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Photo courtesy of Budget Bytes

That was fast.

Just a week after I took up the pursuit of an easy homemade alternative to store-bought pasta sauce, I think I’ve found my go-to recipe.

Over at Budget Bytes, Beth posted a recipe for a slow cooker marinara sauce in November (gotta give kudos to Pinterest for helping me find it). She noted that the long, slow cooking process (eight hours on low) carmelizes the sugar in the crushed tomatoes. Carmelization gives the sauce a depth of flavor that jarred pasta sauce simply cannot replicate. It’s got the hint of sweetness that a good tomato-based sauce should have without the artificial, overpoweringly syrupy sweetness offered by most manufactured sauces these days.

It was a cinch to make, too. I diced an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic the previous night and dumped everything into the 4-quart slow cooker crock the next morning. The husband texted me at lunch to let me know that it smelled delicious.

I browned a little ground beef to make a simple meat sauce and served it over two small servings of penne. (And while I’m talking about pasta, let me recommend that you cook half the recommended serving size listed on the box. The suggested serving sizes are obviously calculated to make you buy more pasta, not maintain a healthy weight.)

I might add some crushed red pepper next time for a more piquant sauce, but other than that, I’m very satisfied with this recipe. Like other tomato-based sauces, it’s going to freeze well, meaning that I’ll now have ready-to-serve pasta sauce in the freezer instead of the pantry.  It’s going to be versatile, too: Besides meat sauce, it’s going to be a great topping for ravioli and a good dipping sauce for the husband’s homemade calzones.

Next goal: A go-to, not-too-salty soup recipe to keep in the freezer.

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An interesting side effect of cutting back on my sugar intake and cooking most meals from scratch: I’ve started to really taste the sugar in manufactured foods. Store-bought spaghetti sauce tastes like it’s made of tomatoes and corn syrup. A brand of hummus that I used to buy frequently is now inedible; it’s bland, and what little garlic flavor I can sense is overwhelmed by a sugary chemical aftertaste.

Luckily, my husband’s Uncle Vinnie sent me his family pasta sauce recipe when we got married, and I’ve got a working and flexible hummus recipe that I can throw together pretty easily.

I was going to say that it’s a double-edged sword, when eating healthier and thriftier forces you to forgo shortcut products when you really could do with a few extra minutes out of the kitchen. My taste buds and common sense have convinced me, however, that things that taste this revolting aren’t useful shortcuts at all.

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