Marinara sauce should be a staple in your pantry, and not just for spaghetti. It’s an ingredient in many recipes. I would venture to guess that the vast majority of cooks keep a jar of it stored in the pantry, myself included. What if I told you that with just 5 main ingredients and very little effort, you can make the most amazing marinara sauce ever? The flavor of fresh tomatoes really shines through and makes your tastebuds pop.
This is a good basic recipe for you home gardeners to keep on hand for when your tomato plants are producing like they’re on steroids. I live in South Florida where we grow tomatoes in winter because it’s just too darned hot in summer. Our plant this winter was producing so many tomatoes, I couldn’t keep up with eating them. Marinara sauce was the delightful answer.
Blanching and peeling tomatoes can be a daunting and time-consuming task, but I have a trick to share with you. As your tomatoes ripen, place them in zip-top bags, suck out all the air, and toss them in the freezer. When you’ve amassed a goodly amount, let them thaw. The skins will slip right off, and you’ll end up with tomatoes with just about the same texture as canned whole tomatoes, but with a much fresher flavor. Of course, you’ll need to plan ahead to freeze and thaw the tomatoes using this method.
To seed or not to seed? Purists will run the tomatoes through a food mill to remove the seeds, but I don’t bother. I like to cook down the sauce to a fairly thick texture, seeds and all, and serve it rustic-style (see my photo below). It’s slightly chunky, and yes, those seeds are still in there. The onions and garlic pretty much disintegrate into the sauce during the cooking process. If you want it smooth, you can use an immersion blender or even a regular blender to puree when you reach your desired consistency.
Truth be told, the simple flavor of this sauce may well tempt you to eat it without even cooking, like an Italian salsa, if you will. It’s just that good.
Use any combination of different varieties of tomatoes. I did. 🙂 I combined Campari tomatoes with large cherry tomatoes. By the way, if you do not have access to home-grown tomatoes, Camparis are the next best thing, in my humble opinion. And no, I don’t get paid for this endorsement. They are available in most larger grocery store chains and warehouse clubs.
I also had fresh basil growing, but no fresh oregano. So, I used fresh basil and dried oregano. If you have fresh, by all means use it! Keep in mind when substituting fresh for dried herbs: You will need 3 times the amount of fresh herbs to substitute for dried. The drying process concentrates the flavor of herbs and makes them stronger, so you only need about one-third the amount of dried. I add very little salt, because I like the natural sweet flavor of the tomatoes to shine through. The red pepper flakes are optional but give just the slightest bit of zing.
This recipe makes a relatively small batch, about 2 cups of marinara sauce. Feel free to multiply it at will.
Marinara Sauce Recipe
4 pounds ripe tomatoes (see instructions)
1 cup fine-diced sweet onion (about 1/2 of a medium-sized onion)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
8 leaves fresh basil, cut chiffonade (see Notes) or 1 teaspoon dried basil
3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried, crushed between your palms to release flavor
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes or to taste, optional
Salt to taste
For Frozen Tomatoes:
Let tomatoes thaw and slip off the skins. Trim out the stem end and roughly chop them.
To Blanch Fresh Tomatoes:
Bring a large stockpot of water to the boil. Have a large bowl of ice water ready. Cut a shallow X through the skin on the bottom of each tomato. Working in batches, drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and let cook for 30 to 60 seconds until the skin begins to split and separate from the flesh. Do not over cook. Drop the tomatoes immediately into the ice water. Drain and cool, then peel the tomatoes. Cut out the stem end and roughly chop.
Place the tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and gently simmer uncovered for 30 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally. The onions and garlic should be soft and dissolving into the sauce. Timing will depend upon how thick you like your sauce. The longer you cook the sauce, the thicker it will be.
At this point, you can leave it chunky and rustic or use an immersion blender to puree into a smooth sauce. Alternatively, pour the sauce into a heavy-duty blender and pulse.
The sauce may be cooled and refrigerated for up to one week or frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months. If you have a canner, here are canning instructions.
Yield: about 2 cups
• To chiffonade is to cut into ribbons. This is easily done with fresh basil leaves. Remove the stems and stack the leaves on top of each other into a pile. Roll the pile into a long tube from one side to the other. Cut into ribbons across the tube of basil.