Pomodoro Sauce with Spicy Tempeh on Whole Grain Pasta

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Hungry for spaghetti with meat sauce? Me too! So, I set out to create a plant-based rendition to see if it would satisfy and amazingly it did! First, I started with my frozen summer home-grown organic tomato sauce. Not to worry, this well-tested pomodoro recipe works with canned certified San Marzano tomatoes in place of fresh garden tomatoes.

 My love for Italian food began at an early age, long before it became an American favorite. My parent’s best friends were Italian. They introduced wonderful dishes of lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, and pizza to our family. And what made all the difference was the sauce, called Sunday gravy or pomodoro by some. Pomodoro means quite simply “love apple”. I consider this definition well suited for this rich tomato sauce since falling in love at an early age with ripe garden tomatoes. It is now often called spaghetti sauce or marinara sauce. Luckily, I learned to make this sauce years ago from our Italian friends. The secret is two-fold. First, the tomato paste is slowly caramelized in olive oil. Secondly, the tomatoes with the addition of the caramelized tomato paste and seasonings are simmered for hours, sometimes days. This was difficult because it needed to be stirred often so not to burn on the bottom. Lately, I have turned to a slow cooker on low which solves this problem and allows the sauce the time it needs to develop a deep, savory and satisfying flavor.

Having a rich sauce recipe was a proven crowd pleaser. Next up was to make a meat-substitute that would truly satisfy. After a bit of research, I created a mock crumbled Italian sausage that shocked even me. Check it out, I think you will be pleasantly surprised!


For a meat-substitute, I turned to tempeh, a fermented soybean patty. It is a complete protein and has a more agreeable flavor and texture than tofu. The first time I tried it, it was crumbled, mixed with extra virgin olive oil and baked until crispy brown. With a few added Italian sausage spices and mixed into the pomodoro sauce at the last minute, it was amazingly close to the real meat sauce. Then to up the nutritional value, I used a whole wheat pasta, however, a brown rice pasta would work well for those who wish for gluten-free. If you have a preferred tomato sauce use it in place of my pomodoro sauce. I have included my recipe for one gallon of pomodoro sauce. If you are going to go to all the work and time to make this sauce, then make the larger quantity and freeze the rest for later use. This is part of the Mediterranean diet that is so good for health and flavor fulfillment!

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Pomodoro Sauce

1 gallon sauce


½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste

1 tablespoon fresh mashed garlic

4 quarts ripe tomatoes or 5 (28 ounces) cans San Marzano certified tomatoes

2 fresh tomato leaves or basil leaves (optional)

¼ cup dried Italian seasoning

2 or 3 pieces of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind

kosher salt to taste


1.     Heat the olive oil over very low heat in a five-inch cast iron pan. (I use a simmer plate underneath the pan over a gas flame for a uniform low heat). Distribute the tomato paste evenly in the pan. Stir with a wooden spoon every five to ten minutes as the sauce caramelizes. After about forty-five minutes, when the sauce turns from bright red to rusty brown add the mashed garlic. Stir and cook for another five minutes.

2.     In a deep sauce pot bring the tomatoes to a simmer. Remove from the heat and pass through a food mill to remove the seeds and skin from the pulp and juice. I have an attachment to my Kitchen Aid mixer that does this efficiently. It is not necessary to simmer if using the San Marzano tomatoes.

3.     In a large slow cooker mix the tomato pulp with juice, optional tomato or basil leaves, caramelized paste with garlic, the Italian seasoning and cheese rind. Cover and simmer on low heat for a minimum of eight hours, stirring every other hour.

4.     The sauce is ready when it has thickened, turned from bright red to deep ruddy red and has a deep savory tomato flavor. If bitterness is detected, it has not simmered long enough. Discard the cheese rind. Taste, Think, Transform with kosher salt to taste.

The sauce may be refrigerated up to a week or frozen up to six months but is best used immediately. The only difficulty with making this sauce is that it will fill your home with a lovely smell that will entice you to taste it often.

Pomodoro Sauce with Spicy Tempeh on Whole Grain Pasta

4 servings


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

8 ounces tempeh

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon ground fennel

teaspoon red pepper flakes

teaspoon garlic powder

teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon dried basil, crumbled

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

2 cups pomodoro sauce (or your red sauce)

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

8 ounces whole wheat or brown rice spaghetti or linguine

½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated or shaved


1.     Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2.     Crumble the tempeh and coat with the olive oil. Place in a baking pan. Bake for ten minutes and then stir. Bake for another ten minutes and then add the sea salt, fennel, pepper flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, basil, and oregano. Mix well and continue baking for another ten minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and reserve warm.

3.     Heat the pomodoro sauce and reserve warm.

4.     Bring two quarts of water to a boil. Add the kosher salt and pasta. Follow the pasta package recommended amount of cooking time or until al dente. Drain.

5.     Place the pasta in a serving bowl or separate bowls. Mix the tempeh with the hot pomodoro sauce and place on top of the pasta. Top with cheese. Serve hot.

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Linda HierholzerENTRÉES