Pantry/Freezer Vegetarian Pasta Sauce

My mother occasionally made homemade pasta sauce. It was one of her standard feed-a-crowd recipes, because she made a lot of it, in a very big pot, that simmered on the stove for a long time, not all day, but long enough to bring out rich flavors. She’d pair it with spaghetti, the very long kind that came wrapped in blue paper, a salad with “ketchup dressing” (salad dressing made in the almost-empty bottle of ketchup), and a long loaf of garlic bread, which was actually my favorite part of the meal. It was slathered in butter, with happy chunks of chopped garlic mixed in, and baked in the oven wrapped in aluminum foil. The steamy, garlicky aroma and the dripping butter of that garlic bread brought me such joy, even as a child.

I have never made my mother’s pasta sauce, mainly because she used brown sugar in it, and it was sweet, as spaghetti sauces go. My preferences for pasta sauces lean to the savory side. I also don’t often have the time for her sauce, and I certainly do not have as many mouths to feed. But this sauce reminds me of my mother’s sauce, because the flavor is just as rich, and it includes bell pepper and canned mushrooms, two ingredients she always used. The plus side of this sauce is that it does not take hours to make, and does not make a giant pot of sauce, so you can enjoy it on a weeknight, with just a few people you love very much.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup frozen chopped onions
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon jarred minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 x 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 x 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 8 ounces frozen pepper strips, or chopped peppers
  • 1 x 4-ounce can mushrooms, drained
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

***Measure out all your ingredients before you start cooking. You will be a calmer, more focused cook. (This is also known as “mise en place”.)***

  1. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until it is shimmering.
  2. Add the onions, basil, garlic, oregano, paprika, and red pepper flakes to the skillet, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to prevent the mixture from burning.
  3. Add both kinds of tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms to the skillet, stir to combine, and bring to a simmer (small, frequent bubbles). Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thickened a bit, and the herbs have softened and released their aromas.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and taste. Add a bit more salt and/or pepper if you like. Remove from heat. Serve over hot pasta or polenta. Serves 4-6.

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