Tomato-Free Marinara

Of all the many foods I can’t eat, the one I miss most is tomato. It’s in all kinds of delicious foods from tortilla soup to smokey barbeque sauce to dal. So it’s one of the first that I began experimenting to replace.

I started by mentally dissecting the flavor that makes tomato so …. so tomatoey! For one thing, it has an earthy flavor; it’s also tangy and sweet in just the right balance, and don’t underestimate the power of that bright red color!

Next, I made a list of all the foods that I can still eat (the “yes” list), and I tried to find suitable replacements for each element of my beloved tomato flavor. I experimented with pumpkin or acorn squash for the sweet and cranberry for the tart, but it still lacked the earthy quality. I added turmeric; then California chili powder, and it was OK; then I changed directions entirely and came upon a winning combination: tomatillos and red beets, which became the co-stars of this dish. The tomatillos give the dish that tomato tang and a little of their umami flavor, while the beets give it an earthy sweetness and a bright red color. Add some fresh garlic, basil, and a little salt, and you have a delicious marinara with no tomatoes in sight!

The marinara recipe below was my first tomato-less tomato recipe, and I was thrilled. I hope you or your loved one will enjoy it just as much!

Allergy Notes:

  • Although tomatillos look a lot like tomatoes, they are not the same species. They’re even classified in a separate genus. That said, they are still nighshtades, so if you are avoiding all nightshades, this wouldn’t work for you. Several nightshades are on the list of foods that cross-react with latex, but not all, and tomatillos, so far, are not; so I started cautiously with them, and have had great success. Remember to talk to your own allergist first if this is a food you’ve never tried before.
  • If you, like me, like to add grated parmesan to your pasta marinara, be sure to read the label. Many contain anti-caking agents like powdered cellulose from unidentified sources. To avoid any potentially harmful ingredients, you can choose one from the refrigerated section that is pure parmesan, or grate your own, of course.
  • Thankfully, there are many different types of gluten-free pasta now. Be sure to read directions carefully to make sure they don’t contain any other allergens. Also, the different pastas have very different cooking times and textures. If you don’t like the first one you try, keep trying until you do find one you like. My favorite is the Trader Joe’s brown rice and quinoa rotini. Also epxeriment with different cooking times, but keep a close watch. Gluten-free pasta can quickly go from too aldente to overdone.
Print Recipe
Tomato-Free Marinara
This bright red marinara is full of garlic and basil, just like the traditional sauce. Although it's missing the tomatoes, I don't think you will!
Pasta marinara with parmesan and side of green beans
Course Dinner, Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Course Dinner, Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Pasta marinara with parmesan and side of green beans
Instructions
  1. In heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic just begins to brown.
  2. Add the tomatillos and basil. Stir to coat with garlic and oil. This will also prevent the garlic from burning.
    Tomatillos, basil, and garlic
  3. Stir occasionally until the tomatillos soften and begin to break down. After a while, they will release liquid, and you will have a simmering sauce.
    Tomatillo sauce with basil and garlic in saucepan
  4. Add the salt. Stir, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer covered for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld, stirring occasionally.
  5. Remove and discard the basil. Add the beet puree and cook until the sauce just begins to boil again; then remove from heat immediately. If you prefer a darker red sauce, continue to simmer until you reach your desired color.
  6. Serve over wheat-free pasta with freshly grated Parmesan.
Recipe Notes

My recipes avoid all ingredients listed on the American Latex Allergy Association website as known for cross-reacting with latex as well as a few other ingredients that I have discovered elsewhere. However, latex-fruit syndrome is still an emerging issue and poorly understood. There may be other foods that cross-react, and people with latex-fruit syndrome often have other food allergies independent of their latex allergy. Each individual is different, so be sure to discuss with your allergist the safest way for you to try out ingredients that are new to you before you cook with them.

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