Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bean-Enriched Tomato Sauce

One of our kitchen staples here in Ireland is canned tomatoes.  We found a very inexpensive variety at our local supermarket and keep them in the pantry at all times.  Canned tomatoes make a great all-purpose ingredient for every kitchen, and one of the best uses is a classic (and classy) tomato sauce.

The meal-balancing issue with tomato sauce itself is the lack or protein to give the sauce that satisfying thickness and "belly-sticking" feeling.  Meat, of course, makes a great protein addition to tomato sauce anything.  For a while we were adding plain sausages to our sauces while cooking down the tomatoes.  The sausages would release their fat and salt into the sauce, giving a great, rich body and flavorful punch.  We wondered, after going through pack after pack of cheap sausage, if there was anything else we could do that might be cheaper and a bit healthier?

The stick blender made it a no-brainer.  We thought we could use cooked legumes (beans or lentils) to give the soup the protein kick we had been craving without the cost (in money and calories) of using sausage in every sauce recipe.  Since then we have made sauce with several different varieties of beans and red lentils, and we have been amazed with the results.

In this recipe, we used adzuki beans- a small red asian bean used in different Japanese and Thai recipes, usually in a pureed paste.  The beans have a nice meaty, nutty taste by themselves, and give same to recipes using the puree.

Adzuki Beans in the Bag
Adzuki Beans in the Bag

Cooked Adzuki Beans
Cooked Adzuki Beans

After cooking, draining, and rinsing the beans, we threw in our aromatics to sautee in our saucepan.  This day we used carrots, onion, and garlic.  If we'd had celery or another aromatic green on hand we'd have used it, but oh well.

Carrots, onion, and garlic chopped for sauce
Aromatics- Ok, no celery.

Cooking Down the Aromatics- Carrots, onion, garlic.
Cooking Down the Aromatics

After the onion and carrot were softened, we threw in the garlic just until fragrant- then dumped in the can of whole tomatoes.  Once the tomatoes were cooking down and condensing, we added the cooked and soft beans back into the mix to thicken with everything else.  We stay away from adding salt, seasonings, or herbs until the very last step.

Tomatoes and Beans with the Aromatics
Tomatoes and Beans with the Aromatics

Once things are thick enough to stick to the back of the spoon, it's time to pulverize.  Into the measuring cup the whole messy mix goes for a good blending.  At this stage, watch for thickness and add salt, pepper, and dried herbs to taste while blending.  If the mix gets too thick for the blender (this one did) add a little bit of water until the mix is just thick enough to make a nice vortex in the measuring cup (not pictured for safety's sake.)  

Tomato and bean sauce is blended and ready
Finished blended sauce

Once the sauce is well-blended and seasoned well, it's ready for nearly any application.  It makes a great pasta or pizza sauce for us, but the uses could go well beyond in the hands of a more creative (and less cheapskate) cook.

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