A homemade tomato sauce, spring vegetables, and garden beginnings

March 24th, 2010

Spring Pasta by lkwm on dRc

“I would like to have a garden,” my husband said to me shortly after we were first married.

“Whatever for?” I thought to myself; “There is a grocery and a farmer’s market less than a mile down the road where I can easily buy anything we need, and I have little interest in tilling the ground in my spare time.”

So, like the congenial newlywed I was attempting to be, I said little, and figured this too would pass, as well intended ideas often do.

Cabbage in sunlight

However, come early spring of that first matrimonial year, lo and behold, Brian went out and bought stacks upon stacks of seed starting trays, a pile of organic starter soil bags, and a whole host of seeds – many of which I had never heard nor seen the likes of in all my days.

Yellow pear tomatoes, purple okra, champagne bell peppers, and the most delectable yellow cucumbers, were just a few introductions made.

He pulled out old, dusty card tables and set up camp in the basement, since he was duly cautioned against “starting seeds” in the proper living spaces of my our new nest, with large florescent lights clipped to the innards of our floor joists, lit to nurture and grow the nascent seedlings.

Spring pasta

“What is it that makes you want to start the plants from seed?” I asked, all the while thinking to myself, “The nursery down the street is full of perfectly happy little plants already weeks ahead of these babies, ready and waiting for someone to give them a loving home in the fertile soil of their garden.”

It’s fun to watch things grow,” Brian replied, “Isn’t it amazing that we put the tiniest little seeds in the soil, gave them light and water, and now they are already seedlings? Look at how they lean towards the light. Don’t you just love them?”

Garden broccoliGarden broccoli

Before long, the weather was warming and the seedlings were growing impatient for a new, roomier home in the great outdoors. I still have vivid memories of standing out in our yard that first spring, virgin soil beneath my feet, shovel in hand, fighting back tears as I painstakingly tried to “turn” the dirt beneath.

It is important to know how to grow your own food,” I could hear Brian saying.

Since that time, we have grown wiser, and now Brian rents an actual tiller each spring to help with the hard labor. He calls the garden “Laura’s garden,” but really it is his, and always has been.

Sure, I make trips to the nursery with him, pick the heirloom seeds I want, and the ten new varieties of tomatoes I am compelled to try each summer, I pick some produce, but mainly, I eat the garden – which is why Brian says it is mine.

Garden broccoli in hand

The garden expands each year, last year covering a good 750 square feet with radishes, turnips, corn, tomatoes, eggplant, okra, oodles of hot peppers, mustard greens, lettuces, onions, potatoes, carrots, squash, green beans, bell peppers, sunflowers, all the herbs you could dream of, butter beans, kale, Swiss chard, honeydew, strawberries, watermelon, peas, broccoli, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini…even luffa.

We still have plants growing from the seedlings of that first garden – Greek oregano, sage, cayenne peppers, yellow and orange pear tomatoes.

It’s taken time and perspective to grow on me, but our garden is something I now cherish and eagerly anticipate each year as the last frost of winter gives way to warm sunny spring days. This year we were surprised with forgotten carrots, broccoli, and cabbage emerging from beneath the winter leaves. I have never tasted such sweet carrots, such tender, mild broccoli.

Brian is right, there is nothing like the taste of food from your own garden.

Garden carrotsGarden carrots

With so many spring vegetables coming into season, and planning to take a meal to a friend who just had a baby, I decided to make a pasta with homemade tomato sauce and spring vegetables.

The sauce is a simple saute of onion and one lone carrot in a good glug of olive oil, followed by a gentle simmer with satiny smooth textured San Marzano tomatoes. You could stop here and have yourself one beautiful homemade tomato sauce. But since it is spring, and spring’s bounty is at hand, why not add fresh artichokes, asparagus, spinach, fava beans, and young English peas, simmer another quick spell, and toss it all with a favorite pasta and gratings of fresh parmesan? It just seems like the “fitting” way to do tomato sauce this time of year, as my grandma Ruth would have said.

This sauce tastes bright from the carrot, tomatoes and vegetables, but still maintains a full bodied flavor due to the infusion of olive oil into the onions. I loved it, and I hope you do as well.

Spring pasta

Tomato sauce with olive oil, onion, and carrot

1 28 oz. can whole Itailian Roma style, plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzanos*
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea or kosher salt to taste

Saute onion and carrot in the olive oil till soft and onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add Tomatoes and simmer for at least 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened to desired consistency, breaking tomatoes apart with a wooden spoon. Serve over warm pasta with freshly grated pecorino romano cheese

Pasta with spring vegetables
Adapted liberally from Williams Sonoma’s Savoring Tuscany

1 lb. pasta, preferably rigatoni*, cooked according to package directions to al dente, adding 1-2 tablespoons coarse or rock salt to boiling water, pasta water reserved
1 recipe for Tomato sauce with olive oil, onion, and carrot
1 or 2 large fresh artichokes, tough outer leaves pulled off and cut down, hair removed, and heart cut into slices (optional)*
1/2 cup of shelled English peas
1/2 cup young, tender shelled fava (broad) beans or lima beans
1 1/2 cups stemmed spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
12 asparagus spears, tough ends removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
Sea or kosher salt to taste
freshly ground Parmesan cheese

Prepare the tomato sauce according to the above recipe, adding the artichoke pieces (if using) into the simmering sauce at the same time you add the tomatoes. Begin cooking the pasta, taking care to salt the water and reserve at least half a cup of pasta water once pasta has finished cooking.

Once artichoke slices are tender (10-15 minutes), add the other vegetables and cook in the sauce another five to ten minutes, or until vegetables are cooked and tender.

Toss the sauce with the warm pasta, using small additions of the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce and achieve desired consistency. Wait to season with salt and pepper (I prefer this sauce without pepper, as the vegetable flavors seem to stand out more this way) until finished adding desired amount of pasta water, as the water should be somewhat salty itself. Serve with the cheese sprinkled on top.

Notes: You may use any pasta for this recipe, though rigatoni or other “forkable” pasta is preferable to the spagetti you see in my pictures. I made it with rigatoni the first time, but was too rushed to take pictures, and only had spaghetti noodles in the house the second go round.

Look for Italian San Marzano tomatoes in the specialty Italian section of your grocery store. I have tried many Italian Roma tomatoes, and none break down and create a smooth, satiny sauce as well as the San Marzanos.

The fresh artichokes are nice in this dish, though they take a bit of work, so you may omit them if desired. I would not substitute canned, since canned artichokes are preserved in vinegar and would alter the entire flavor profile of the sauce. I did add some mushrooms in at the same time as the artichokes the first time around, and they were very good. Really, you could add just about any vegetables you like – or chicken (I added lemon rosemary chicken in the first batch) or shrimp, for that matter.

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Posted in Main Courses - Vegetarian | 26 Comments »

26 Responses to “A homemade tomato sauce, spring vegetables, and garden beginnings”

  1. Audrey Armstrong says:

    This looks delicious! I can’t wait to try it!

  2. Barbara says:

    I live in an apartment now, so gardens are out. But I used to have them. An herb garden; a vegetable garden; a rose garden. I loved them all and never begrudged one second I spent caring for them. It was relaxing for me.. a way to unwind from the kids. I loved it. And loved even more bringing in my fully grown and ready to eat veggies! What a thrill. And it taught my kids all about it too.

    • laura says:

      Barbara – how wonderful that you were able to pass on such a tradition to your children. My husband learned from his grandparents, and I hope all our children will continue and pass on the tradition for future generations; gardening is largely a lost art these days. I wish I liked playing in the dirt more, but regardless, it is certainly worth the effort, and the taste of the produce is incredible. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jenny says:

    I think your garden is outstanding. You all can put me to work out there any time. I would love it! (free labor) ;)

    • laura says:

      Jenny – thank you! I am not the primary gardner, and I certainly need many flower lessons (please help)!

  4. blair says:

    oh my goodness i want a garden. i suppose the herb garden in a pot my mom gave me will have to suffice until i have a backyard someday. until then i will look at your pictures! way to go!

    • laura says:

      blair – Thank you! It really is my husband who is the gardner – I plant a little, pick a little, and eat a lot!

  5. tigerfish says:

    I want my garden too! *envy*

    • laura says:

      tigerfish – Thanks! If it wasn’t for my husband, my garden would likely consist of no more than indoor herbs (which are great) – guess I lucked out! (:

  6. grace says:

    your garden sounds tremendously impressive, laura! although i like to sow seed and watch the amazing growth, the highlight for me is clearly eating the fruits of our labor. lovely images, and fabulous sauce and pasta dish–i’m keen on those favas! :)

    • laura says:

      grace – I will send the compliments on to my husband! I am with you, though, the highlight for me is eating the produce. (:

  7. Sommer says:

    I only have herb pots…and do pretty well to keep them alive! Yes, we definitely need more posts on gardening. Instructional posts!

    • laura says:

      Sommer – Left to myself, I would be lucky to keep herb pots alive. Gardening is a huge passion of Brian’s, so I will try to squeeze as much info from him as possible. (:

  8. Liz says:

    I love a good hearty red sauce. And vegetables. Lots of them.

    I am also desperately craving a garden and cannot wait to not have a shared backyard with a ridiculous sprinkler system.

    • laura says:

      Liz – Oh, I wish I had a ridiculous sprinkler system! We are not quite so sophisticated, though I am not opposed to such (would make gardening much easier)! (:

      • Liz says:

        Well, this is something that is there to keep the lawn alive and for me to trip over in bare feet.

        • laura says:

          Liz – I did not apply the “not” in your original comment to the sprinkler system – I get it now!!! They are ridiculous in the way they automatically turn on and off and spray unsuspecting passers-by (and trip you in bare feet!)! We are working on setting the garden up so that it is kept hydrated from various basic (covering root areas in grass clippings) methods as well as some smart/green technologies (rain barrels) – we’ll see how it goes mid-summer!

  9. I envy your garden. We had one when I was a child and there is nothing better than eating what you grow. Enjoy!

    • laura says:

      The Teacher Cooks – Thank you! It has been a wonderful discovery process for me learning how to garden and being able to cook with the produce.

  10. Liz says:

    I made brussel sprouts!! They were delicious! Thanks for the inspiration! :) (all of those exclamation points are completely well-deserved)

    • laura says:

      Liz – Yeah! That makes me happy. I love roasted brussels and I’m so glad you were able to share the love! (:

  11. Amy says:

    Ahh – Brian/Laura’s garden is truly an amazing thing! How lovely that you already have a little bit of bounty coming from it. Your spring pasta sounds delish, and may influence my next trip to the farmer’s market. That’s about as close as I can get to having a garden for now. I don’t think I will ever have anything that could rival the growing extravaganza that happens at your place, but I do dream about someday having my own fresh, home-grown tomatoes, still warm from the sun when I slice them and eat them. Until then, please have some of your own in my honor!

    • laura says:

      Amy – Thank you! If you are in VA or the Outer Banks this summer, I will gladly share the bounty! XO

  12. Sara Creekmore says:

    I love reading about “Laura’s garden,” it is definitely giving me a few ideas for my own. This year, I sort of threw it together. Some things are growing, some aren’t. It looks like I meant well :o ) I would love to borrow your wisdom, till the yard, map it out, and enjoy the results. From the looks of your ingredients, Brian knows a thing about the garden. I loved reading about how you felt about the idea :o ) What I need to figure out now I guess is what to plant when, and when to start the seeds. I am lucky to have a fair amount of space to work with. Can you point me in the direction of any good gardening references for beginners? Thanks, and as always, can’t wait to try the recipe!

    • laura says:

      Thanks, Sara! I am going to check with Brian on some good gardening links and get back with you asap. ( :


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