Homemade tomato or marinara sauce takes 30-plus minutes and is so worth the effort. It’s a good kitchen habit to develop.
For someone who spent years and years working (and eating) in Italian restaurants, I am a latecomer to homemade marinara sauce. Until just a few years ago, I would grab a jar in the supermarket whenever I needed a tomato sauce for pasta, pizza or whatever.
Now, I make it from scratch. As long as you give yourself an extra 30 minutes, you can make your own marinara sauce. The best reason to make your own: it’s so much tastier. Another reason: processed supermarket sauce is full of sugar (corn syrup, blech) you don’t need in your body. And, supermarket sauce is usually pretty high in sodium.
If you’re thinking, it’s not so homemade if you’re using canned tomatoes, you can think that. I think canned tomatoes are much better than any tomatoes you can find in the market unless you’re at a farmers’ market in the height of tomato season. I save freshly picked farmer tomatoes for sandwiches and other dishes where they can shine in their raw state.
Everyone makes a big deal about San Marzano tomatoes. Supposedly, they’re the best at about two or three times the price of other canned tomatoes. I’ve looked into this and there are as many people saying “don’t bother spending the money” as there are people saying “San Marzano is the only way to go.” For the record, I’m a non-San Marzano Muir Glen fan.
If you make a big batch of sauce, you can store it in the freezer so you have it on hand when you need it for:
- Pasta, for example, fettuccine with Italian sausage and peppers
- Eggplant or chicken parmesan
- Eggplant, mozzarella, pesto and marinara stacks
- Pizza, even cauliflower crust pizza
- Or, as a topping for meatloaf, for example, turkey pesto meatloaf with balsamic-tomato sauce
Everyone has their idea of what should and shouldn’t be in marinara. It makes for an interesting conversation, but I know what I like. My sauce recipe is from Mario Batali and if it’s good enough for him, it’s more than good enough for me.
You’ll need an immersion blender (optional), 3-quart saucepan
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 medium carrot, finely grated, no more than 1/4 cup
- 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, roughly processed with an immersion blender or crushed by hand — juices reserved
In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and light golden, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute or until the garlic starts to get aromatic. Add the thyme and carrot, and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft.
Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until it’s as thick as you like. Mario says to simmer it until it looks like hot cereal. Season with salt.
You can make this sauce ahead and store it for one week in the refrigerator or up to six months in the freezer. Makes 4 cups (32 ounces).
Original recipe: Basic Tomato Sauce, Mario Batali
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