One of the very first things that I learned to cook as an adult on my own was my Nana’s recipe for marinara sauce. It was much more conducive to my studious lifestyle than the get-up-at-eight-in-the-morning-on-Sunday-and-start-rolling-meatballs-and-browning-porkchops sauce that my mom and grandmothers made each week. This version could be whipped up on a whim and ready to eat in 45 minutes. Additional bonus: Not one animal would be harmed in the making of it. It is so delicious that you could drink it. This is the easiest, most versatile sauce and most everyone has the six ingredients in their pantries at all times. Everyone should know how to whip up a batch of this for emergency dinners or to replace store-bought red sauce in recipe such as lasagna or stuffed shells. I will teach you how to make this marinara sauce in a future post and soon you will be impressing even the most discerning of unplanned Italian dinner guests.
Many years later, I became a homeowner, and the first thing that I did was plant a small garden of herbs and tomatoes. I couldn’t wait until I could use fresh tomatoes, basil and oregano from my own yard to make my beloved marinara sauce, and this was the first year I got enough yield to do so. I have made the marinara with store bought tomatoes and herbs, but it is just not the same level of freshness nor sense of accomplishment as growing the essential ingredients yourself.
Finally last week, there were about 15 perfectly plump, red tomatoes on my vines and there were masses of basil and oregano in the herb garden. I was finally ready to make my first-ever homegrown batch of sauce! Here we go…
Now that the herbs and tomatoes are picked and washed, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Also, prepare an ice bath and place it in the sink. The first step in the process of prepping the tomatoes is to core them and slice an “X “at the bottom.
Place a few tomatoes into the boiling water and blanch them for a minute or two. Don’t crowd the pot, only do about four at a time. Transfer to ice bath to halt cooking, and drain. The skin will peel right off. Discard.
You will also need 2 – 4 cloves of garlic, depending on your taste preferences. I always use fresh organic garlic, never the stuff in jars. Jarred garlic is not acceptable. Pull the garlic cloves from the bulb, removing excess outer membrane, then gently press down a coffee cup to loosen the shell around the meat of the clove. Next, take a sharp paring knife, and channeling Paulie from Goodfellas, slice the garlic as close to paper-thin as you can. You can use a razor-blade if you are feeling extra mafioso that day.
Now we will saute the garlic with a high-quality extra virgin olive oil. For the best taste, you will want a pure olive oil, not one that is diluted with other types of oils. It is also a good time to note, olive oil is the only type of oil that should be used in Italian cooking. Pour enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, stir in the garlic with a wooden spoon.
It will cook fast, so before the garlic starts to brown, add the tomatoes in and continue stirring.The tomatoes will being to exude some juice, and you can use the wooden spoon to softly break the tomatoes into chunks. I like to make my sauce chunkier, but many people don’t, so if you want a smoother sauce, toss the tomatoes into the blender and puree until it reaches the desired consistency.
At this point, you can add about a tablespoon of pure cane sugar and stir. Turn heat to low and let simmer about 2.5 hours. Stir the sauce occasionally. You can add a little bit of water if it boils down too much. During the last half hour, you can add as much basil as your heart desires – I love to load it up! Also, pull the leaves from about two branches of the oregano and add to pot. I do not like too much fresh oregano, a little goes a long way. Also, I took a sprig of Thyme, and added that to the pot whole. Simmer about another half hour.
Now all you need is an excellent Italian cheese (my pick is hand-grated Locatelli), some angel hair and a Hello Kitty bowl and you will be in spaghetti heaven!