One spring pasta sauce four ways

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Nothing is more versatile than a light tomato sauce brimming with vegetables, as it changes dramatically depending on the ingredients you add and the pasta you present with it.

This chunky sauce assumes a different persona with cheese tortellini and mushrooms, versus rigatoni and garlic meatballs.

When preparing this tomato sauce, I often double the recipe and freeze half. Once everyone has forgotten that tomato sauce and ziti I served a couple of weeks earlier, I defrost the other half and turn it into a casserole layered with angel hair pasta and mozzarella cheese. It’s a tasty, satisfying meal on a night when there’s limited time to cook.

I love this sauce because it complements both dairy and meat menus. Better yet, this is a foolproof recipe. Just give it an occasional stir as it simmers. The variations call for ingredients you may already have on hand or can buy at any supermarket.

Even though May is the month when many people start barbecuing, I like to serve pasta with a sauce as delicate as springtime on nights when I don’t fire up the grill.

Note: When preparing the three variations below, make the Chunky Vegetable Tomato Sauce beforehand.

Chunky Vegetable Tomato Sauce

Pareve

Yields enough sauce to cover a 1-pound box of pasta

Serves 6

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

6 cloves of garlic, minced

2 celery stalks, diced fine

2 carrots, diced fine

4 Italian plum tomatoes, diced

1 28-ounce can of peeled tomatoes

1 cup of vegetable broth

1 6-ounce can of tomato paste

1 pound box of any kind of pasta

Kosher salt, to taste

Directions

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté for 2 minutes on a low flame, until fragrant. Add the celery, carrots, plum tomatoes and salt. Stir to combine. Stir every couple of minutes until the celery and carrots start sweating and the tomatoes begin to give off sauce, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the can of peeled tomatoes, including the juice. Crush the canned tomatoes with a spoon. Pour in the vegetable broth. Spoon in the tomato paste. Fill the can with water and pour it into the pot. Stir to combine.

Cover the pot and simmer on a very low flame for 2½ minutes, or until the sauce thickens.

Prepare the pasta according to the package directions. Serve the sauce immediately over the pasta. Or cool the sauce to room temperature, place it in a covered, non-metallic container, and freeze; or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Tomato Sauce with Garlic Meatballs

Meat

Yields enough sauce to cover a 1-pound box of pasta

Serves 6

Ingredients

Chunky Vegetable Tomato Sauce

1¼ pounds ground turkey, chicken or beef

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of olive oil (no oil is needed if using a stick-resistant skillet)

1-pound box of any kind of pasta

Kosher salt, to taste

Directions

Simmer the Chunky Vegetable Tomato Sauce. While the sauce is simmering, place the ground meat in a large bowl. Add the garlic and salt. Stir to combine. Form the meat into 1¼-inch meatballs, rolling them in the palm of your hand.

Brown the meatballs in a skillet and turn the flame to medium (if using a skillet without a stick-resistant surface, heat the oil on a medium-low flame first). With tongs, turn as each side browns. When browned all over, turn off the flame.

Thirty minutes before serving, move the meatballs into the tomato sauce and simmer.

Prepare the pasta according to the package directions.

Angel Hair and Tomato Sauce Casserole

Dairy

Yields enough sauce to cover a 1-pound box of pasta

Serves 4 to 6

You will need a 2- to 2½-cup soufflé dish or comparable deep, ovenproof baking dish

Ingredients

½ pound angel hair pasta

1 teaspoon olive oil

1½ to 2 cups of Chunky Vegetable Tomato Sauce, warm or at room temperature

1 pound mozzarella, cut into ¼-inch slices

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions

Prepare the pasta according to the package directions. Drain it thoroughly in a colander.

Coat the soufflé dish with olive oil. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pasta in a large mixing bowl. Spoon in the tomato sauce and mix thoroughly.

Place half of the pasta in the prepared soufflé dish. Cover with half of the mozzarella slices. Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and cover it with the remaining mozzarella. Sprinkle with Parmesan.

Place it in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the casserole is bubbling and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Tomato Sauce with Tortellini and Mushrooms

Dairy or meat

Yields enough sauce for 1½ pounds of tortellini

Serves 6

Ingredients

¼ cup of pine nuts

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound mushrooms, sliced

1½ pounds cheese or meat tortellini, depending on whether you want a dairy or meat dish

Chunky Vegetable Tomato Sauce

Kosher salt, to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees.

Evenly distribute the pine nuts on a baking sheet and roast for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Watch the nuts continually; they burn easily. Remove them from the oven and reserve.

In a large skillet, heat the oil on a medium flame. Add the mushrooms and sprinkle them with salt. Sauté until the mushrooms brown. Meanwhile, prepare the tortellini and warm the Chunky Vegetable Tomato Sauce.

Drain the tortellini and place it in a pasta bowl. Ladle on the tomato sauce. Spoon on the sliced mushrooms and sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve immediately.

Linda Morel is a food writer in Philadelphia.

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