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Homemade Marinara (Tomato) Sauce Recipe

March 06, 2012

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Growing up in an Italian home meant never eating tomato sauce out of a jar.  Ever.  It wasn’t until a 6th grade girl scout camping trip when I tasted my first spaghetti and “Ragu” and it was an experience I would never forget.   Unfortunately, I proceeded to get completely sick after I ate the foreign sauce and my mother had to come pick me up.  Since then I’ve always had a thing against jarred.

The good news is that a delicious tomato sauce is quite easy to make, requiring very few ingredients and high fructose corn syrup isn’t one of them.  In fact, the simpler the better.  My mom would make tomato sauce in the winter a little thicker and richer than summer tomato sauce.  She always started out sauteeing thinly sliced onions in olive oil and adding either canned tomatoes from the supermarket or tomatoes we had canned from our garden over the summer.  Depending on the acidity of the tomatoes, sometimes she would add a pinch of sugar.  Mom would also use tomato paste which gave a fantastic richness to the sauce, as well as dried oregano and basil since 30 years ago fresh herbs like this were definitely not available in New York in the dead of winter.  This was her Sunday ritual and we often used the sauce multiple times during the week for pasta and various “alla parmigiana” recipes.
Fast forward to the 21st century where I have my own family which is crazy about Italian food of all kinds.  Although he’s never admitted it, I think my husband might have married me to ensure eating red sauce-laden dishes on a regular basis.  So I have been making my own pretty good sauce for many years, but I never really pushed myself to make a great sauce until Rao’s gave me a run for my money, literally.  Once my husband tasted this new tomato sauce, he was completely hooked.  I would not have cared that much except for the fact that Rao’s is insanely expensive (anywhere from $8-$11 for a 32 ounce jar) and I had just educated myself about the risks associated with consuming canned tomatoes, which all commercially prepared tomato sauces use.  Well, drat.  So I challenged myself to come up with a sauce that would make my husband happy flavor-wise and me happy both nutritionally and financially.
For many years I have been using Pomi chopped tomatoes in tetra-pak boxes which the company assured me are BPA-free and don’t leach aluminum.  In addition, they use non-GMO tomatoes, although they are not certified organic.  These are my first choice for tomatoes for sauce since I like a little texture in my marinara.  If you really insist on organic tomatoes, your option is Bionaturae Organic strained tomatoes in a glass jar or Lucini whole peeled tomatoes (pricey.)  Again, for me it’s a preference of texture that I choose Pomi.  I also believe that a delicious sauce doesn’t skimp on the olive oil and neither does Rao’s at 48 grams of fat in a jar.  I don’t use quite that much, but I’ve tried to make sauce with very little olive oil and it just isn’t the same.  Lastly, I take my BFF, the immersion blender, and puree about half of the sauce in the pot before adding fresh basil and in my opinion, this is what makes the sauce great.  The softened onions and oil get blended with the tomatoes and add a subtle sweetness that takes the place of my NOT BFF, sugar.
Since pasta is a processed food which your body converts to sugar rather quickly, and one which is easily overeaten, I don’t make pasta all that often.  That said, we do find many uses for tomato sauce including meatballs (recipe coming on Friday), pizza quesadillas on sprouted or spelt tortillas, as a dipping sauce for some vegetables, and for my husband’s favorite dish, “insert any food here” alla Parmigiana.  Cooked tomatoes also have the bonus of being loaded with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, and in addition, they increase the iron absorption of whatever food with which you combine it.  Even more reason to say “mangia!”

homemade marinara (tomato) sauce

makes about 5 cups

 

¼ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced or 2 28-ounce containers of chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi

1 7-ounce jar of tomato paste (optional, for a richer, thicker sauce)

Sea salt to taste

A small handful of fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced*

 

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat.  Add the onions and sauté gently until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook another minute.
  2. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste with 2 generous pinches of sea salt and bring to a simmer.  Cover the sauce, lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  3. Puree about half the sauce with an immersion blender or pass through a food mill.  (You can also blend half the sauce in a blender or food processor.  Put the sauce back into the saucepan.)
  4. Add the basil and simmer for another 5 minutes or longer, if you have the time.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

 

*If fresh basil isn’t available,  you can add a few dashes of dried basil and dried oregano.

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26 Responses to “Homemade Marinara (Tomato) Sauce Recipe”

  1. Mia says:

    Many thanks for the recipes for the marinara sauce and the turkey meatballs. Every Italian grandmother had her own special recipes for marinara and meatballs and passed them on from generation to generation. Of course the recipes were very often changed a bit, just like you have done. My “nonna” used jarred tomatoes to use all winter; she also froze or dried some of her summer bounty of basil. In addition to the onion, nonna always added a bay leaf and some fennel seeds to the sauce for extra flavoring.
    Re. meatballs, she only used beef (from the butcher), and added lots of flavor with parsley and parmigiano cheese. If she thought the mixture seemed too “tough,” she would add a little water to “soften” it. Naturally, nonna could never give recipes, but she could always tell by instinct what or what not to add. How wonderful that you have continued some of your cooking traditions, and hopefully will pass them on to your daughters!

  2. Rafaela says:

    ok, i wrote in before reading the comments! sorry! I think i have my answer form your responses…thanks!!

    • Pamela says:

      No problem, Rafaela! The pasta I make most often is brown rice pasta since I really try to limit gluten which is contained in wheat and spelt pastas (as well as farro.)

      • Rafaela says:

        oh ok interesting thank you. I will try the brown rice….why do you try to limit gluten?

        • Pamela says:

          It’s probably something I should post about since there’s so much confusing info out there about gluten. But in a nutshell, we should strive to eat a varied diet and many of us are overeating gluten, sometimes multiple times a day. Gluten is a hard-to-digest and very inflammatory protein found mainly in wheat, but also in barley, rye, spelt and farro, as well as some oats. So if I am making sandwiches for lunch with wheat or spelt bread, I will not make another gluten-containing food that day. So we’re not gluten-free, just “gluten-limited.” Feel free to ask me any other questions you have!

          • Rafaela says:

            Thank you Pamela, it seemed a bit like a fad to me with all the “Gluten-free” eating, but now it makes more sense, I will be more aware of my Gluten intake now.

            • Pamela says:

              You’re so right about the fad part! I think some people have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon for the wrong reason, like thinking they will automatically lose weight. That’s not going to happen if they’re swapping a gluten-free cupcake for a wheat flour one. No benefit there! Swapping a whole food like spaghetti squash or quinoa for wheat pasta is a good idea, however. It’s really about ensuring you get enough variety in your diet and don’t overexpose yourself to anything, especially something as inflammatory as gluten.

  3. Rafaela says:

    yummmm….when you do make spaghetti, which do you tend to use? I do like the “Farro” or spelt pasta…is that a better option? Or is the processing always the same?

  4. Cristina says:

    Can’t wait to try your sauce. My husband loves sauce with penne. I am sure he will LOVE this!

  5. Mia says:

    A suggestion re. carrots in the sauce. Add a piece or two of carrot to the sauce as it is cooking, and then remove the carrot after the sauce is finished; the texture of the sauce will not be affected. Buon appetito!

  6. John Bockino says:

    Instead of traditional pasta we eat, most of the time, whole wheat pasta from Trader Joe’s–It is the tastiest of the whole wheat pastas. We also use real San Marzano tomatoes–pricey but worth it.

    • Pamela says:

      Hi John, we also try to make “alternative pastas” more often. I love Trader Joe’s brown rice pasta and the pasta in the photo is made from spelt. Even so, our bodies convert even whole grain pastas to sugar quickly and they are very easy (for me!) to overeat. San Marzano tomatoes are the gold standard. Thanks for writing in!

  7. Jeanette Bravo says:

    Dear Pamela:

    I am so excited about this recipe. My son Brandon, who lives in Texas, is been on my case for years because I buy the jar sauce. Yes, I am guilty! And I quote “Ma, please learn to make a real sauce.” It is simple! Now I have the opportunity to make the sauce and a healthy one at that. Thanks! You are the best.

    I do have one question! I have friends who cook their sauce for hours. What is typically cooking time for a simple marinara sauce?

    Jeanette

    • Pamela says:

      Hi Jeanette, Definitely make this sauce! A marinara sauce is typically a quick-cooking sauce, as opposed to a ragu. If you have time to simmer it for 45 minutes, do so, but 25-30 minutes will still produce a terrific sauce. Make sure you taste for seasoning before serving.

  8. Loretta says:

    I use farro pasta.

    • Pamela says:

      I’ve been meaning to try farro pasta, but it is $$$$! The pasta in the photo is made from spelt and I thought it was terrific!

  9. maria teresa says:

    @ stephanie

    my boyfriend adds wine to the sauce, but I don’t like it very much, and he is the first person in Italy I know doing that.

  10. maria teresa says:

    You can also use finely chopped carrots instead of sugar, to help with the acidity of tomatoes, if you don’t mind that their presence modifies a little the texture of the sauce.
    Greetings from italy!!

    • stephanie t says:

      Thank you! I wondered that about the sweetness of the carrot. :)

    • Pamela says:

      Grazie per il commento sulla mia ricetta! Sono felicissima di avere dei sostenitori in Italia e apprezzo moltissimo la collaborazione. I have tried carrots in the sauce, although not realizing they would help with sweetness, and my husband didn’t care for the texture. And that was that with carrots in the sauce!

      • maria teresa says:

        I discovered your blog some months ago and I love it! I’m vegetarian and many of your recipes are perfect for me (and I prepare them for my ‘carnivorous’ friends too). I prefer reading than replying but I couldn’t resist with this recipe!

        I must confess… the first times I read you write “preheat oven to 400 degrees” I couldn’t understand why one should use such a temperature to cook… my oven reaches 250 degrees and that’s enough!! but obviously they were Fahrenheit degrees :)

      • maria teresa says:

        dimenticavo: complimenti per il tuo italiano!

  11. stephanie t says:

    I have a couple questions: I have seen recipes adding a small amount of carrot/celery to the saute….non Italian? any thoughts? Also, what about wine? Do you ever add any to your sauces? White wine adds a very different flavor than red…also not Italian? Just curious… :) Thx!

    • Pamela says:

      See Maria Teresa’s comments, Stephanie. I used red wine in meat sauces once or twice, but not white, and never in a marinara.

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