I am consistently floored by the amount of ingredients and sheer preparation cookbooks tout when including a recipe for marinara. Made from fresh essentials like garlic and basil, marinara does not require the same kind of attention needed in piecing together gravy used in Shepherd’s pie or smothers a turkey dinner. Marinara is after all, a sauce.
I know Italians who take their marinara very seriously. They swoon and they fill their gravy bowls with well, gravy – real Bolognese Ragu chock full of stock and one to two glasses of wine and/or milk. The very essence of this gravy suggests that it lingers happily between the fibers of tagliatelle or pappardelle, which is usually layered in pieces of lamb. Gravy in and of itself serves a purpose only if paired with something equally hearty.
Marinara though, glides across a dish of spaghettini like none other, soaks up a ziti likening it to it a penne on a good night and festoons ravioli with a kind of reprieve. Marinara does a dance all of its own. It sits atop a cutlet without overpowering the cutlet’s breadcrumbs, without diminishing its taste. Marinara would never be caught dead on top of a biscuit. Marinara does not play well with other cuisines.
In my apartment, marinara starts with a cutting board, a knife and ideally, a generous eyeballing of garlic. If you’re anything like me though, you do not garnish your marinara liberally otherwise you will be in serious need of an anti acid like the Pink Stuff; not quite a Limón cello finish to a beautifully rendered dinner. Indigestion aside, the bear minimum is needed to craft an ambrosial array of tangy and sweet red syrup.
In my humble opinion, marinara should taste like beloved Nona’s famed recipe – it should surprise your palette with the subtle hints of balsamic vinegar and the prevalent presence of delicious tomatoes. It should never be jarred or reheated in a microwave. It should compel you to double dip and find yourself fighting the urge to sip it as though it were a soup.
My love affair with marinara comes full circle once I introduce the sauce to my friend Parmesan. Though somewhat of a gastronomical nightmare amidst my mozzarella and tomato side salad, I suffer in ravenous radiance at my countertop with stools for two every time I serendipitously prepare myself a marinara.
Sauce (the way it was intended)
- Olive Oil – personally I recommend investing in a bottle of
- Have Morton Salt nearby and black pepper to spare
- Fresh garlic (eyeball it, you typically need less than you think unless you enjoy tasting it the next morning)
- Fresh Basil
- Tomato paste – any type will do
- Crushed tomatoes – San Marzano aren’t half bad and sometimes the grocery store carries them. If you live near a specialty food store, stock up on whichever can your pork store manager carries. His suggestions are always welcome.
- Parmesan cheese – steer clear of Kraft's container.
- Balsamic Vinegar – only to be added after the crushed tomatoes and only pour about a tbsp into your sauce
- Optional: diced yellow onion – again, not to be overdone otherwise it will drastically change the taste of your marinara
Oil needs time to heat the pot before it can marinate the garlic and basil. Do not add the Parmesan or the vinegar without first cooking the paste and tomatoes together for several minutes. The sauce should only be set on medium heat and should be stirred often. Ideally, give the sauce anywhere from half an hour to an hour to blend nicely enough to serve. Bon appétit.