

Yeah, I said it. 

Honestly though, it's a real thing. Apple-stuffed pork tenderloin is a Pinterest classic. Pears are all over my early fall menu, from salads (more on that soon, I could write a book) to dessert.

In the end, it all works out. I'll have my sweater weather soon enough. 

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How do you feel about pairing fruit with savory foods? Do you have a favorite combo? Comment and let me know! I'm always looking to add something new to my ever-expanding list. 

As always, I want to hear from you! Got a question or something you're struggling with in the kitchen? I'd love to help you out if I can, but I won't know until you ask.

If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me!

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Anyway, let's get searing!

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Does the idea of cooking sauce and pork tenderloin at the same time freak you out? If you're still a little nervous in the kitchen, I've got something for you. 

The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. I think every beginning cook should start out on the right foot, and I show you how to do exactly that here. 

Just click below for a free download, and let me know how you like it! 

 

Tangy, roasted tomatillo sauce

Mexican, Recipe, Sauces, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

A tangy, summery sauce that's both comforting and refreshing. Versatile enough to use over meats or in vegetarian dishes, this sauce works wonders over steak, chicken and pork; in tacos, salads or rice bowls; as a dipping sauce and more.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy any of the products I recommend. I only recommend products I believe in. That means I've used it myself in most cases, and at the very least have researched it thoroughly and find the company trustworthy. I would never recommend anything I wouldn't buy myself. I would love to answer any questions you have!

My belly is growling. Just skip to the recipe pleaaaase.

I like to play this game at the grocery store. I pick one item that I've never cooked with or eaten before, buy it, and learn how to do something tasty with it. Several years ago I put some tomatillos in my cart, and they've been regular LLC cart club members ever since. 

Tomatillos feature in some of my favorite recipes ever. The first dish I created with them was my own take on chicken enchiladas. You can find that recipe for chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce here, as it eventually turned into the first recipe I ever posted to my original blog.

Yes, tomatillos started it all ;)

I’m betting at least a few of you are asking if this is the same thing as a green tomato. No, no, no and nooooo.

Tomatillos are much more flavorful, more substantial and is fully ripe. Green tomatoes are unripe red ones. That’s why they taste so much more “green” than ripe tomatoes. They haven’t had the time and sun exposure to develop the sugars and acids their vine-ripened counterparts are known for. 

So please don't replace tomatillos with green tomatoes in a recipe (or vice versa). 

Tomatillos are used heavily in Mexican cuisine, and they're widely used and grown throughout South America as well.

You can use them cooked or as a raw ingredient, though there's a little something special to them when they're cooked along with garlic and some spice. They’re perfect for sauces either way, because they have a high pectin content.

Pectin is what gives jelly its jiggle. It kindly offers tomatillos a rich texture that accentuates their sour flavor. They're also fairly low in sugar, so while you can enhance their sweetness when you cook them, they don’t lose their acidic punch.

Cook them with savory ingredients and you can take things up several notches.

 Note: I did not use all the onions pictured for this recipe—some were for another application.

Note: I did not use all the onions pictured for this recipe—some were for another application.

Tomatillos aren’t necessarily hard to find in the U.S. especially in the South—the growing season is long, and nearly year-round in some places. Still, they’re kind of a specialty item, and it can be hard to find many good-looking, sizable ones at the same time. That’s why when you find a good bunch of them, you definitely seize the opportunity to make them into something delicious.

Another thing that's great about tomatillos? They're super easy to work with. This sauce proves it—when it comes down to it, all you really have to do is roast them with some onions, then blend them up with the rest of the ingredients. 

I use a slightly older version of this Ninja Master Prep Food Processor set for things like this. It was a wedding gift in 2014 and it's still going strong! I do a LOT of blending, and I highly recommend it. 

This sauce has a mouthfeel similar to gravy, and it’s just as comforting. On the other hand, it tastes fresh and light, not heavy and sleepy. It’s familiar enough to soothe, but also refreshing so that you won’t feel bogged down after dinner. 

If there is a healthy, summery comfort food, this is how it begins.

Another reason I love this sauce is that you can use it for SO many things. I developed the recipe when I was doing personal catering for clients on a paleo diet (loose paleo—yes, I know tomatillos are nightshades and discussed that with them :)). I wanted to make sure they weren't getting bored, so I served it over flat iron steak. Let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint. I was a little nervous that it would be drowned out against the strong flavor and texture of the steak, but it held its own with no problem. 

Since then, II've used this sauce over steaks, chicken, pork and sweet potato hash; in tacos and even in salads and rice bowls. It's been to my table more times than I can remember, and it hasn't let me down yet. 

Here it is with its dream date, steak.

Now, for any tomatillo newbies, here's what you need to know to find, buy, clean and store tomatillos. 

I'm kind of a tomatillo expert, just give me the recipe please.

Where to buy tomatillos

I have been able to find them at most large grocery stores, and some farmers markets. If you live in an isolated area—West Virginia born & raised right here, everything is on or between mountains—it might be a little more difficult. 

First, don't be afraid to ask for help if you have trouble finding them. I have found these papery beauties in multiple places in different stores, and even the people who sell them don't always know what they're for (or even what they are, in some cases).

I've found them with the tomatoes, with the garlic and shallots,  randomly placed among the rest of the produce, and in setups just for hispanic foods.

Choosing the best of the bunch

First, make sure you look under the husks before you take your tomatillos home. Typically they're pretty easy to pull back, and if they're too tight, you can just rip them back a little.

Tomatillos should be bright green and plump. The size can range from smaller than a ping-pong ball to almost the size of a billiard ball—the bigger ones will be a little more developed, but it doesn't make much of a difference. They should feel fairly firm to the touch. Not hard like an apple, but not squishy like a tomato.

They shouldn't have a lot of brown spots or wrinkles, and they definitely shouldn't have mold or punctures. If a tomatillo has a few imperfections but they don't look deep or affect the firmness, you can probably just cut the them off and no one will know the difference.

How to clean tomatillos

All you have to do to husk a tomatillo is peel back the papery shells and pop them off.

Once the husks are off, the first thing you'll probably notice is the sticky film on the tomatillos' skin, almost like pine sap. That's perfectly normal, and it's actually pretty easy to remove. 

Just put them in some cold water and rub them with your hands. If they're really sticky, add a little white vinegar to help break it down. You have to wash produce anyway, so this step hardly takes any time. If they still feel a bit tacky after washing, don't worry about it, that's just how they are. 

How to store tomatillos

Unlike their tomato relatives, you can store tomatillos in the refrigerator. I usually keep them on the counter and just use them quickly. You can actually clean and cut them ahead and they'll keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days. Just make sure they're dry before packing so they don't get moldy.

By the way...

It's toh-mah-tee-oh.

You may have guessed how to pronounce tomatillo already, but there's a good chance this saved at least a few people from frantically googling it (pretending to be texting someone—I know the drill) shortly before they had to say it out loud.

No judgement here. 

I mean, how could you even bother to judge anyone with this sauce proving the world is full of love and beauty?

As always, I want to hear from you! If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me! 

So what would you do with this tomatillo sauce? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

Now, let's get saucy!

Ravioli with pea pesto sauce

Adaptable for Vegetarians, Italian, Recipe, Sauces, Pasta, Dinner, Winter, SpringLeannda CavalierComment

I'm in a hurry. Jump to the recipe, please. 

Since the beginning of the year, I've been cleaning out my kitchen to make things organized, clean and fresh. It's something I highly recommend, and I try to do it every few months.  

If you're like me, you probably find a lot of odds and ends you forgot about when you clean out your freezer. Half a cup of mango with freezer burn. Overripe bananas you meant to bake into bread. Things you froze to avoid wasting... and end up having to throw away because you kept it too long. 

Maybe you even have some UFOs—unidentified frozen objects. 

I've gotten a little better about this over the last few years. This time around I did find a few things I wanted to get rid of to make room for new additions, so I've been planing ways to use them up. 

One of those things was bag of peas leftover from making vegetable soup. They were still good, but a little past their prime. I happened to have some pesto in the fridge and some sausage ravioli in the freezer, so I decided to make a pea pesto cream sauce.

I'm gonna be honest with you here. It was SO much better than I thought it was going to be. Isn't it magical when that happens? It was rich and cheesy, but somehow bright and fresh. The basil and lemon juice gave the old peas new life. 

About that frozen ravioli...

As much as I shout to the rooftops about homemade being best and unprocessed foods, I believe processed foods do have their place. 

One of the staples of my freezer is frozen pasta, and I love to pick up refrigerated pasta from the grocery store every once in a while. You can get shockingly good store bought ravioli and tortellini these days. Some of my favorite selections are at Earth Fare, Trader Joes, and sometimes Sam's Club. Even the store in my small town has a decent selection.

I can think of few things that taste better than homemade pasta, and I still believe homemade is best... but making it takes time, counter space, and patience. I recommend you try it at some point. If you do, I think you'll realize it's not a mythical feat.

That being said, I'm not here to judge you if you buy it pre-packaged.

When you buy, just read the label and make the best choices you can. Here are a few common-sense guidelines on what to look for:

  • Refrigerated pasta with a close expiration date is a good sign, as it probably doesn't rely heavily on preservatives. The shorter the shelf-life, the more likely it is that valuable nutrients haven't been removed or altered to make them last longer. Read the packaging to see whether it mentions the use (or lack) of preservatives.
  • Pasta made in-store or locally was likely made recently (maybe even that day) with high-quality, whole ingredients. The more minimally processed and less transport, the better.
  • If it's made in small batches, even better. This suggests a person made it and that the recipe was created for quality, not manufactured for the masses.
  • Check for standard nutrition information such as sodium and sugar content, as that can be a drawback of processed food. 
  • Pay attention to how many ingredients there are, and how many you don't recognize or can't pronounce. This isn't gospel, but the more there are, the more processed it probably is.
  • Bonus points if the ingredients are local and don't include antibiotics or added hormones. 

All that being said, if it looks good and you want to eat it...

Do it! Even if it doesn't meet the above criteria. Just don't eat it every night and you'll be fine.

Being aware of what you're eating and making the best choices possible is great, but a bit of pre-made of pasta every once in a while isn't going to automatically give you cardiovascular/metabolic disease (or make you fat). Just be sensible. Don't overdo it or rely on it. 

When you eat it, don't feel guilty. Eat it slowly, savor every bite and appreciate it. 

Now, let's get cooking.

Now that I've shared, it's your turn! Tell me what role processed foods play in your life. Do you try to stick to minimally processed or unprocessed foods? Do you not care either way? Is this something you think about?  I'm so curious to know your thoughts, so let me know in the comments. 

If you make this dish, let me know! Leave a comment below, or post it on Instagram and mention @leanndacavalier and #whipsmartkitchen! I want to see you get cooking!