P.K.’s Winter Pasta Sauce: On Canned Tomatoes and Carb-Loading

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pasta and Tomato Sauce It’s about this time of year that I start dreaming of sweet summer corn and tomatoes, two of my favorite foods that I consume prolifically for the better part of three months when they’re in season. Indeed, there is nothing I love more than a homemade sauce made lovingly from mounds of fresh summer tomatoes. And I do even chop up a few fresh tomatoes in the winter now and again for a quick pizza sauce or marinara. That said, I’m ever grateful the supermarket provides delightful canned tomatoes, which are a high-quality, nutritious, and delicious alternative when fresh aren’t in season.

Or, er, if you simply don’t feel like doing all that chopping, which is okay, too.

Enter today’s dish, which is one of my favorite go-to dinners since I usually have a container of “summer” sauce sitting in my freezer. My supply is now tapped, however, so this past weekend I whipped up a new batch the night before my 20-miler using canned products and a selection of fresh and frozen veggies I had on hand. This version included no-salt canned tomatoes (diced, crushed, sauce) and frozen spinach along with white onions, three kinds of peppers (red, green, poblano), and zucchini.

For more cooking details, click here for step-by-step instructions and photos, simply substituting canned for the fresh.

Pasta and tomato sauce is such a filling, comforting dish, and my version takes a kid-friendly favorite and makes it a whole lot better for you. And, yes, pasta can be part of a nutritious diet, if it’s whole grain; more on paleo and gluten free diets here. As well, it’s a much healthier way to carb-load if you are an endurance athlete or runner training for the marathon, as I am. (More here and here on that.)

Better-for-you Carb Loading

In general, food decisions are based on taste, cost, and convenience. Nutrition and health considerations also matter for some people, like many of you reading this piece, no doubt. (Yay!) “Pasta and tomato sauce” is a classic meal used for carb loading, which boosts your glycogen stores in preparation for a long race.

While a great meal whether you’re “carb-loading” or not, today’s article also encourages athletes to take this familiar dish and make it even healthier by exchanging white pasta for whole grain and adding a whole slew of veggies for a nutrient boost that you won’t get from a store-bought sauce and white pasta. The latter dish will provide the carbs, yes, but can be loaded in salt and extra sugar and lacks the nutrients of unrefined grains. You get all the carbs you need from my version along with other fabulous vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to fuel your body and race.

Side Bar: Tomatoes in Winter? Anathema!

I love tomatoes and corn so much that a number of my posts are dedicated to these very topics. In case you are looking for a little extra reading from The Nutrition Doctor, just search “corn” or tomatoes” from the “specifically speaking” word cloud on my home page and dream with me of Spanish grilled corn or heirloom tomatoes sandwiches with garlic aioli

And guess what? My love of these foods doesn’t disappear once the autumn harvest is over.

Sauce on the StoveThus, as much as I enjoy eating seasonally, and do so as often as I can, I am ever grateful for the vast array of foods I can attain when I want or need them, as this generally keeps my diet healthier and more interesting. Yes, my meals are often dominated by all the great stuff I get at my local markets, but, as you can imagine, not so much on the tomato front in March. So I eat fewer of them, for sure, but tomatoes and other fresh veggies remain part of my repertoire during the other nine months of the year. The simple fact is that most Americans don’t eat enough vegetables, and frozen and even canned are fine sources assuming you read the ingredients and avoid brands with added salt and/or sugar.

So do what you need to do to eat more produce, however you can. Adding chopped veggies to something like tomato sauce is a great way to increase your intake while giving a major nutritional boost to your favorite foods.

And, you know, if it tricks your children or someone else you love into eating more vegetables, that’s great, too.

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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