How to Create Tomato Sauce Without the Burn
The Magic of Squash
Since I was about 17 years old, eating anything with tomato sauce would trigger all-night heartburn. Over time I had cut tomatoes pretty much out of my diet, with the exception of the occasional slice on a sandwich. When I met my boyfriend (now husband) in college, he loved foods with tomato. From pizza, to pasta, to salad with tomato basil vinaigrette, almost every meal he enjoyed was tomato-laden. He was also a very picky eater. No mushrooms. No butternut squash. No pumpkin. No hubbard squash. The list goes on. It is hard enough to cook meals in a tiny dorm kitchen or studio apartment kitchenette, let alone cooking 2 separate meals to please everyone! After much searching online and in recipe books to some solutions for picky eaters, I started to think some of the solutions I had mapped out might actually help with my heartburn, and indeed they have! While I offer no medical advise, below are some tricks that worked for my own heartburn, as well as some tricks that may help you (and your sanity!) if you have a similar picky-eater dilemma!
Butternut squash! Carrots! Mushrooms! Pumpkin! The list goes on. By substituting other pureed veggies in place of some of the tomato in recipes, I not only reduce my episodes of indigestion, I manage to sneak vegetables my husband would otherwise claim he "doesn't like" into his meals. For example, using pureed pumpkin, butternut squash, or other similar squash for half of the tomato sauce on a pizza was enough to reduce my heartburn, without my husband (or my father-in-law, who joins us for dinner on occasion) even noticing. Because of the color of the squash, it doesn't change the appearance of the pizza, and the cooked/mashed squash mixed with the tomato sauce did not alter the sauce's texture. If I'm making a pasta dish with sauce, I do the same, but also add things like shredded carrots, or celery and mushrooms (finely chopped in the food processor) to the sauce for added color/texture (and added veggies into the diet of a picky eater!).
An added bonus, pumpkins and other squash keep for a long time until you are ready to use them. If you are like us and prefer to grow your own, or just have access to fresh squash, you can also cook, puree, and freeze it in portions you plan to use for quick use in recipes when you need it throughout the year. I prefer to freeze some in ice-cube trays to have smaller portions to thaw and use in case you wanted to add a little more squash to your own personal dish than others might want in a recipe. I've added a thawed ice-cube or two of squash into my own servings of macaroni and cheese, taco meat, pancake batter, tomato soup, goulash, stuffed peppers, baked beans, Spanish rice, chili, and countless other foods. The convenience of having it available in portioned sizes to use when you want a little extra flavor, color, vitamin C, or fiber, even when you're not using it to cut acidity or appease a picky eater, has been a culinary game-changer in our house. You could also use sweet potato, pumpkin, or squash baby food for this purpose if your freezer space is at a premium, you don't want to carry pumpkins to the kitchenette of your 4th story walk-up (been there!), or just don't have the time. However, the Gerber/Beech Nut route is more expensive than making and freezing your own mini-portions (Although I did accumulate a set of perfectly sized spice jars for my studio apartment this way in grad-school!). With a husband who is not fond of the stringy texture of melted cheese, and my similarly strong love of all things cheese, I have also substituted pureed squash for half of the cheese in baked macaroni and cheese, and we both loved it. It is now a mandatory side dish of our annual New Years Eve dinner.
Growing pumpkins and other squash can be easy and inexpensive if you have a place to do so. Here in upstate NY, the climate is such that once I plant it, after making sure it has enough water for the first few weeks for the seed to sprout and for the seedling to really take root, there is no further maintenance until the time comes to harvest! The large leaves shade out potential weeds, and we plant marigolds at the ends of the rows of our large garden to keep critters (who might prematurely enjoy our squash without us!) away. The marigold pest protection works for us in our area until the first frost browns the leaves of the marigold plants, and they lose their strong scent, but luckily that is the time to harvest anyways!. We use the meat of the squash for cooking, save some of the seeds to plant the following year, and toast the rest of the seeds with seasonings like ranch, garlic, cinnamon-sugar, or even just plain sea-salt for a crunchy snack or salad-topper. I have also had success in using cooked/mashed sweet potato in place of pumpkin in tomato sauces, however have not had any such luck in growing them in this climate!
I wish you the best of luck in your culinary adventures! Let me know in the comments below whether you have tried this sneaky squash trick and how it worked for you!
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
- Rich source of Iron
- Contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Beta Carotene
- High in fiber, low in calories