About 18 months ago when my family cut out processed foods and added sugars, the biggest change to our diet was the sudden lack of tomatoes. Tomato sauce, ketchup, barbeque sauce, and even cans of roasted tomatoes have tomato paste as an ingredient and can add up to a lot of extra sugar, especailly when there is already additional cane sugar or sweeteners added. The tomato paste is essentially boiled and condensed tomatoes, with no fiber so the digestive system treats it like straight sugar.
It was quite the shock to stop eating canned tomatoes when we stopped eating processed foods, although I have since found some brands that do not have added tomato paste or puree. By now, I am in the habit of cooking the tomatoes from scratch and the flavor is so good, I don’t think I can ever go back! I make a basic marinara. I use Giada DeLaurentiis’ Simple Tomato Sauce recipe as a guideline, but get deeper flavors from roasting tomatoes from scratch, tripling the garlic and carrots, and adding some deep red wine as it simmers. I served this last night for dinner and it went over really well.
I have found a much better, tastier replacement for canned tomatoes: homemade oven-roasted tomatoes. I just give quartered or chopped tomatoes a light toss in olive oil and sometimes remove the seeds, depending on my mood and the recipe. For instance in a marinara or chili, I leave the seeds in because they will go into the food processor, but for ratatouille I seed them before roasting because they are eaten as is. Roasting the tomatoes takes about an hour, but I usually just wash and cut veggies until the tomatoes need to be flipped and then finish the sauce while I start the pasta water to boil.
The flavor of the roasted tomatoes is unreal–so sweet and rich and combined with the charred flavor of the roasted red peppers the marinara has a lot of depth, unlike flat, watery canned tomatoes.
Produce selection is really important when cooking a dish with just a few ingredients, especially the tomatoes. We are lucky to have a local greenhouse that provides perfect tomatoes all year round so they are really ripe and not just red on the outside due to some ethylene gas chemical reaction, like most commercial tomatoes. I don’t use organic tomatoes for this recipe, because only cherry tomatoes are on the “dirty dozen” list.
Homemade Marinara (serves 4)
15 tomatoes, whatever is freshest (if using larger heirloom variety, 8 tomatoes is probably sufficient)
1 yellow onion–Vidalias if they are in season–diced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch carrots (about 6 carrots)
2 red peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 for tomatoes
1-2 bay leaf
1/4 cup fresh basil or 1 Teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano
1/8 Teaspoon salt
1 Cup water
1/2 Cup red wine
Preheat oven to 375.
Cut tomatoes into 3-4 pieces each and place seed side up on a parchment lined cookie sheet
Use a basting brush to cover tomatoes in oil, plus salt and pepper
Place tomatoes in oven for 55 minutes, flipping after about 30 minutes
Use open flame to char red pepper skins, turning as they cook (or use an outdoor grill or place on pan sheet with tomatoes)
Place charred red peppers in a heat proof bowl for 5-15 minutes to steam
Rinse in roasted red peppers cold water to remove burnt skins and chop and dice the peppers
Shred carrots using food processor or box grater. Any weird carrot bits that wont go through the food processor, just chop or dice
Heat 2 Tbspn Olive oil over medium heat in a pot big enough to cook the marinara- I use a 4.5 Qt dutch oven
Cook the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes on medium heat until translucent (I like to go a minute longer and get them a little browned and caramelized for extra flavor)
Add the shredded carrots and salt and cook for about 5 minutes
Add the roasted red peppers and oven roasted tomatoes and stir for one minute
Add 1 Cup water and 1/2 cup red wine and bay leaf
Simmer and reduce sauce until it thickens, about one hour
After removing the bay leaf, use a blender or food processor to blend the marinara to a nice consistency, I prefer a chunkier consistency
Add herbs and heat on low heat until ready to serve
Serve over pasta, spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles
Top with a sauteed broccoli, zucchini, or cherry tomatoes
Season with or serve along side crushed red peppers
Items from the olive bar would make a great appetizer- the spicy olive mix and peppadew peppers are my favorites
Serve with a side salad or fresh wheat ciabatta bread with olive oil or extra sauce (there should be enough extra marinara for dipping)