Monday, October 8, 2012

Who says you can't get excited about spaghetti?

Spaghetti is a great comfort food. Warm pasta with a tomato based sauce. Simple. Classic. Boring? It depends. I admit, I used to buy my marinara sauce from the store. Easy. Cheap. (My local supermarket has cans for $0.80 each this week.) The prepared version is loaded with preservatives, sodium and lots of things I can't pronounce. So I started making my own. It's pretty simple, really. I will make a large vat of sauce every 6-8 weeks and freeze it in family size porions. I use the sauce for spaghetti, goulash and even chicken parmesan. No batch is ever quite the same. Partially because I generally don't use a recipe and partially because I "hide" vegetables in the sauce. It's a great way to use up the veggies I have on hand, especially those that my kids aren't crazy about. And who can't use a few more vegetables in their life?

I found a recipe on Pinterest for a crock pot marinara. I liked the idea of making it in the crock pot and letting the flavors simmer and meld all day. I can't simply take a recipe and follow it, so I borrowed some ideas from the recipe I read and added my own touches and spices. I also thought I'd add up the cost to making a batch to compare to the $0.80 can from the store. Here's my recipe (for today):

2-28oz cans diced tomatoes       $5.00
1 6oz can tomato paste               $0.48
1 medium onion                         $0.29  I used a sweet onion, but use what you have/like
4 cloves garlic                            $0.05
basil (about 1T dried)                $0 from the herb garden
oregano (about 1T dried)           $0 from the herb garden
2 bay leaves                                $0.05
salt to taste                                  $0.01
black pepper                               $0.01
1T balsamic vinegar                   $0.05 even using the expensive kind, the cost is minimal
1T brown sugar                          $0.01
1 medium zucchini                     $0 from our garden
1 small-med butternut squash    $0.50 this came from a bountiful basket so very inexpensive
1# maple sausage                       $0 My dad gets a 4-H hog and shares some of the meat, optional add
TOTAL                                      $6.45

My recipe was to mince the garlic and finely chop the onion. Add to slow cooker. Add tomatoes, paste, spices, vinegar, brown sugar and some salt and pepper. Cube the zucchini and squash and add to tomato mixture. Stir well. Cook on low for 8-9 hours. If you choose to add a ground meat, brown it first, then add to the sauce after it is fully cooked.

This method gives me more than 3 quarts of sauce. If you round to an even 3 quarts, your cost is $2.15 per quart (32 oz) which will make about 6 servings. Add a standard package of pasta for $1 and you have a main dish for about $0.52 per serving! We ate ours with some lettuce greens from the garden and our whole meal was right at $0.52 per person. Granted, we were lucky to have some of the additions on hand at no cost to us, but, again, use what you have and be creative!

Here's the great part: this took very little effort on my part to prepare (thank you crock pot!) and now I have marinara sauce for 2 additional meals in my freezer. Sweet!

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