I used to eat marinara sauce straight from the jar, with a spoon. Cold.
Seriously, I love red sauce, pasta sauce, marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, whatever you want to call it. I loved it far more than I ever loved pasta - most of the time, pasta always made me feel like crap. These days, I understand that it was the wheat allergy and gluten intolerance rearing its ugly head. But a good red sauce? Like heaven. I'd used it on anything from vegetables to rice to baked potatoes, and forget the pasta all together. Spaghetti sauce on spelt toast with A LOT of garlic powder was a common late night snack. And my vegetable sautées doused with spaghetti sauce were, if I do say so myself, EPIC.
Anyway, for reasons beyond my control and understanding, I developed an allergy to tomatoes, in both the IgG and the IgE reactions. Damn.
So, I've been off tomatoes now for about a year and a half. I truly miss tomatoes. And they seem to be in almost everything - avoiding tomatoes can be a real pain in the a**, especially this time of year. There are gorgeous tomatoes everywhere in late summer, you almost trip over them walking down the street, and I used to relish in the bounty of all of them back in the day. I used to eat tomatoes like apples, straight from my hand, juices running down my chin. I'd keep bowls of cherry tomatoes on my counter and eat them like candy. Big ones I'd stuff them with tuna salad and bake until warm and bubbly. A big juicy tomato slice with a fried egg is amazing (it also turns out I'm allergic to eggs). Tomatoes, avocado, sprouts and blob of hummus? Divine. I'd put tomatoes in chili, in soups, in kitchiri. The all-time favorite? Caprese salad, perfect in its simplicity.
And of course, marinara sauce. The good stuff.
Oh yeah, and ketchup. Annie's Organic Ketchup, specifically. I used to be quite the condiment freak, and would go through a bottle of ketchup pretty darn quick.
These days, I've learned to move past tomatoes, substituting other things for them in recipes, and giving up some recipes all together. I even came up with a pretty amazing fermented beet ketchup/BBQ sauce that I'm working on a hard and fast recipe for. But my heart still aches for them. I yearn to pick a warm, ripe tomato off the vine, feel its heaviness in my hand, and imagine how I will use it.
In my tomato elimination process, I came across a recipe for beet sauce in Paul Pitchford's Healing with Whole Foods. My love for beets is just as deep as my love for tomatoes, so I was immediately hooked. Beets make a great pasta sauce that works perfectly in lasagna (Tinkyada rice lasagna noodles are awesome), is beautiful over spaghetti squash or pasta, makes a good pizza sauce, and is awesome dumped over vegetables. Dip your favorite GF bread into it, and it will take you back to breadsticks and red sauce. Tomato free spaghetti sauce is awesome.
This is the version that has started emerging from my kitchen, adapted from Paul's with a few small changes here and there. Seasoned with the classic savory blend of onions, celery, and carrots, chopped garlic, and garden-fresh basil and parsley, it will made your mouth happy and serve as the perfect substitute for pasta sauce in just about anything. Tomorrow for lunch, I'm eating it dumped over some spaghetti squash and local ground beef...yum. Does it taste like tomato-based sauce? No. That's because it isn't made of tomatoes, it is made of beets. Nothing else tastes like tomatoes other than tomatoes. But it is good on its own for what it is; rich and thick and chunky, sweet and savory, and deeply ruby red. Lovely, flavorful, versatile, and fresh.
So, head over to your local farmer's market, buy yourself a big bag of beets, some carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and the last of summer's parsley and basil, and whip yourself up a batch. Support local agriculture and your tomato nostalgia at the same time. Heck, even if you can eat tomatoes, this stuff is still great. And it freezes like a dream, so eat some fresh and freeze or can the rest for leftovers. With sauce like this, tomato free living just ain't that bad.
adapted from Paul Pitchford's Healing with Whole Foods
yield 8 cups
2 lbs beets (about 8 mediumish beets)
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
small handful fresh basil, minced
small handful fresh parsley, minced
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
4 cups filtered water
1 Tbsp kuzu starch dissolved in 2 T water
1/2 tsp salt
a few turns of fresh cracked pepper
In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Leaving skins on, wash beets, and place in pot. Cover and let boil until beets are tender.
While beets boil, wash and chop vegetables.
Drain beets and place in a bowl of cold water, adding fresh cold water as needed. Let sit 10 minutes.
While beets cool, heat olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed stockpot over medium-low heat. Add onions, and saute for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and celery, and saute for a 5 more minutes. Then add carrots, and saute for a few more.
Once beets have cooled, slide off their skins. If having a hard time, run under cool water.
Coarsely chop peeled beets and place in blender in batches with 4 cups of water. Blend until thick and almost totally smooth.
Add beet puree to sauteed vegetables, turn up heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and let simmer a few minutes. Add dissolved kuzu, and stir until thickened. Add basil and parsley, and salt and pepper to taste, let cook on low for a few minutes to season through.
Serve immediately or cool and freeze.
add cooked ground beef, turkey, bison, or chicken for meat sauce, or some kind of crumbled soy product if you do soy
add sauteed spinach, kale, arugula, or chard
add other vegetables, like mushrooms or zucchini
for a puttanesca style sauce, try adding red chili flakes, capers, anchovy paste, and extra olive oil