Marinara Sauce – THE Basic Tomato Sauce

by Michael on January 20, 2012 · 14 comments

in Recipes,Sauces,Technique

Post image for Marinara Sauce – THE Basic Tomato Sauce

Any stereotype of an Italian Grandmother will include Nonna cooking the marinara sauce all day then yelling out the window for the kids to come in. Well I have first hand knowledge that they do yell at the kids. And they did cook those fresh tomatoes forever.

Today however, there is no reason to cook your sauce that long. First, unless it’s the dead of summer and the trash pails are full of garden fresh tomatoes, it just costs too much. At $2.99 a pound for halfway decent tomatoes you will end up with $12.00 worth of sauce for that $1.00 box of pasta.

Second, you don’t have the tools and you don’t have the time. You have to blanche and chill the tomatoes. Then you have to peel them. Then cook them. Then, then you have to convince an 8-year old (Nonna’s method) to grind all of this through a hand-mill to get rid of the seeds and leftover skin. When all of that is finished, then you can start to cook the sauce.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have canned tomatoes. They are cooked already.  I use Muir Glen crushed tomatoes with basil. And in my opinion, the best by far.

Another thought is that everything is “with” marinara. It’s not the star. It’s the wing guy to the main star – pasta, chicken mozzarella sticks…  Just read any menu just about anywhere.

This is a simple quick base that can be modified a million ways. I learned this in Italy – make it simple. So lets keep it there.


1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tsp sugar


Peal the garlic and smash it with the side of a knife.

Add olive oil to a sauce pan with the garlic cloves
Cook on medium for five minutes until the garlic starts to ever so slightly start to brown.
(Do not let it get dark brown or it may start to turn bitter).

Add tomatoes, sugar and salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a light boil.
Cover and let simmer on low for 10 minutes – do not cook hard.
(Simmer is just below a boil – lower the heat until the bubbles are almost gone).

– Add 1/2 cup finely diced onions – Probably the most popular add-in.
– Add 1/2 cup white wine.
– Add 1 cup of light cream  – do NOT boil.
– Add onions and mushrooms right before you add the tomatoes.
– Add thyme and oregano for a pizza sauce.
– Add 1/2 cup vodka and 1 cup cream at the end and warm through for vodka sauce.
– Add 1/2 cup red wine.
– Add 1/2 can of tomato paste for an extra base for things like parmigiana.
– Add 1 cup red wine, 1/2 cup water, rosemary and 1 LB very lean beef cut in 1 inch cubes. cover and braise for 2 hours. Shred meat and mix back with the sauce.

… I think you get the idea. It can and does go on forever.

If you need further proof that this is simple, check out Mark Bittman on the subject of marinara.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Norm King January 20, 2012 at 2:38 PM

so far, so good…


2 Michael January 20, 2012 at 5:59 PM

I forgot anchovies. A sin really. 1, 2, 3. 4,…or the whole can added at the beginning can make this sauce just soar


3 Norm King January 20, 2012 at 11:24 PM

now we’re getting somewhere…


4 URL January 21, 2012 at 9:44 PM

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5 Michael January 22, 2012 at 3:47 AM

Thanks. Please subscribe. I think you will enjoy it.


6 Norm King January 22, 2012 at 5:39 AM

Since we’re being so foundational, shouldn’t you explain the meaning/origin of the word “Marinara”? I know, breaking your horns already…


7 Michael January 22, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Marinaro is the Italian word for sailor. Hence the name marinara. It could have been first made on the ships out of Southern Italy or made for the sailors when they returned. Either way, the sauce would be ideal for the warm climate and sea travel. The acid in the sauce acts as a natural preservative. The climate was also ideal for growing the new world fruit brought to Italy by the Spanish. I know nothing more other than it tastes good.


8 Norm King January 22, 2012 at 12:54 PM

sounds plausible. I want to believe that acidity in tomatoes contributes to shelf life, but they actually seem to degrade as fast, if not faster, than other produce…same with the closely related eggplant…but there is definitely no replacement for tomatoes, although banana ketchup isn’t bad!


9 Norm King January 22, 2012 at 1:04 PM

my understanding is that yeasts and molds actually favor an acidic environment. This is contrary to conventional wisdom, as most people believe that high acidity (low ph) has qualities as a preservative. Actually, alkalinity (high ph) is the more effective anti-bacterial environment. Bleach–one of the best anti-bacterials in common use, is very high alkaline, as is Baking Soda…and soap…


10 Michael January 23, 2012 at 3:04 AM

I am thinking that in the 1500’s they were not thinking about PH or yeasts. I think it went more like does it taste good and not make you sick.


11 Norm King January 23, 2012 at 3:59 AM

not busting your chops, we’re just talking here, right, Bro’? as for yeast…”People have used yeast for fermentation and baking throughout history. Archaeologists digging in Egyptian ruins found early grinding stones and baking chambers for yeasted bread, as well as drawings of 4,000-year-old bakeries and breweries”–that’s from Wikipedia, but it’s well documented. HOWEVER, until the late nineteenth century, it had not been proven that fermentation in wine was caused by the action of yeast, and was commonly believed to be the result of a chemical catalyst.
I did get off point with my comments to the extent that, yes, acidity has been used intuitively as a preservative for a long long time–it’s just not as effective as most people think…


12 Chang Derubeis February 15, 2012 at 1:47 PM

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13 Izzykonto March 14, 2012 at 7:49 PM

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14 Carlos April 17, 2012 at 4:33 PM

I still make this just like my mother and ndrgamother did. First we cut up some onion and cook it in a little butter until transparent. Then you add your canned tomatoes (whole or sliced) are best. Sprinkle a few teaspoons of sugar (depending on how sweet you like them) over the tomatoes. Cook until them begin to soften a little, stirring occasionally. When they seem to be the degree of softness you like, tear up some white bread into small pieces and put in the pan. Stir around until they absorb some of the juice. Serve and enjoy!!


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