Meatless Monday: Stuffed Shells & Homemade Pasta Sauce

IMG_1930_1My husband and I eat like crap. I wish I could say something different, but it would be a lie. Between our full time jobs, Tommy going to school in the evening for his MBA and my little Bmore Nestled, we barely have time to do enough laundry to have clean underwear. Most evenings we throw together something easy and quick, which generally means processed. And you don’t even want to know what we eat on the weekends which are too often spent on the road (we were out of town nine out of 11 weekends this summer). So, we could stand to have something a little better in our bodies.

Which is why I have decided to take on the Meatless Monday challenge. And with this meatless meal, I am personally taking it one step further and trying to eliminate processed food on Mondays as well. My first attempt isn’t perfect, there’s a few processed ingredients here, but baby steps here, right? Enter stuffed shells and homemade pasta sauce. IMG_1852_1When I decided to make this sauce, I called my mother’s best friend since seventh grade, Patti Panasiti Carper. Not only does she have a good Italian family recipe, she also was a cook for a large university for decades and knows her way around a kitchen. She gave me all her secrets, and I tried my hardest not to mess it up.

I could have used fresh tomatoes, I should have used fresh tomatoes. But alas, I was running late and didn’t even head to the store until 6:30, so peeled canned tomatoes it is. And it only has about 1/4 the amount of sodium as regular store shelf sauce. From everything I’ve read online and from Patti herself, San Marzano are the best tomatoes to use. They’re significantly more expensive than the store brand, but I’ve been told they’re worth it, so I bought them. 

I started by chopping a large white onion.

IMG_1854_1I sauteed these onions in a few table spoons of extra virgin olive oil. While they were cooking I smashed 4 cloves of garlic. My favorite way to prepare garlic is to peel the cloves and cut them into large chunks, then I take my large knife, hold it over the chunks, and pound it down with my other hand. It minces the garlic nicely, and it is so much easier than chopping or a garlic press. I learned that from The Chew. Thanks Mario Batali!

IMG_1857_1I tossed the garlic in with the onions and sauteed it all together until I could smell the garlic and the onions turned translucent.

IMG_1862_1I added tomato paste, bay leaf, oregano, basil, fennel seed, and some crushed red pepper flakes. You don’t need the pepper flakes, but Tommy and I like a little heat in our sauce.

IMG_1870_1One tip that Patti gave me was to put the oregano on the palm of my hand and rub it slightly before you add it to the pot. It releases the oils in the oregano and makes it more flavorful. IMG_1868_1I simmered that together for a few minutes, then I added the canned tomatoes.

IMG_1874_1I let that simmer together for over an hour, letting it cook down to the thickness we like. I tried to put a lid on it so it wouldn’t splatter, but the steam kept watering down the sauce too much, so I took it off and just kept the heat low.

After it had enough time to cook down and blend the flavors together, I took the bay leaf out and used my immersion blender to smooth it all together. I added salt and pepper to taste.

IMG_1906_1So, there it is. It tastes pretty darn good. Although when I tried to give Tommy a taste of the final product, after tasting it a million times through out the process, Tommy told me he’d try it later. He was all “sauced out”.IMG_1914_1

Of course, I needed something to put this sauce on. And I could have just made spaghetti, but I figured I’d make something good to go with this sauce, I decided to make stuffed shells.

Fotor0907234159I made the sauce and the stuffed shells Sunday night, and kept them in the fridge overnight separately. When I got home from work Monday, I poured a few cups of sauce over the shells and threw them in the oven. It took some prep on Sunday, but it made Monday really easy. And I even had it ready before Tommy had to run out the door to his class. I’m excited to keep this going, and any suggestions for next week is appreciated! IMG_1929_1

Homemade Pasta Sauce Ingredient List:

  • One large onion
  • 3 to 4 cloves of garlic
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil to saute
  • 6oz can of tomato paste
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of oregano
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 to 2 bay leaf
  • 2 28oz cans of San Marzano peeled tomatoes
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Crushed Red Peppers to taste