Make a Quick Nutritious Meal

Do you ever find yourself dragging in after work, tired, hungry and ready for a quick meal? Standing in front of the refrigerator, shuffling from one foot to the next, moving to the pantry and wishing for something to fly off the shelf ready to eat? The temptation to call for pizza delivery is strong.

This week I experienced one of those nights. I was wiped out and muddling around the kitchen, my brain was tired of thinking. Coming up with an idea for supper was almost beyond the remaining energy available.

For times like this, I have found the best solution is to always stock the ingredients for one or two simple meals. One of our Farm favorites is pasta with homemade marinara.

Pasta is a simple food, quick to prepare and easy to find a dried version that has limited mystery ingredients. Our marinara is made in the summer when tomatoes are plentiful, then frozen in one cup portions. (You can find the recipe in my book Simply Delicious, but if you stock canned crushed tomatoes and Italian herbs in your pantry, you can make an excellent version.)

On this particular evening I did not want to eat meat so used mushrooms sauteed with garlic in olive oil to give a meaty texture and extra flavor to the sauce. Pour over hot pasta and serve.

Pasta like this needs a green salad. We were blessed to have fresh late season garden lettuce and a few remaining tomatoes. The tomatoes were picked green just before frost and allowed to ripen in the garage. I added some crumbled home made buttermilk cheese, salt, pepper and a simple dressing of balsamic glaze and olive oil.

In less than thirty minutes a salad, pasta and bread were on the table. My desire for fast home-cooked natural food was satisfied.

The time it took to prepare and freeze the sauce in the summer made tonight’s meal warm, easy and satisfying.

You can do this too. Decide on a few meals with simple quick cooking ingredients that can be stored in your pantry or freezer. Keep those items on hand and you will be ready to fix a homemade meal at a moment’s notice. You will be glad you did.

Pasta with Marinara for Two

1 cup home made frozen marinara or 1 can crushed tomatoes + 2 tsp Italian herb seasoning blend

4 ounces diced fresh button mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp olive oil

Pasta of choice cooked according to package directions

Heat olive oil in saute pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes, then add garlic. Continue to cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. If using canned crushed tomatoes and Italian herbs, add the herbs and saute for 1 minute, then add canned tomatoes. If using home made tomato sauce, add to the mushroom mixture and cook until flavors are blended and heated through. Serve over hot pasta.

Making Tomato Sauce

Making food from scratch can take time. One of the main reasons busy people don’t make food from scratch is this time commitment. 

But, there is a way to fit home made food into a busy schedule. Here’s an example of how we did homemade tomato sauce in several stages to fit our schedule. 

Think in small batches

Almost no one has an entire day to devote to processing a large bunch of produce and completing it all in one day. If you do find yourself with a free Saturday and bushels of tomatoes, these steps can all be crunched into one day. That is a rarity for us, so breaking it down into small steps is a necessity.

Pick the tomatoes

  
Don’t plan to do anything else. Just pick tomatoes. Tomatoes will keep at room temperature for 3-4 days depending on the ripeness when picked. It is ok to pick a bit underipe and finish on a window sill or kitchen counter. 

Peel and seed.

Prepare a pot of simmering water and a pan or sink of ice water. Drop the tomatoes in the simmering water for 30-45 seconds, then plunge into the ice bath. Skins will slip off easily. Slice the tomatoes in half horizontally, squeeze out the seeds (sometimes it helps to dig them out with your finger), cut out the core, and quarter the tomatoes. Unless you are sensitve to tomato seeds, it is not necessary to get out every single seed. Cover and refrigerate the tomatoes for up to 2 days. 

Sometimes we stretch this step out over a couple of days if needed to get all of the tomatoes peeled, seeded and cut. 

Season and bake.  

 Yes, bake. Line a shallow baking pan with parchment paper, place tomato quarters in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil. The amount of olive oil is personal preference. At Five Feline Farm, a full baking sheet gets about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Then sprinkle with your favorite Italian herb seasoning. We like strong flavors, so we use 2-3 Tbsp. 

If you have a convection oven, convection bake at 300º. If you do not, bake at 325º, and expect about a half hour longer. Stir every hour until the tomatoes are cooked through and most of the juices have cooked off. In the convection oven this takes about 2 hours. 

This step sounds like a long time, but the actual active involvement is 15 minutes or so. In between stirring you can relax, watch TV, eat supper, or work on another household task. As a bonus, the aroma wafting from the oven is heavenly. 

After baking, pour the tomatoes into a storage bowl and refrigerate. This will hold in the fridge another day or so until you have time for the next step. 
Blend and store.

  

Use an immersion blender to quickly blend the baked tomatoes into a thick sauce. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender or food processor; however immersion blenders are fairly inexpensive and so versatile that this is really the way to go.

After blending, ladle into freezer baggies, seal and store. We typically freeze in 1 cup portions. 

When ready to use, the sauce can be thawed in the refrigerator, defrosted in the microwave and added to a recipe or thoroughly heated in the microwave. You will be tempted to eat straight from a spoon.

If you are reading this in email, thank you for being a faithful subscriber. For those of you who are on our website or connecting through Facebook/Twitter channels and would like to have posts delivered to your inbox, it’s easy to subscribe. As a bonus you’ll get a free ebook “Wisdom of the Bees”.