Some of my quickest meals are made from the pantry. And when I say pantry, I’m not just talking about the cupboard with dry goods. My fridge and freezer are extensions too, and the goodies I keep in there allow me to make lightening fast, gourmet-like dinners with little effort. One thing you’ll always find in my fridge is homemade marinara sauce. I grew up on homemade sauce. OK, so maybe there was a period I refused to eat my pasta with it. Yes, I suppose even we Italians go through a fussy stage as children. But being reared on red sauce isn’t the only reason you should make your own at home. Next time you’re grocery shopping, read the labels carefully. Many popular brands list high fructose corn syrup within the first five ingredients. Sure there are some great quality jarred tomato sauces available these days, but the really good-tasting ones are not easy on the wallet, weighing in around $5 or $6 a jar.
Luckily, all you need is six ingredients and about 20 minutes, and you’ll be ready to serve your family your own homemade marinara. Now, a few tips I’ve learned over the years. I prefer to leave the garlic cloves whole for a few reasons. The flavor is gently coaxed out this way and there’s also pretty much no risk of burning it this way. Tomatoes are also very acidic so I find the flavor needs a little balancing out. This is easily done with a pinch of sugar—I use turbinado but you can use whatever you have on hand in the sugar jar. Some chefs suggest using finely diced or grated carrots instead, which add a natural sweetness, so I’ll let you be the judge for your own family.
San Marzano tomatoes are my favorite but I’m here to help, not be an enforcer, so if you prefer another brand, go for it. And the same goes for using whole, crushed, diced or pureed tomatoes. The texture is a personal preference. When you’re all ready, simmer some of my Lentil-Ricotta “Meatballs” in it for a tasty vegetarian version of an Italian-American classic. I promise you’ll never miss the meat.
Jennie’s Marinara Sauce
Makes about 1 quart
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes
Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
Pinch of sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in a deep, heavy bottomed 2-quart pot. Add garlic and saute until very fragrant and golden. Using your hand, crush tomatoes and add to the pot—this can be done beforehand in a bowl if you’re worried about any oil popping up when the liquid makes contact with the hot oil.
Pour any remaining liquid from the can and stir. Add the basil, sugar and season with salt and pepper. Let simmer for 20 minutes. May be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer for two months, stored in an airtight container.
Originally published at my Relish Magazine column—Jennie’s Family Table. Visit me every month for a new, easy to make recipe the whole family will enjoy!