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 on 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 ragù, 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 two (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes in juice. (For the purest flavor, use whole peeled tomatoes packed in juice, but diced, crushed or passata will do.)
In a large pot, heat 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil over medium-low. Add 1/2 cup finely chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until completely softened and lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon minced garlic until fragrant, 1 minute, then add the puréed tomatoes, 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and bring to a simmer. Partly cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 50 minutes. Season to taste with salt. (Makes 5 cups.)
To freeze, cool the sauce completely and portion in resealable plastic bags or plastic containers, in 1- or 2-cup 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 2 minute increments, stirring, until thawed.
1. Tomato-Chickpea Stew With Wilted Greens
In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil over medium. Add 1/2 cup thinly sliced bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 3 minutes. Add 1 cup thinly sliced onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves and 5 cups chopped kale or spinach and season with salt and pepper. Cook until greens are wilted, about 2 minutes.
Add 2 cups thawed tomato sauce, 1 cup water, one (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer until stew is thickened, about 8 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta, rice or with crusty bread. Garnish with grated Parmesan. Makes 2 to 4 servings.
2. 20-Minute Meat Ragù
In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium. Add 1/2 cup each finely chopped onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves until fragrant, 1 minute. Add 1 pound ground beef or pork, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until browned, about 3 minutes.
Add 2 cups thawed tomato sauce and 1/2 cup water and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and cook until ragù is well blended and saucy, about 5 minutes. Serve over pasta. Makes 4 servings.
3. Creamy Tomato and Parmesan Polenta
In a large saucepan, bring 3 1/2 cups water, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme to a boil. Slowly whisk in 1 cup quick-cooking polenta until smooth. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, whisking frequently, until thickened and tender, about 8 minutes.
Stir in 1/2 cup thawed tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Divide into bowls. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with more Parmesan and black pepper. Makes 2 to 4 servings.
4. Spicy Cauliflower Curry
In a large pot, heat 1/4 cup neutral oil over medium. Add 1/2 cup finely chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons minced garlic and 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add 2 tablespoons Madras curry powder, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes and stir until well blended, 1 minute. Add 2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups thawed tomato sauce, 2 cups bite-size cauliflower florets, 1 1/2 cups peeled, 1-inch-diced potatoes and 1/2 cup thinly sliced peeled carrots and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over medium-low until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
Stir in 1/2 cup frozen peas and simmer, uncovered, until sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and season with salt and pepper. Finish with chopped cilantro or scallions and serve over rice, with lime wedges, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup thawed tomato sauce, 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons minced shallot, 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar, 1 small grated garlic clove and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Whisk well. Serve over salad greens, or drizzle over grilled steak, roasted chicken or sautéed fish. Makes 1 cup.
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup thawed tomato sauce, 1/4 cup finely chopped onion or shallot, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro and 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh chile. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Makes 1 1/4 cups.