Like many families, we want to eat healthy on a budget. This means eating more veggies, which are healthier and cheaper than meat, but not always everyone's first choice. Our kids love pasta with meaty tomato sauce, so I wanted to create a sauce that had the thickness and chewiness of a meat sauce, but with vegetables instead. The yellow squash, carrots, and onions add sweetness and texture to the tomatoes. "Roasting" the veggies ahead of time makes them even sweeter and brings out their full flavor.
The veggies are cooked in the slow cooker and then finished as one of three possible meals: a pasta sauce; a creamy, blended soup; or a hearty, minestrone-style soup. If you work during the day, complete Step 1 the night before. The next morning, complete Step 2 and let it cook on “low” all day while you are at work. The cooking time is flexible. When you get home, you can finish the meal quickly, using any of the 3 suggestions below.
We made the pasta sauce version, and it was a hit with my two boys. Each of them ate two servings at supper time and will even eat the leftovers, too. I added half of the entire batch of sauce to one box of whole-grain spaghetti. I froze the rest and plan to re-use it for the creamy soup version. You could also make a batch and freeze half of the un-pureed version to finish as minestrone at a later date (adjust pasta and bean quantities accordingly).
The yellow squash and carrots give the sauce/ cream soup version a distinctively orange color. If you’re worried that your family will balk at pasta sauce that isn’t bright red, try substituting one red bell pepper for one of the squash. It will also add a sweet, hearty flavor. I would not recommend substituting zucchini for either of the pureed versions, as this will create a browner, less appealing color. Half zucchini and half squash would be great for the minestrone version, however.
Slow Cooker Veggies
2 yellow squash, quartered and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
1 T canola oil OR non-stick cooking spray
2 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
Coat your slow cooker with canola oil or cooking spray. Add the vegetables and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook on High for 1 hour.
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes (do not drain)
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 8-oz can plain tomato sauce
1 T Italian herb blend
1 T minced garlic
1/2 t red pepper flakes
2 T balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Add all ingredients except salt and pepper to the vegetable mixture. Cook on Low for 7-8 hours or High for 4 hours (including finishing times, below) until vegetables are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Finish in one of the following ways:
Step 3 (your choice):
1. Pasta Sauce
Blend the sauce until it is finely pureed. An immersion blender works best for this, or you can take out about 2 cups at a time for your free-standing blender. For best results, allow the sauce to cook for about another hour before serving. Makes 14 half-cup servings. Serve over pasta with a green salad on the side for a complete meal.
Nutrition Information for Pasta Sauce
62 calories, 3 g fat, 0.3 g saturated fat. 194 mg sodium. 7.7 g carbohydrates, 1.7 grams fiber. 1.7 g protein. Vitamin A, 29%, Vitamin C, 29%, Calcium 3%, Iron 2%.
2. Creamy Vegetable Soup
Puree as above but add one 12oz. can of evaporated milk before serving. Makes 8 one-cup servings. Complete the meal with grilled cheese and fresh fruit.
Nutrition for Creamy Vegetable Soup:
173 calories, 8.3 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat. 391 mg sodium, 18 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber. 6 g protein. Vitamin A, 53%, Vitamin C, 51%, Calcium 17%, Iron 4%.
Do not puree. Prepare 2 cups (measured dry) whole-wheat shaped pasta, such as penne or macaroni. While the pasta is cooking, add 1 can (drained, rinsed) or 1.5 cups large cooked beans, such as red kidney or Cannellini. Stir in the cooked pasta just before serving. Serve with breadsticks and a green salad. Makes 10 generous servings.
Nutrition for Minestrone:
165 calories, 4.8 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat. 283 mg sodium, 27 g carbohydrates, 5.5 g fiber. 6 g protein. Vitamin A, 40%, Vitamin C, 41%, Calcium 6%, Iron 9%.
Nutrition information provided by MyFoodDiary.com.