When I started to move toward more plant-based meals, I knew pasta sauce would be an issue. Who doesn’t love a big old plate of spaghetti? Wonderful stuff. But vegetarian pasta sauce? Hmm. At a restaurant this typically means just a tomato (marinara) sauce to coat your noodles. Tastes great, but that’s a meal of 100% simple carbs. That will not satisfy an appetite, unless you’re training for the Iron Man.
I wanted a better solution. My sauce had to be tomato-based, it needed protein and I really wanted veggies in there. I experimented with different combos and found there are lots of veggies that taste good in tomato sauce. Broccoli, for instance. Yes, broccoli. I use it frequently.
But for me, the best is sweet potato.
You know how some people recommend putting sugar in tomato sauce? It helps to counter-act the acidity of the tomatoes. The same thing is accomplished with the natural sugars in sweet potatoes.
By adding fresh spinach and tomatoes, I feel like I’ve created a (Announcer’s voice) “Superfood Pasta Sauce!!”
As for protein, this recipe calls for cannellini beans, which are so neutral in taste and smooth in texture they’re hardly noticeable amongst the veggie goodness.
There are options for the tomato base. I always have canned diced tomatoes on hand, so that’s what I typically grab to make this sauce. However, while the beans and sweet potato help thicken the sauce, it still tends to be watery. With noodles that usually is not a problem; the noodles will soak up some of the sauce.
But this time I was using zoodles, left over from my last zoodle bowl, and to keep it low carb. Zoodles aren’t going to absorb any liquid; in fact they’re going to release some of their own. So I used tomato sauce as the base, as it is a thicker “starting point.” Still loved it. It provides a texture much closer to traditional pasta sauce, so use this at first and then experiment from there. Keep in mind that beans thicken a sauce, and the first cooking step helps break them down a little. In addition, you can always just smash in a few at the end as desired.
The vegetables can be customized to whatever you have on hand, making this the perfect “I don’t have anything planned for dinner” dinner.
Note to carnivores: You’ll be so busy enjoying the veggies you won’t even notice the absence of meat!
Vegetarian Pasta Sauce
- 2 TB olive oil
- 14 oz can tomato sauce
- ¼ cup water
- 14 oz can cannellini beans rinsed and drained
- 1 medium sweet potato peeled and sliced
- 1 broccoli crown in florets
- 1 Roma tomato cubed
- 2 cups fresh spinach
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 2 tsp Italian seasoning
- Place peeled and sliced sweet potato in a microwave-safe bowl with water. Microwave, covered, 3-4 minutes until just starting to soften. Cut slices into bite-sized cubes.
- Heat large saucepan on medium heat, add oil. Add the onions and beans. Cook, stirring, for 5-7 minutes, until onion and beans are just starting to brown. Add sweet potato, then garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add chopped tomato and broccoli and pour in the tomato sauce and water.
- Add Italian seasoning and stir. Allow sauce to come to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until broccoli is crisp-tender. Turn off heat, add spinach and stir. The spinach will wilt in 30-60 seconds.
- Serve alone or with pasta/zoodles.