Pressure cooker tomato sauce

Hello, I’m back! I took another little break from blogging, since life doesn’t seem to slow down these days. In the space of about six months, between the two of us, Sam and I have tackled new health issues, avalanches of work, and some pretty heavy family stuff. Oh, and there’s that wedding we’re planning. (60 days to go. Holy mackerel.)

I may write more about all this at some point–we’re still in the thick of it now. But in the meantime, I have a recipe to share. It combines two things that have recently shaken up how I cook and eat–for better and for worse.

First, the fun one. I have officially become an Instant Pot fanatic. We bought the six-quart model on Black Friday sale, and it’s now a fixture on our kitchen counter. Having an electric pressure cooker has converted me to the religion of the set-it-and-forget-it meal. I can toss a mishmash of ingredients in the Instant Pot, seal it up, and go back about my business. In an hour or so–less if I’m in a hurry, more if I’m not–there’s a piping-hot meal waiting for guests, or a batch of something versatile to portion and freeze.

I love this thing so much. So far I’ve used it for soup, stew, chili, rice, pasta sauce, two or three kinds of broth, and I don’t even know what else. Pressure cookers can safely cook meat even if it’s frozen solid, so I can pull a pack of chicken thighs out of the freezer at 6 PM and be eating them by 7 PM. And for hard-boiled eggs, this machine is basically unbeatable. (My new egg-boiling method, after much experimenting: 1 cup of water, steamer basket, 4 minutes at low pressure, 5 minutes natural release, ice bath. Easiest-peeling, creamiest-yolked eggs I’ve ever had.)

instant pot

Instant Pot, hard at work on my (messy) kitchen counter

Meanwhile, there’s been an even bigger and more intimidating change in my food world. For years I’ve had periodic stomach upsets, sometimes mild, sometimes awful. At first I chalked it up to PCOS weirdness, or maybe medication side effects. But things got dramatically worse over the past several months, until I couldn’t put off going to the doctor any more. Diagnosis is still in progress, but the smart money is on IBS or something related. I’m currently doing a FODMAP elimination diet to see if particular foods set me off, and how badly. (Side note: don’t start a strict elimination diet two months before your wedding. This shit is HARD.)

It’s looking increasingly likely that I’ll have to give up garlic, onions, and several other foods that I love. The exact list is currently up in the air, but I’m already grappling with a serious change in my eating habits. These are ingredients that have been the backbone of my cooking since I was a kid in the kitchen, learning at my parents’ elbows. I rely on them for flavor, texture, bulk; they’re in just about every meal I make, and in the vast majority of recipes on this blog. Without them, I’m having to learn a new vocabulary of spices and seasonings, as well as reinventing some of my oldest and most reliable recipes.

instant pot tomato sauce

Tomato sauce, about to go under pressure

Like tomato sauce, for example. My old favorite sauce is built on a base of sauteed garlic and onion. It’s also simmered for hours on the stovetop, which concentrates some of the fermentable sugars. I needed a new go-to tomato sauce recipe, and Instant Pot has come to the rescue. The sealed environment creates complex flavors in relatively little time, without over-reducing the sauce. It also makes this easy as hell: no chopping, no mincing, just a bit of therapeutic tomato-crushing. You can more or less dump everything into the pot and let the pressure do the work.

This is a simple, tasty sauce that can be used on its own or in another recipe–basically, wherever you’d open a jar of marinara. As I navigate the new food world I find myself in, recipes like this have quickly become a lifeline.

instant pot tomato sauce freezer

The finished tomato sauce, bagged and tagged for the freezer

Pressure Cooker Tomato Sauce (makes about 5 cups)

Adapted from Serious Eats

Note: For garlic flavor without the FODMAPs, use garlic-infused oil–either pre-made, or you can just infuse what you need right in the pressure cooker. To do that, start by combining the oil and a few lightly smashed garlic cloves in the (cold) inner pot. Turn on the Saute function and heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and golden brown. Remove and discard the garlic cloves, then add the rest of the ingredients and proceed with the recipe.

2 (28 oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano-style)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, regular or garlic-infused (see note)

1 carrot, broken in half

1 bay leaf

2 tsp dried oregano, basil, or Italian seasoning

1 tsp finely grated orange zest

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp crushed red chile flakes, or to taste

Salt to taste

1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari (optional)

Granulated sugar to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place tomatoes and olive oil in the inner pot of an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker. Use a potato masher (or your hands, if you prefer) to crush the tomatoes into as small pieces as you like. Add carrot, bay leaf, dried herbs, orange zest, smoked paprika, chile flakes, and a small pinch of salt.

Close the lid and make sure the vent is sealed. Cook for 50 minutes at high pressure. When the timer is up, wait 10 minutes to let the pressure come down naturally. Carefully open the valve and release pressure the rest of the way.

Remove and discard the carrot and bay leaf. If the sauce seems watery, turn on the Saute function and let it bubble and reduce for 3-5 minutes. Stir in soy sauce or tamari (if using), and season with salt, sugar, and pepper to taste.

You can serve the sauce immediately, but the flavor gets even better over time. The sauce will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for 4-6 months.

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