Part I: Making the pizza sauce
Adapted from The Natural Canning Resource Book: A guide to home canning with locally-grown, sustainably-produced and fair-trade foods and Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens:
Tomatoes are a summer and early fall crop. It’s easy to home can tomato paste and tomato sauce, of course, but you can also try mock tomato sauce, a winter vegetable pizza sauce alternative to tomatoes. Beets and winter squash are excellent root cellar vegetables; choose good “keeping” varieties with tougher skins if you are growing your own for long term storage. Beets and squash can also be home canned safely in diced form only (thick low acid purees cannot be pressure canned safely at home).
Beets and deep orange winter squash are also more nutritious than tomato sauce. According to the Web site NutritionData.self.com, an ounce of ordinary pizza sauce has 1/3 as much fiber as either 1 oz beets or 1 oz squash. Pizza sauce typically has no vitamin A or C while an ounce of squash provides 29% of daily recommended Vitamin A and 4% of recommended vitamin C. Beets and deep orange winter squash (and pumpkin, which is winter squash) are high in nitrates. Nitrates (as opposed to unhealthy nitrites) boost nitric oxide in your blood, which dilates blood vessels, improving blood and oxygen flow to muscles and extremities. This also lowers blood pressure. (Dark leafy green vegetables are higher in nitrates than beets, a good reason to add beet greens, broccoli, kale, collards, etc. on top).
When I first made pizza with mock tomato sauce years ago, I didn’t tell Dan the sauce was different. He thought he hated beets, like a lot of people. I figured I’d let him eat the pizza first, see how he reacted, or if he even noticed, and then tell him what he ate. He LOVED the pizza. He kept going back for more, for a total of three slices. He kept saying, “this pizza is really good, but why is the sauce so pink?” When he found out that he had been eating beets, he was pleasantly surprised.
Solar cooking in cold winter climates
Solar cooking is an option year-round in sunny climates, even here at 7,000 feet elevation. The daytime highs have been barely above freezing, but that doesn’t matter. Air temperature has almost nothing to do with the temperature inside a solar cooker. Solar cookers are insulated. But more importantly, cooking temperatures are related to the strength of the sunlight. Clear skies = higher cooker temperatures. Snow on the ground raises cooker temperatures because snow reflects additional sunlight into the cooker! It’s even possible to solar cook at 58° north latitude in southern Norway. Solar cooking is also practiced in such high latitude places as Minnesota in January and Ontario, Canada.
This past week on a cold sunny day, I opened the solar oven at 9:45. The temperature outside was barely 30ºF. I accidentally left the oven door latch stuck in the door, so the oven door was propped open 1/8-inch, yet the oven had still managed to reach 200ºF one hour later. I put the squash in the cooker fiver minutes later, closed the oven door properly, and set the kitchen timer for 45 minutes. When the timer went off, the oven was 250ºF. I added three whole beets to the black granite ware roaster pot.
Clouds had moved in, making the sky partly cloudy, so I figured the cooking time would be longer than the one additional hour I had anticipated. Even so, the highest oven temperature reached was 325ºF. pretty good for a day that barely rose above freezing. I took the roaster out of the oven at 1:45 p.m. The beets and squash were meltingly soft.
To make the sauce, I puréed one beet with all the squash in my 40-year-old blender with a little lemon juice for acidity, to make the sauce even more like tomato sauce, and to help the blender make the purée. I sautéed whole fennel seeds and minced garlic as usual, added the beet-squash sauce and my other usual pizza herbs and spices. I put the other two beets in the freezer (you can’t buy just one beet). The recipe is included in my The Sunny Side of Cooking solar cookbook.
It’s also possible to cook pizza sauce in a solar cooker.
See Part II here.