Saturday, February 13, 2010

slow cooked veggie packed tomato sauce

When I told my mom I was making vegetable pasta, she pictured pasta with vegetables. But instead, I decided to incorporate the veggies into the sauce. I had a free afternoon on my hands, so I filled it with chopping and cooking (some of my favorite pastimes). What resulted was a delicious and nutrient-packed sauce. Before we get to the recipe, let's take a look at the nutritional benefits of the main components:*

Onion: Onions are a rich source of flavonoids, substances known to provide protection against cardiovascular disease. They help the body's metabolism by lowering blood cholesterol, blood fat, and blood sugar. They are a natural antibiotic and contain vitamins A, B, C, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur compounds, bioflavonoids, and essential oils. The high concentration of sulfides in onions provide protection against tumor growth, especially that associated with stomach cancer.

Red Bell Pepper: Red bell peppers contain high amounts of vitamins A and C and, like most other vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables, are packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants work together to neutralize free radicals, which can travel through the body and cause damage to cells (they contribute to: cholesterol build up in arteries that lead to heard disease, the nerve damage in diabetes, the cloudy lenses of cataracts, the joint damage in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and the tightening airways of asthma). The antioxidant free radical destroyers found in bell peppers may help prevent or reduce the symptoms of these conditions by shutting down the source of the problem.

Mushroom: Mushrooms are a good vegetarian source of protein and contain copper, iodine, manganese, potassium, selenium, and zinc. They have stimulant properties and can help strengthen the immune system. For the past 20 years, the phytonutrients found in mushrooms have been the object of anti-cancer research. They have been shown to help regulate the amount of estrogen circulating in the body, and thus protect against breast cancer.

Canned Crushed Tomato: Tomatoes are packed with a number of great things, but I'll concentrate on one here - lycopene. Lycopene helps protect cells and other structures in the body from oxygen damage and has been linked to the protection of DNA inside white blood cells - amazing stuff. Canned tomatoes have an even greater concentration of lycopene than their fresh counterparts due to the processing method. Carotenoids like lycopene are fat-soluble, so pair tomatoes with olive oil, avocado, or nuts to aid in absorption in the body. Commercial tomatoes are sometimes grown to quickly or genetically modified, so it's definitely worth seeking out organically produced tomatoes for their greater nutritional benefits - this holds true for items made from tomatoes as well: organic ketchup has been shown to contain 3x the lycopene content of that made from commercially grown tomatoes!

Rainbow Chard: calls chard the "vegetable valedictorian" due to its impressive list of health promoting nutrients. Chard is high in vitamins A, C, and K, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, and a host of other vitamins and minerals. The combination of traditional nutrients, phytonutrients, and dietary fiber have been shown to aid in the prevention of digestive tract cancers, such as colon cancer. Bonus - you get all of these health benefits in relatively few calories (35 calories per cup).

Kalamata Olive: The Complete Guide to Nutritional Health touts the olive as a superfood. They are packed with vitamins A and E, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, antioxidants, oleic and linoleic acid. Olives and olive oil are a staple of the Mediterranean diet; those who follow it have a low incidence of cardiovascular disease compared to those who eat a high proportion of animal fat in their diet. Why? Studies have shown that the high oleic acid content in olives and their oil helps regulate the balance between high-density lipoprotein ("good" cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein ("bad" cholesterol) in the blood, which prevents fatty deposits in the arteries and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

On to the recipe! Here's what I did:

Slow Cooked Veggie Packed Tomato Sauce
Makes about 4 cups

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 handful of mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 28-oz. can crushed organic tomatoes
1/2 tsp. honey or agave nectar
1 bunch chard, destemmed and chopped into thin strips
1 handful kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in half

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook until fragrant and soft, 3-4 minutes. Add red pepper and cook an additional 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and spices. Stir and cook 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, honey, and 1/2 c. water.

Reduce heat to medium low. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally (adjust the heat lower if it begins to bubble too rapidly, and add more water if the sauce begins to look too dry).

Add chard to top of sauce (don't mix in) and cover pan. Allow chard to steam for 10 minutes, until bright green. Uncover and mix chard into sauce. Increase heat to medium. Add kalamata olives. Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with your favorite pasta.

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