While living in New York, my roommate’s visiting mom made a marinara sauce that was delightful and memorable in how light and bright it tasted, relying primarily on the sweetness of the tomatoes themselves and the rich texture of the olive oil for flavor. While very simple, that was a very memorable meal and the best marinara sauce I’ve ever had.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 1 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes (the NYT recommends whole San Marzano tomatoes, certified D.O.P. if possible); stewed tomatoes are canned with other ingredients (such as onions or bell peppers), so plain tomatoes are ideal
- 1/4 cup high quality extra-virgin olive oil
- 5-7 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered length-wise
- Several fresh whole basil leaves (or dried oregano)
- Red pepper flakes to taste (or a small dried whole chile if available)
- Salt to taste
- 1 pound of pasta (such as farfalle or fusilli), cooked al dente
Crush the whole tomatoes in a large container. Pour water into the can(s) to get the remainder of the juices and reserve the water.
In a wide skillet (not a deep pot) over medium heat, heat the oil and then add the garlic when the oil is hot. Without browning the garlic, add the tomatoes, reserved tomato water and then dry ingredients (such as red pepper flakes and dried oregano, if using, and salt).
Add the whole basil sprigs, including stem, on the surface, and allow it to wilt before submerging into the sauce. Using a vigorous simmer, let the sauce thicken and the oil on the surface turns a deep orange (~15 minutes). Discard the basil and whole chile (if using).
Mix the pasta with the sauce (either in a pre-heated serving bowl or the pan with the sauce) before serving (instead of letting the pasta sit in a colander).
I didn’t realize until researching making my own marinara sauce that it is meant to be very basic, without the addition of onions, meat or tomato paste, among other ingredients, and shouldn’t be served with cheese. While tasty, those are ingredients for making different kinds of sauces, that aren’t marinara. It was also a pleasant surprise to find that marinara takes less than half an hour to make.
-Saturday, July 12, 2014: I made this sauce while SOC was out of town for the second-annual girls’ trip (this one in Bodega Bay).