Are you ready, fellow cooks? Now that you have all of your staples and proteins and all those great spices, it’s time to make sauce!!
Pasta sauce. Tomato sauce. Red sauce. Or “gravy” as some misguided Italian Americans call it.
Today we’re making a basic marinara sauce. No meatballs, no sausage or veal or pork.
After this post, you will never again have to reach for one of those jars of pre-made, sugary, over-salted-yet-tasteless-fake-Italian sauces.
This is EASY.
All you need are a good heavy pot (I still use a hammered aluminum pan that my Mom got early in her marriage. It has been making sauce for about 6 decades), a paring knife and a big spoon.
Gather your ingredients.
Because it’s August, and I have a great local farm stand, I made this sauce out of fresh tomatoes. I had some plum tomatoes (the oval ones) and some nice juicy salad tomatoes. If I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, I would have used a large can of ground peeled tomatoes. I like San Marzanos made by Cento, but any ground and peeled tomatoes are fine.
I also needed tomato paste, garlic, some onion, olive oil, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, basil and oregano. When I don’t add meat to my sauce, I like to add some fennel seeds, but they’re definitely optional.
You can see that I had fresh basil on hand, but if I hadn’t I’d have used dried basil. Today I had dried oregano, but sometimes I have fresh. See? Doesn’t matter. Be flexible. Tomatoes are the important part!
Oops, I forgot one thing! I always make sauce with a couple of bay leaves.
The trick to making good sauce is taking the time to let it cook. It has to simmer, long and slow. All of the flavors have to blend and merge. It’s best to let it cool completely and rest for a while before you reheat and eat it. That’s why a lot of times I make a batch in the mid afternoon and simmer until night; we have for dinner the next day!
The preparation is quick (maybe 20 minutes or so), but the simmering is key. Once my Nana told me “Americans don’t understand why our sauce tastes so good. It’s because they don’t let it cook all day, like we Italians do!”
So it’s easy to do this. I swear. I promise. You can’t really go wrong with it, either.
You just mince up your garlic and onion and and sautee them in some olive oil until they’re soft. Want a quick tip? The easiest way to deal with garlic is not to peel the cloves until you’ve smooshed them. I put two cloves on my cutting board and put something flat on top (the side of a wide knife is good, but a small plate works, too). Then just push down with the heel of your hand until it smooshes. Now it’s easy to take the skin off and just mince it with a knife or put it into the pot smooshed.
In case you were wondering, “smoosh” is a culinary word that can be used to replace the finer terms like “mince”, “grate” or “pummel.”
I usually put my bay leaves (broken into couple of pieces) into the oil, too. It sort of releases the flavor. While those are getting soft, cut up your tomatoes.
Nope, you don’t need to peel them or seed them or anything else. Nonni says so.
Now comes the easiest part. Put the tomatoes and everything else into the pot. Stir. Cover and simmer on low.
Come back every half or so to stir again. While there, inhale deeply and pretend you’re in Tuscany. Or Napoli. Or the hills of Roccobascerana where my Dad’s family still lives.
After about two hours or so, taste a little bit by dunking a piece of bread in and taking a bite.
NOW LISTEN: You may NOT dunk in wheat bread, rye bread, raisin bread or a bagel. It MUST be white bread, and it SHOULD be a chunk of Italian bread or a good baguette. You take a bite, think for a minute, shrug, the add a little more red pepper, or salt or whatever.
Then you go away and relax for another hour until its time to do it again.
See why Nonni’s are a bit stout?
After two hours, it is time to add the secret ingredient to your magnificent creation.
Simmer some more.
You can eat it that night, or eat it the next day. I like to make pretty big batches, each of which provides about 4 meals for Paul and I. Two if the grandkids are around.
Marinara is great on any type of pasta. We usually have it on ravioli or tortellini, with the cheese as our protein.
Get the recipe specifics on the recipe page!