I like to make a batch of pasta sauce in the crockpot, then freeze it to be available for quick dinners. I make it vegetarian, but usually add meat to it as I prepare it for a meal. Of course, pasta sauce is readily available in jars and cans. However, I feel that my sauce is healthier, and less expensive than what is in the store. I like that I know exactly what is in it. And it is super easy to make!
I use the sauce, of course, for pasta. But I also use it as our pizza sauce. I love that when my kids (and other picky kids I know) eat my homemade pizza with my sauce on it, they are eating plenty of vegetables without complaint!
Sneaky Veggie Pasta Sauce
1 100-ounce can Crushed Tomatoes (I get a giant can of Contadina Crushed Tomatoes for less than $3 at Costco!)
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped (or more if you are me!)
1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 package chopped frozen spinach
3 cups vegetables, chopped or grated
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
Note on the veggies:
You can use fresh, frozen, or jarred veggies including: zucchini, carrots, yellow squash, celery, mushrooms, red or yellow peppers, roasted red peppers, or anything else you want. The smaller they are cut, the less noticable they will be in the sauce, but you will still get all the nutrition. I actually put baby carrots in the food processor and pulverize them! You can also use more or less than the recipe states. It is very forgiving!
Saute onions in olive oil in pan on stove until they are translucent. If you are using other raw veggies (celery, mushrooms, carrots) you can add them to the cooked onions and saute further. This helps bring out the flavors of the vegetables. Place crushed tomatoes in crock pot (I usually take a couple cups out of the can to make salsa and use the rest for sauce... like I said, it is very forgiving!) and add tomato paste. I use a wisk to make sure the tomato paste is broken up and incorporated with the tomatoes. Add the seasonings, onions, other vegetables, and stir. Add the frozen spinach. Set crock pot to low and let cook for 8-10 hours! After about 1-2 hours you can stir to distribute the spinach (or thaw it before you add it at the beginning). When my kids used to ask what the spinach was in the sauce, I would just tell them "seasonings"!
This will make a lot of sauce! I freeze it in 2.5 cup, square Ziploc containers, which is enough sauce for our family of five. For dinner, I simply thaw it on the counter during the day, in the fridge overnight, or, if I didn't plan well, quickly in the microwave! I reheat it on the stove in a pan, and usually add about 1.5 cups of cooked ground beef to it (I pre-cook all my ground beef and freeze it ahead as well).
For pizza, I also freeze smaller portions of this sauce in a 1 cup Ziploc container to use as pizza sauce. Once thawed, I can easily spread it on pizza dough, pitas, or english muffins for our make-your-own pizza night! Again, I have had no complaints about my veggie-laden sauce!