Stocking the freezer: 8 make-ahead sauce recipes

If you’re new to freezing meals or nervous after failed results (I count myself in this category), make-ahead sauce recipes are a good place to start. They go together quickly — the first three recipes get tossed in the blender and pureed. It’s easy to manage their smaller size and they typically freeze and reheat well. When you’re ready to eat just defrost and heat them, pairing them with fresh-cooked rice or pasta.

Here’s what I’ve stocked my freezer with:

Spring Pea-sto with Whole Wheat Penne

Pea-sto (pesto with peas)

Based on a Rachael Ray recipe.

One ten ounce package frozen peas, thawed
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Freshly ground pepper

In a food processor, puree the peas with the basil, cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, and lemon peel until coarsely chopped. Season the pesto with salt and pepper.

Each batch makes enough for a standard box/bag of pasta. You may need to thin the defrosted sauce with pasta water a bit.

Tea and Cookies’ Amazing Incredible Broccoli Surprise Sauce

I won’t attempt to rewrite the recipe here because you’re going to want to read it (and admire the pictures) directly from the source. This sauce is truly more than a sum of its parts (and gets Beatrice to eat broccoli).

Peanut Sesame Noodle Sauce

From the Smitten Kitchen, adapted from Gourmet, June 2002

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Asian toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes or a splash of the hot sauce or chili paste of your choice

Puree dressing ingredients in a blender until smooth, about 2 minutes. That’s it — you’re done! One batch makes enough for six side-dish or four vegetarian main-course servings.

Serve over soba noodles, rice noodles, or whole-wheat spaghetti. Toss in fresh or steamed edamame, carrots, cucumber, tofu cubes, cooked chicken, green onions, red pepper — whatever your family likes best. (I like to steam my veggies over the pasta as it cooks). You could also prep your veggies and protein and freeze it in advance in a separate ziploc bag.

Portobello Stroganoff

4 tbsp. butter
1 large onion, diced
3/4 lb. portobellos, sliced
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened and translucent, then smile serenely at family members as they wander in saying “what smells good?” (Onions sauteing in butter is truly one of the better scents from the kitchen.)

Add mushrooms and cook until completely soft, nicely browned, and a little bit caramelized  with some crispy edges. The onions should be browned too, and some browned bits stuck to your pan is just what you want.

Remove onions and mushrooms to a plate (but don’t scrape off the stuck-on ones), and add the stock to your pan to deglaze. Bring to a boil, scraping up the bottom of the pan and stirring. Add Worcestershire and continue to boil until liquid is reduced by a third. Remove pan from heat, put mushrooms and onions back in. Cool and freeze in jars or freezer bags.

When you’re ready to use the sauce, defrost and heat it. Mix 1 1/2 cups sour cream (or fat-free Greek yogurt) and 3 tbsp. flour and add it to the sauce, cooking gently until the sauce thickens slightly. Top with parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over your favorite noodles.

Here are some of Jen’s go-to freezer sauces:

Eggplant Marinara

There’s a lot awesome about this recipe, including its super-fast prep and an effort-free, all-day simmer your slow cooker. It also tastes really light and fresh and yummy and picky eaters will never know they ate eggplant and mushrooms.

1 medium eggplant, peeled and chopped into 1-2 inch dice
1 medium onion, chopped
28 oz. can diced Italian-style tomatoes (with juice)
6 oz. can tomato paste
4 oz. can sliced mushrooms (or you can use fresh)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
a few grinds of black pepper
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
sliced black olives and parmesan cheese, for garnish if desired

Put everything except the parsley, olives, and cheese in the slow cooker and stir. Cook on low for 7-8 hours or high for about 4 hours. Blend to desired consistency with immersion blender (or remove to a blender, but let it cool a bit first), or leave chunky if you like your sauce that way. I blended to avoid questions about what was in it! Add parsley and taste to correct seasonings. Serve over pasta with black olives and cheese on top.

Easy Fresh Herb Marinara

From the Joy of Cooking. Perfect for when the basil bolts in July — I usually double or triple the batch. This can be a base sauce for lots of dishes, or just good over pasta with some fresh mozzarella and some grilled sausages on the side.

28 oz. can of whole tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, halved
6 sprigs fresh basil
6 springs fresh parsley

Simmer together over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. (Smash up the tomatoes with a spoon a bit). Remove from heat blend in your food processor or use an immersion blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Light Spinach & Basil Pesto

Pesto, light? Pesto, reheatable? Pesto that holds at a buffet party without getting sticky? I would not have believed it if I hadn’t made this, twice. This is from my American Heart Association Cookbook. Their name for it is Perfect Pesto, and it kinda is.

4 ounces fresh spinach leaves
1/2 cup firmly packed basil leaves (jam as many in there as you can, you want lots!)
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh parsley
1/4 chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted in your oven for a few minutes at 350
1/4 cup grated or shredded good parmesan
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper to taste

Put everything but the salt and pepper in your food processor and whirl until smooth. If the pesto is too thick (which would be surprising), add some more stock or water 1 tbsp at a time.

Taste and correct the seasonings. Serve tossed with hot pasta and some more parmesan on top; red pepper flakes are also good. You could also add some cooked chicken or shrimp to make a heartier meal, and diced fresh tomatoes on top are pretty, tasty, and add more nutrition.

Mushroom and Red Wine Sauce

Best over papparadelle, fettucini, or rigatoni, this sauce recipe is adapted from the Joy of Cooking. I also think it would be great over chicken, or of course, a steak.

1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
Zest of 1/2 lemon
4 fresh sage leaves, chopped small
8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (I used some regular button and some baby portobellos)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you are vegetarian, though I’d try to find a mushroom stock if you can)
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms in 1 1/2 cups of hot water for at least 20 minutes. Scoop out the mushrooms (don’t dump the soaking water!) and rinse and drain. Set aside. Strain the soaking water in a colander lined with paper towels and reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, lemon zest, and sage and cook until the onions are soft. Add the porcinis and the fresh mushrooms, and increase the heat to high. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are golden brown (its okay if some are stuck to the pan). Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the soaking liquid and bring to a fast simmer. Reduce until the mushrooms are glazed. Add the wine and reduce again to a glaze. Add the chicken stock, salt, and pepper and serve over pasta with parmesan.

Check out the rest of the posts in the Stocking the Freezer series:

Top tips for make-ahead meals

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