Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Beyond Marinara: Ode to Tomato-less Pasta

When I found out I couldn't eat tomatoes, I mourned the loss of my beloved spaghetti marinara. I ate a lot of alfredo at first, but even my high metabolism can't keep up with loads of cream sauce. And then I married a man who can't do lactose.

There are tons of other alternatives to marinara, like pesto and roasted red pepper sauce. If you're following a low-acid diet, you can find plenty of recipes for both without lemon juice or other offenders. A good roasted red pepper sauce (like this one) can take the place of marinara in lasagna and other pasta dishes.

I also adore this creative recipe for "no-mato" sauce from the IC Network:

"NoMato" Spaghetti Sauce

Ingredients for basic sauce:
6 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small beet, peeled and chopped

1 onion, peeled and quartered (can substitute leek or onion powder)
1 celery stalk, sliced

1 whole bay leaf
1-1/2 cups water 
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, minced  

1 teaspoon dried basil and 1 teaspoon dried oregano OR 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1 cup mushrooms -- I like baby portobello 
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 T. soy sauce or pinch of salt
2 heaping tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water 

Place the first five ingredients in a pot and boil, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf, and puree with an immersion (or regular) blender. Add water as needed until mixture has the consistency of tomato sauce. Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium-high heat, saute the minced onion, garlic, and dried herbs for five minutes. Add mushrooms and saute 10 minutes more.

Add basic sauce and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors. Season with salt or soy sauce to taste. Place cornstarch in a small container and add water slowly while stirring. Stir until thoroughly dissolved in all the water. Add to sauce while it cooks, stirring until thickened. Sometimes the sauce is thick enough without any cornstarch.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can tailor it to suit your tastes. The mushrooms are optional, and you might prefer different kinds of seasoning. I like to add goat cheese at the end.

Finally, I make a lot of no-sauce pasta, like this one:

No-sauce Pantry Pasta

12 oz. whole-wheat spaghetti
1-2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 jar roasted red peppers or 2 red peppers, roasted and peeled
¼ to ½ cup pine nuts
1 T. fresh mint, chopped
dried or fresh basil
Parmesan cheese, grated
Black pepper

Boil spaghetti according to package directions. Before draining, reserve 1 cup pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan at medium-high heat. Toast pine nuts in the pan, about four minutes or until lightly browned. Remove and set aside. Cut peppers into thin strips and sauté in 1 T. olive oil for about five minutes. If using dried herbs, add to the pan and cook another minute. Remove pan from heat, and add fresh herbs and pine nuts. Add enough of the reserved pasta water to make it all stick together. I also added a touch of olive oil at this point. Serve with plenty of Parmesan and black pepper.

Notes: I like to roast peppers under the broiler. Heat oven broiler to high, place whole peppers on a baking sheet lined with foil, and broil them until skin is charred. It usually takes me about 5-10 minutes on each side. Jarred pre-roasted peppers are a great shortcut, but watch for other ingredients, especially if you’re on a low-acid diet. They're often preserved in vinegar or citric acid. I can get away with using certain brands with citric acid as the last ingredient, as long as I drain, rinse, and dry the peppers before using.

Substitute whatever is in your pantry or safe for your diet.
For the spaghetti: any type of pasta, white or wheat
For the peppers: spinach, peas, zucchini, kalamata olives (careful though: often preserved in vinegar)
For the pine nuts: chopped almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts
For the mint and basil: oregano, Italian seasoning
For the Parmesan: Pecorino, feta, or goat cheese

This particular version had no onions or garlic, but you could easily sauté minced garlic and chopped onion before you add the peppers. Sometimes I like to add golden raisins with the peppers. I love the combination of raisins and mint. If you’d like to add meat, crispy prosciutto or shredded chicken would work well.

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