I’ve been cooking and experimenting in the kitchen since I can remember. One of my earliest memories of becoming absolutely obsessed with cooking is the day I fell in love with Rachael Ray after seeing her very first episode of 30 Minute Meals. From then on, I didn’t miss an episode. I remember her making tons of pasta dishes and saucy “stoups” (which is a mixture of a stew and a soup), and watching all of her different variations come together so quickly. This definitely helped to inspire me to experiment with sauces myself. Over the years, my skills have become more diverse and my experiments more varied, but one thing still holds true; sauces are my favorite recipes to play around with.
Sauces are particularly good for diet restriction because it’s easy to make vegan and gluten-free sauces that everyone will enjoy, and then each person can easily customize their own plate to suit their needs. If you have a great sauce recipe (whether it be a tomato based pasta sauce or a homemade enchilada sauce), it will make the rest of the dish flavorful and satisfying. Meat eaters can add meat, vegans can add pasta, vegetarian’s can add cheese and gluten-free-ers can use any grain of their choice. But no matter who is eating and what their customizations are, everyone is enjoying essentially the same cuisine.
Customization and diet-restrictions may not be on everyone’s mind, but it’s definitely something I think about on the reg. Firstly, because I’m a vegetarian who is always cooking for meat-eaters. And secondly, because one of my career dreams is to be a private chef and meal delivery specialist catering to specific dietary needs (or another role that focuses on this same concept, that’s tbd). This is where sauces really come in handy. Focus on a tasty sauce that anyone can eat and add accompaniments accordingly to satisfy different diets. It’s a winning formula.
The recipe I made today is for a vegan Ratatouille-style sauce, which is overflowing with fresh vegetables like eggplant, red bell pepper and zucchini. The flavor is robust and hearty, but it’s really only vegetables, canned tomatoes and dried herbs in this sauce. I came up with this recipe with the intention of making a Ratatouille Lasagna later in the week, and let me tell you, I’m super excited about that. But this sauce on its own is totally killer. Serve with pasta (gluten-free or otherwise), crusty bread, grilled meat, Parmesan cheese, fresh basil (or anything else you can think of), and voila, everyone is happy. So if you’ve got some fussy eaters in the house or you’re cooking for a crowd with particularities when it comes to food, make your meals customizable. Trust me when I say, this sauce is a great place to start.
Hearty Ratatouille Sauce
Serves: 6-8 Start to Finish: 1 hr 15 min
Eggplant, 2 lbs approximately
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
5-6 cloves Garlic
1 large Onion
2 Red Bell Peppers
3 medium Zucchini
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
1 teaspoon dried Basil
1 teaspoon Fennel Seed
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
1 teaspoon dried Parsley
1 teaspoon dried Thyme
28 oz canned organic Diced Tomatoes*
1 tablespoon Agave Nectar (or other sweetener)
Trim eggplant and cut into large bite size pieces. In a colander, toss with 1 teaspoon sea salt. Allow to sit while other veggies are prepped.
Peel and mince garlic. Peel and dice onion. Remove stem, seeds and ribs from bell peppers. Cut into large bite size pieces. Trim zucchini and cut into large bite size pieces.
In a large skillet, heat oil and garlic over medium heat. When garlic is sizzling for about a minute, add onions. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Rinse eggplant cubes in commander under cold water. Add eggplant to pan. Cook for 5 minutes. When eggplant begins to soften, add bell peppers. After another 5 minutes, add zucchini. Cook for another 5 minutes, tossing as needed.
Salt veggies to taste and add all other seasonings. Cook for 5 minutes, then add canned tomatoes. Salt to taste. I added 3 teaspoons of sea salt total. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove lid, add agave, and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
*I try to use canned tomatoes with no added salt, this time I used a salted variety. This affects how much salt you add to the sauce so salt accordingly
**I’m adding the veggies to the pan in stages mostly because I needed to wait for some to cook down before I could fit any more in the pan.
***You can also use an Italian seasoning blend instead of the individual herbs