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Friday, August 3, 2012

Big batch cooking pasta and pizza sauce

by Lili Mounce

Simplify, simplify, simplify. How does one simplify meal prep, on a busy school day, while feeding a hungry brood of five? This is just a part of the answer for my kitchen. I spend a bit of time in August preparing a few things for the freezer. Then in September, as we're all adjusting to the new school and activity calendar, a good chunk of dinner is already made.

this is what went in yesterday's big batch of pasta/pizza sauce

Late in summer (August usually), I make an enormous pot of pasta/pizza sauce. Just how enormous, you ask? About 11 quarts or 10.5 liters. I use an institutional size can of tomato paste, some onions, garlic, herbs from the garden plus whatever vegetables from the garden really need using up (grated zucchini, green peppers, carrots, finely chopped chard and mustard greens). Pasta sauce is terrific for using up bendy carrots and wilty greens.

I use my food processor to chop everything but the garlic. I begin by adding oil to a very large stock pot. Then I add the chopped onions. I heard somewhere, many years ago, that it's best to saute your onions before adding any other vegetables. Doing this first, cooks the bitterness out. After the onions are looking translucent, I add the carrots (which I've rough chopped first, then put through the food processor until fairly small bits). Next I add the garlic and cook for a few minutes.

the best utensil for stirring anything that will scorch onto the bottom of the pot

I add all the tomato paste and liquid (water, soup stock, wine, or any combination). Tomato paste has a tendency to scorch, so I use my handy pot stirrer (a flat edged metal spatula, the same one I use when making pudding and yogurt). I bring to a boil, while stirring, then reduce heat and add all my herbs. For this batch that I made yesterday, I used primarily oregano, basil, black pepper and salt. But as it's such a large batch I thought I'd add just a pinch of a few other herbs/seeds -- a pinch of caraway, marjoram, and one sage leaf crumbled.

There's this idea that you need to let pasta sauce cook for hours. I think you wind up with a canned taste when you cook it for that long. I prefer a fresher taste, so only simmer mine for 1 hour total. After the herbs are added, I simmer for about 30-40 minutes, then I add the remaining vegetables (the ones that I really want the freshness to come through). In this case, it was the green peppers, minced, and the mustard greens, finely chopped in the food processor. I cooked for 20 minutes, then turned off the stove and allowed to cool for a half hour before scooping into containers. This made just under 11 quarts.

I'm not really going to freeze the jar of sauce. I just thought it looked pretty in glass for the fridge

I realize that most of you are not crazy enough or desperate enough to prepare institutional quantities of food. If you're wanting to make smaller batches of pasta/pizza sauce, here's a rough idea of how much of what to use. For every can of tomato paste, use two cans of water. With regards to vegetables, for enough sauce for dinner for 4-6 people, use 1-2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 onion, 1 spoonful oil, handfuls of any other veggies, large spoonful of oregano, basil, pinch sugar, pepper, any other herbs, and about 1/2 teaspoon salt.

If you're interested in quantities of ingredients, here's what I used yesterday:

1/4 cup (60 mL) canola oil
4 onions
2 carrots
1 full head of garlic
1  111 oz. can tomato paste (that's about 3  1/2 quarts, or 3.3 L)
about 6 to 7 quarts (5.5 L - 6.6 L) of water (roughly twice the amount of tomato paste)
large handful of dried, whole oregano leaves
small palmful of dried basil
black pepper
2-3 tablespoons (30-45 mL) salt
pinch sugar (someone once told me that when cooking with canned tomato products, you should use a pinch of sugar to offset the acidity)
pinch additional herbs from cupboards
2 green peppers
plateful of leafy greens (I used mustard greens, as that's what I needed to get rid of, spinach or chard would be better, IMO)

The standard size jar of pasta sauce is about 26 oz. here in the US. My batch made about 13 & 1/2 jars worth of pasta sauce. My cost was about $6.60, or about 48 cents per 26 oz jar. Batch cooking the pasta/pizza sauce saves money, time (I spend 1 morning making enough sauce for 13-14 meals), and I saved some bendy carrots, some green peppers on their last legs, and some wilty mustard greens from the compost.

I use this sauce on pasta (obviously), on chicken for an easy Chicken Cacciatore, as pizza sauce, over Italian sausage links, over meatloaf, as liquid in rice -- you get the picture. I go through a lot of pasta/pizza sauce.

And now I can check an item off of August's to-do list!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Carol!
      It keeps me sane in September to have some things ready to go.
      Thanks for visiting!

  2. Thanks for the tip about not cooking the sauce for so long that it tastes "canned."

    Cooking once and eating multiple times is my mantra so I am thrilled to see you employing this technique. It's really the best thing a busy mom can do in order to keep pace with family life!

    Have you ever gotten together with a bunch of pals or relatives and prepped a month's worth of meals for the freezer? Sounds like fun to me...I heard a Toastmaster's speech about it once and to prove her point, she brought frozen treats to share.

    EVERYbody has such great ideas! Especially YOU, Lili! It's fun to sit in your circle.

    Mother Connie

    1. Hi Connie!
      It's so much fun to have others in the kitchen, all working together. I've done it with making salsa, had a friend over. The two of us split the work and eat had several jars of salsa after a fun afternoon together.

      Doing a month's worth of meals with friends, now there's an idea I may employ this fall!

      Thanks for dropping in!

  3. Great post! I too buy the institutional cans of sauce to use in my frugal kitchen. They can be a big money saver and like you have done the extras can go in the freezer for other meals at a later date.

    1. Hi Belinda!
      I am so glad someone else out there buys the jumbo restaurant size cans of stuff. I buy ketchup this way too. Once opened, most of it gets poured into a plastic shortening bucket and kept in the fridge, and we refill the family ketchup dispenser as needed. Ketchup is practically half price this way.


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