Loaded Pasta Sauce

Pasta sauce is one of the best ways to load up on extra veggies, use up what needs to be eaten in your fridge, and to fool other people into thinking you’re a gourmet chef … all in less than 20 minutes.

So delicious and packed full of nutritious veggies.

The basic premise is this: Take all the veggies you need to eat in your fridge (or whatever is on sale at the market) – onions, zucchini, carrots, celery, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, peas, whatever – and combine them with a jar of store-bought pasta sauce, some extra garlic and dried basil. What you’re left with is a delicious semi-homemade sauce full of healthy veggies, all done in one pot while your water is boiling and pasta is cooking (hooray less dishes!).

What you’ll need:

  • 1 jar of pasta sauce – I prefer tomato basil because it’s easier to add to, but any jar will do
  • Tofu – you can also use chicken, but you’ll have to cook it in a separate pan
  • Veggies – all the veggies and amounts can be changed or modified, but this is what I used in this dinner
    • 1 small-medium onion
    • 1 zucchini
    • 3 carrots
    • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 tbsp garlic
  • 2 tbsp dried basil
  • Pasta – your choice! I went for tortellini, my favorite

    Tips for finding the right veggies: Look for a hard, waxy bell pepper; tight onions are the freshest; look for a zucchini and carrots with the least amount of blemishes, they'll be peeled anyway.

What you’ll need to do:

Start by filling one pot with water and get it boiling on the stove for your pasta. Then, spray another large pot with cooking spray and set it over high heat.

Slice your tofu into cubes – it takes the longest to cook so you want to get this in the pot first. After the whole block is sliced, put it in your pot.

Slice twice through the middle, then in a grid pattern on top to make cubes.

The onion goes into the pot next so it can caramelize and cook until it’s clear and sweet. After the onion is added to the tofu, dump on a couple spoonfuls of garlic and stir.

Keep in mind, the amounts are not exact. I say 2 tbsp in my recipe list, but you can add however much you like. I use the spoon I'm going to stir the sauce with and drop in two spoonfuls to save a dish.

By now, the water for the pasta is probably up to a boil. Make sure to get that pasta in the pot before you chop your veggies. Then, while the tofu, onions, garlic, and pasta are cooking, peel and chop all the veggies you’ll want in your sauce.

After all your veggies are chopped, dump them into the pot with the tofu, onion, and garlic and stir – the tofu should be slightly golden-brown and the onion should be clear. I like to cook the veggies without the sauce for just a minute before I add the tomato sauce.

Try to chop your veggies about the same size as the tofu - the more similar in size the more uniformly they'll cook. But don't worry about it being exact; the less perfect, the more rustic.

Meanwhile, it’s probably time to drain your pasta. Check to see if it’s cooked all the way through (taste test is the best), and drain in your strainer. Add the pasta back into the pot, and drizzle with a little olive oil to prevent it from sticking.

It’s time to add your jar of sauce and dried basil to your veggies. Cook for another couple of minutes to let the flavors marry, and then it’s go time.

Tip: Adding your veggies at the end leaves them a little crunchy, adding texture to your meal.

Buon appetito! You successfully sneaked in loads of vitamins and nutrients into a weekday meal, fooled your family with a deceivingly rustic homemade pasta sauce, and made enough leftovers to pack as a lunch or have another night for dinner – all in less than 20 minutes. It’s the perfect hearty, healthy meal for any cold night or comfort food craving.

Peanut-Ginger Tofu

For those of you who are afraid of tofu, this dish will change your mind. Tofu can work a lot like chicken because it soaks up the flavors it’s cooked with. The trick is to use extra-firm tofu, so the texture will remind you of any type of protein. Not to mention, tofu is pretty inexpensive and can last in your fridge for a long time.

This dish in particular is one I discovered in grad school. I was living in bitter, cold Chicago, and living on a grad student budget. This is a warm, comforting dish that’s really inexpensive to make, not to mention it’s super healthy! After trying it out on myself and falling in love with it’s rich deliciousness, I made it for a few of my girlfriends, all of whom had been tofu skeptics. But they loved it! So I thought it would be a great way to change your minds about a different type of protein, too.

I use a whole block of tofu in this recipe so that nothing goes to waste (it makes about 4 servings). It’s so easy, and it makes great leftovers if you’re cooking for only one or two. But as a dinner for my three girlfriends and me, it was a perfect winter meal. So here goes!


  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 4 tablespoons smooth natural peanut butter (or whatever you have in the pantry)
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Tofu & vegetables

  • 14 ounces extra-firm tofu (you can also use chicken!)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil (approximate, used to cook the tofu)
  • 1 package frozen spinach (optional)
  • 1 cup of uncooked white or brown rice (or 2 cups of leftover cooked rice is fine, too)

First, get the rice cooking. Get it all set in your rice cooker, and then go relax for about 10 minutes (watch TV, read a book, browse the Internet, whatever). The tofu doesn’t take very long to cook, so this one gives you some rest time.

After relaxing for a bit, heat the olive oil in your “very large pan” over high heat. While it’s heating up, place the tofu on a cutting board and slice into small cubes (about 1/2 inch cubes work best). After the tofu is sliced, dump the cubes in the olive oil to fry.

Optional middle step: defrost the package of frozen spinach in the microwave. I usually put it in a glass bowl, run water from my faucet over it for about 1 second (to be about 2 tbsp), and then follow the microwave instructions on the package. Usually, you heat it on high for 3 minutes, stir, and then heat again. It takes about as long to defrost the spinach as it does to cook the tofu, so after you get the tofu in the pan get that spinach defrosting!

While the tofu (and possibly spinach) is cooking, make the sauce. To do this, whisk all the sauce ingredients together (water, peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, honey, ginger, and garlic). Set aside.

Continue to monitor the tofu and stir around in the pan to get all sides of the cubes nice and golden-brown. This doesn’t have to be exact, but as long as you have most of the sides golden-brown you’ll be good to go.

After the tofu is golden brown-brown (about 5-7 minutes, and don’t wait for the spinach or sauce to be done or it’ll burn!), lower the heat to medium and stir in the peanut-ginger sauce. Continue to stir the peanut-ginger sauce in with the tofu for about a minute, or until it thickens up. Then add the spinach and toss with the tofu.

Scoop out about a cup of cooked white rice and pour the peanut-ginger tofu on the top, and then enjoy! It’s a nice healthy, hearty meal that can also be deliciously reheated for lunch (or dinner) the next day. Each serving of the peanut-ginger tofu is only about 220 calories.