One tomato sauce, four easy weeknight dinners

Freeze a batch of this versatile sauce in portions and you’ve got the start of some speedy and tasty meals

With the addition of a few extra ingredients, this one simple sauce can be transformed into four different meals and two versatile condiments. Photograph: Kay Chun/The New York Times

With the addition of a few extra ingredients, this one simple sauce can be transformed into four different meals and two versatile condiments. Photograph: Kay Chun/The New York Times

 

The key to a rich, nuanced tomato sauce is time. That’s the one thing most of us don’t have a lot of during the week, but making a large batch of tomato sauce at the weekend, then freezing it in small portions, can set you up for success.

With this easy, five-ingredient tomato sauce in your freezer, you’ve got the foundation of four satisfying dinners and two versatile condiments that come together fast: a hearty chickpea stew, a 20-minute meat ragu, cheesy tomato polenta, a spicy cauliflower curry, a tomato-shallot vinaigrette and a quick salsa.

The tomato sauce

In a food processor or blender, purée four 400g cans of whole peeled tomatoes in juice. (For the purest flavour, use whole peeled tomatoes packed in juice, but diced, crushed or passata will do.)

In a large pot, heat three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium-low heat. Add 75g finely chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until completely softened and lightly golden, about eight minutes. Stir in one tablespoon of minced garlic until fragrant, about one minute, then add the puréed tomatoes, 250ml water and half a teaspoon of salt and bring to a simmer. Partly cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 50 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

To freeze, cool the sauce completely and portion in resealable plastic bags or plastic containers, in 225g or 450g portions. The sauce will keep in the freezer for up to six months. To defrost, place the sauce in the refrigerator overnight. If you’re in a rush, run the sealed container under hot water to release the frozen sauce, then transfer the block to a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in two minute increments, stirring, until thawed.

The meals

1. Tomato-chickpea stew with wilted greens

Serves two to four

In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add 115g thinly sliced bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about three minutes. Add 150g thinly sliced onion and sauté until tender, about five minutes. Stir in three thinly sliced garlic cloves and 330g chopped kale or spinach and season with salt and pepper. Cook until greens are wilted, about two minutes.

Add 450g thawed tomato sauce, 250ml water, one tin of chickpeas, rinsed, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer until the stew is thickened, about eight minutes. Stir in two tablespoons of unsalted butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta, rice or with crusty bread. Garnish with grated Parmesan.

2. 20-minute meat ragu

Serves four

In a large pot, heat two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add 75g each of finely chopped onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about five minutes.

Stir in three thinly sliced garlic cloves until fragrant, one minute. Add 450g minced beef or pork, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until browned, about three minutes.

Add 450g thawed tomato sauce and 125ml water and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and cook until the ragu is well blended and saucy, about five minutes. Serve over pasta.

3. Creamy tomato and Parmesan polenta

Serves two to four

In a large saucepan, bring 800ml of water, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper and ½ teaspoon dried thyme to a boil. Slowly whisk in 160g quick-cooking polenta until smooth. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, whisking frequently, until thickened and tender, about eight minutes.

Stir in 115g thawed tomato sauce, two tablespoons unsalted butter and 50g grated Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Divide into bowls. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with more Parmesan and black pepper.

4. Spicy cauliflower curry

Serves four

In a large pot, heat three tablespoons neutral oil over medium heat. Add 75g finely chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, three minutes. Stir in two tablespoons minced garlic and one tablespoon minced fresh ginger until fragrant, about one minute.

Add two tablespoons Madras curry powder, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon chilli-pepper flakes and stir until well blended, one minute. Add 470ml water, 340g thawed tomato sauce, 650g bite-size cauliflower florets, 340g peeled, diced potatoes and 75g thinly sliced peeled carrots and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over medium-low heat until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Stir in 75g frozen peas and simmer, uncovered, until sauce is thickened, about five minutes longer. Stir in two tablespoons unsalted butter and season with salt and pepper. Finish with chopped coriander or spring onions and serve over rice, with lime wedges, if desired.

The Condiments

1. Tomato-shallot vinaigrette

In a small bowl, combine 55g thawed tomato sauce, three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, two tablespoons water, two tablespoons lemon juice, two tablespoons minced shallot, one tablespoon white wine vinegar, one small grated garlic clove and ½ teaspoon salt. Whisk well. Serve over salad greens, or drizzle over grilled steak, roasted chicken or sautéed fish.

2. Quick salsa

In a small bowl, combine 225g thawed tomato sauce, 40g finely chopped onion or shallot, two tablespoons lemon juice, two tablespoons chopped coriander and ¼ teaspoon minced fresh chilli. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. – New York Times

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