Whip Smart Kitchen

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

pasta

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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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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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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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!

 

 

Summer slow-cooker veggie lasagna

Slowcooker, Italian, Recipe, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

This post was originally published on my old blog. This version may contain minor edits and updates. The original is preserved at Recipe Repository

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Making pasta the right way is an art.

Getting the perfect al dente bite. Building the flavors in your sauce for hours on the stove. It’s a process that’s been perfected, taught and argued over for years and years.

But you know what? Sometimes you just need to eat some freaking pasta right now.

Or perhaps you need it right when you get home from work/school/marathon/sockhop.

Two practical truths: 

  1. Compromising on traditional perfection is actually progress if it gets you fed in time to finish out your day and get some sleep. “Imperfect” homemade lasagna is much more healthful than making some “perfect” ramen.
  2. Sometimes pasta done the “wrong” way can be just as good as pasta done the “right” way.

I know. Burn.

I like authenticity as much as the next food-obsessed person, but there are days when you really just need a win. This is quick and easy victory that takes care of itself while you focus on everything else.

Considering the above, this lasagna is basically American Pharoah. 

It delivers on what I consider to be the true markers of a great lasagna: smooth, creamy ricotta layers; aromatic sauce with simple ingredients and complex flavors; plenty of gooey  mozarella; and above all a beautiful balance of acidity and richness. The vegetables make this summer dish surprisingly fresh and bright for both a lasagna and a slow-cooker meal. 

Another win: I consider this to be a pretty healthful meal. Lots of veggies, a good amount of protein and no added sugar. Pasta isn’t even so bad as long as you have it in moderation, as this meal encourages.

You know what else is pretty healthful? Using full-fat cheese. It tastes better, has a better texture AND guess what: eating fat isn’t what causes weight gain. 

Generally if something says fat-free or reduced-fat it actually means sugar and carbs have been added and THOSE are what make you gain weight. Backwards, right?

I’m gonna step down off that soap box and refer you both to Emily Schromm (so smart!) and the documentary “Fed Up” (on Netflix). I did Emily’s 21 Day Superhero Challenge in February. I’ve always been fascinated with food and nutrition and I learned a lot from her.

I also gained the ability to do push ups. It was a big deal.  Look her up after you read this!

Emily probably tell you not to eat the pasta though, so… I mean you could try sauteed eggplant slices instead?

Or eat the pasta. I triple-dog dare you.

Summer Slow-Cooker Veggie Lasagna

Serves 8-10

Special equipment:

  • 6-quart (or larger) slow-cooker
  • Apron or old t-shirt

Cheese Filling

Ingredients:

  • 16-oz container full-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Italian spices
  • ¼ cup minced shallots
  • 2 cups spinach or other baby greens, cut into thin ribbons
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced thin
  • 2 cups finely chopped baby bella mushrooms or portabello mushrooms

Instructions:

  1. Combine ricotta, egg, shredded parmesan, Italian spices and shallots in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Stir in spinach, and mix until evenly distributed.
  3. Stir in zucchini and mushrooms until mixture is even.

Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 28-oz cans whole tomatoes, in juice, no salt added*
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons
  • ½ tsp fresh rosemary, minced (or ¼ dried rosemary, crushed)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Drain tomato juice into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Crush the tomatoes by hand using the following method:
    1. Wearing an apron** or other cover, hold tomato in the palm of your hand over the same mixing bowl, fingernails facing down.
    2. Carefully pierce the stem end of the tomato with your thumb and gently squeeze out as much juice as possible.
    3. Keeping your thumb in the center of the tomato, close your fingers around it and squeeze as hard as possible to crush the tomato’s flesh. It doesn’t matter whether the fibers fully separate.
  3. Repeat with all remaining tomatoes.
  4. Add garlic, basil and red pepper flakes, then stir to combine.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste (start with a pinch of each).

Lasagna Assembly

Ingredients:

  • Tomato sauce mixture
  • Cheese filling
  • 1 TBSP good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 15 lasagna noodles (about 12 oz)
  • 4 ½ cups full-fat shredded Italian cheese blend or mozzarella, divided

Instructions:

  1. Pour olive oil in slow-cooker and use a brush or paper towel to coat the bottom and sides
  2. Pour 1 ½ cups tomato sauce mixture in and spread to cover the bottom evenly.
  3. Lay five noodles over the sauce mixture, breaking as needed to cover as much sauce as possible. I find laying them lengthwise and breaking to cover the corners works best.
  4. Carefully spoon half of the cheese filling over the noodles and spread to cover, packing it down firmly and cover with 1 ½ cups of the tomato sauce mixture.
  5. Sprinkle 1 ½ cup of the Italian cheese blend over the sauce evenly.
  6. Add another layer of noodles, cheese filling, sauce and Italian cheese blend.
  7. Add the last five noodles, and remaining sauce. Reserve last cup of Italian cheese blend in the refrigerator for serving.

The layer breakdown should look like this, going in order from the bottom to the top:

  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 5 noodles
  • Half of the cheese filling
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 5 noodles
  • Half of the cheese filling
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 5 noodles
  • remaining sauce
  • (after finished cooking) 1 ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend

9. Place lid on and cook on low for 4-6 hours OR on high for 2-3 hours.

10. Take the lid off and spread remaining shredded Italian cheese blend on top. Turn off heat, replace lid, and let sit for 45 minutes to allow the noodles to absorb the juices.***

11. Serve warm!

Notes:

*You can always use pre-crushed or diced canned tomatoes and skip the tomato-crushing step. I personally prefer the rustic and varied texture of hand-crushed tomatoes.

**Hand-crushing tomatoes is messy no matter how careful you are! Move anything you don’t want tomato splattered on at least four feet away.

***In the picture above you can see a small amount of cooking liquid around the edges of the lasagna. That’s from all the veggies, and it’s the result of not letting it rest for 45 minutes. It’s not pretty, but it’s delicious—plus, it means the noodles are more firm because they haven’t soaked all the liquid up. If you let it sit, the noodles absorb all that extra liquid, meaning less sits on the plate, and the layers are easier to keep together, more like a traditional lasagna. To me it’s a toss-up in terms of taste, but letting it rest is definitely more aesthetically pleasing in the end. 

This recipe is loosely adapted from an “Eating Well” slow-cooker vegetarian lasagna recipe, which you can find here