Yo No Soy Marinara


I have a confession to make.

I used jarred tomato sauce a little while back.  In my defense, the sauce wasn’t terrible and I was actually aiming for the laziest meal preparation ever, so it fit the bill.  (We’ll cover this in depth in a future post.)

Jarred sauce never, ever factors into a pasta preparation in the TVFF household.  I think this is genetically impossible, considering my Italian heritage.  Plus, there’s just no reason for it.

We make a lot of pasta at home.  It’s the main menu item at least once a week, and I like to rotate in a couple of interesting sauce combinations (leeks/sausage/cabbage/fontina, puttanesca, broccoli/anchovy/butter).  But with both of us working full time jobs (her in NYC, me in Philadelphia) the urge for a dish that requires very little prep and cooking time…in other words, a sauce that can be done in the time it takes to boil the noodles.

All you need is a lock-solid recipe for a simple marinara sauce and you’re set for life.
The beauty of the simple marinara is that it is scalable.  It can be used for an easy pasta sauce.  You can jazz it up with additional ingredients (it’s the basis for that puttanesca ).  And the fact that it’s thinner than the long-simmer tomato sauces, it lends itself very well to the key to great sauce, the addition of pasta cooking water.

Simple Marinara

I call it a “recipe,” but that’s overstating things a bit.  It’s four turns of the pan with extra virgin olive oil.  Three or four (depends on size) cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled but left whole otherwise.  Toss in a good pinch of crushed red peppers at this point.  Sautee for a minute or so, lightly browning the garlic.

As for the tomatoes, I like the 28 oz (for a pound of pasta) can of Muir Glen Organic whole peeled tomatoes.  I put them in a bowl and break them up by hand, leaving some nice sized chunks.  Pour in the tomatoes and juice — watch out for the oil! — and then bring it to a lively simmer.

Once there, just lower the heat and cook for 5-10 minutes.  Once the water starts to boil out of the sauce, replace it with a ladle-full of water from the cooking pasta.  If you have some on hand, chop/chiffonade some basil or parsley and toss it in.  Taste and add salt if needed.  When the noodles are almost al dente, take them out of the pot and transfer them to the sauce pan with a little more of the pasta water and cook for about a minute, tossing with tongs to coat the pasta.

Here’s another hint:  When you take the pasta and sauce off the heat (this is when you put in the grated cheese, if you want), give one quick turn of the pan with the olive oil…it gives it back a bit of the robust olive oil taste that you cooked out during the preparation.

Is this a fancy dish…the kind you break out to impress guests?  Of course not, but it’s something you can throw together at a moment’s notice with ingredients that you always have in the cupboard.  It’s fantastic that you can have a full meal done in 20 minutes.

And knowing that you can put together a pasta sauce that kicks the ass of anything you can buy in a jar is a great feeling.

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  • Michael March 17, 2009  

    Great title! Soy capitan soy capitan

  • MonkeyBoy March 17, 2009  

    That looks nice, and quick. My wife likes to saute some Italian sausage with onions and peppers and then use that for the base with some pureed tomatoes. The bright acidic flavor of the onions comes through nicely.

  • Yvo March 20, 2009  

    Funny how I love pasta and make my own quick gravy often but I could never figure out marinara. Think it’s the using whole tomatoes thing. Will have to try this soon (with my own tweaks) – thanks!

  • Yvo March 20, 2009  

    PS A recent quick meal thrown together pained my heart when my (Italian-American) boyfriend said to me, “This tastes like jarred sauce. *cry it was because I couldn’t put meat in it, damn it!

  • Here’s another tip. To reduce the acidity of the tomatoes, add in either a very very small pinch of baking soda or add in a carrot. The carrot absorbs the acid, just remove it when done with the sauce!

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