There are soooo many variations of Marinara and Tomato sauces I have to wonder if there ever was an “authentic” marinara sauce recipe to begin with.
Marinara derives from the Italian word for sailor, marinaro. The origins of marinara was that it was a sauce made in Naples, Italy for the sailors when they returned from the sea. An old Italian version of marinara sauce did contain seafood in the original recipe and today it is still served with seafood depending which part of Italy you are visiting. Nowadays, and especially in the USA, it is uncommon to cook the sauce this way.
Either way, the quality of your marinara sauce will be directly proportional to the quality of the tomatoes that you use. Period!
As stated in my previous blog entries, I think Stanislaus tomato products of California are the absolute best. “Alta Cucina” and “Valoroso” plum tomatoes are my favorites and can be obtained from Restaurant Depot in the #10 cans (each can is equal to approximately 3 1/2 28 oz. cans). You can become a member to obtain them or, alternatively, you can find the best Italy has to offer in San Marzano tomatoes from the supermarket or use whatever different brands that you may like.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve made marinara sauce the way I believed was the authentic way.
Canned tomatoes or Fresh tomatoes in the summer, Olive Oil….Garlic…Fresh Basil… Salt & Pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes for a little zing-ahhh…no oregano…no onion…no sprinkled cheeses…no nothing.
On occasion, I would tweak the flavor with a small bay leaf (my friend David Mannes, former chef at Carmines in NYC, put a bay leaf in his pomodoro sauce) or perhaps I cheat and add a little sugar to counter the acidity of the tomatoes.
With that thought in mind, I decided to make my marinara just this time with onion and carrot and no sprinkle of sugar. This is no big secret as a lot of “marinara” recipes do include onion. I stuck in the carrot as well, however chose to remove the carrot at the end of the cooking process and snack on it.You can, if you wish, Cuisinart your carrot first and leave it in with the sauce.
In short…what happened next was a major social success. The sauce had a sweeter flavor and was a huge crowd pleaser.
I guess there is a now a place for this sauce on my menu…however my own personal favorite still remains the ‘authentic’ way…even if I have to cheat a little with a bit of sugar.
The recipe is simple…
This recipe feeds 8-10 as a main course (depending on what else you serve)
3-4 28 oz. cans of your favorite canned tomatoes or 1 #10 can of the Stanislaus product tomatoes
1/4 cup *** EVOO plus 2 TBSP. for the final prep
1.5 lbs. of your favorite packaged pasta (preferably a product of Italy) prepared AL DENTE (this is a must). Try to find pastas that contain only semolina and water. Too many pastas are enriched (ENRICHED MACARONI PRODUCT) and I try to stay away from those.
1 huge onion (chopped coarse)
1 large whole peeled carrot
1 bay leaf
Fresh flat leaf parsley (app 1/4 cup chopped)
3-4 large cloves fresh garlic (pressed or very thin sliced)
Fresh Basil (large handful either whole leaves or chiffonade/ see pic below)
1 TBSP kosher salt in a minimum of 8-9 quarts of water plus some salt for final prep to taste
Fresh mill white pepper…to taste
A few shakes of red crushed pepper
*Saute 2-3 cloves of pressed garlic in ***EVOO on medium heat until golden
*Add onions. Stir immediately. The liquid in the onion will stop the garlic cooking process so the garlic doesn’t burn. Saute for a few minutes until onions are translucent…not browned.
*Break up tomatoes by hand by squeezing them through your fingers and add to pot with juices tomatoes were packed in
*Add carrot, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, parsley, pinch of oregano and 1 tsp salt to start/more salt later to taste.Cook on medium low uncovered (3 to 4 on your stove dial) for about 1 hour stirring at least every 10 minutes.
*When sauce looks like the water from the tomatoes is cooked off…turn off the heat and add white pepper to taste.
*Cook your pasta in plenty of salted water (1/2 tsp. per quart) and drain…reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
I spray a bit of cool water on top of the drained pasta to remove some of the starch and help stop the cooking process of the pasta…being careful to not spray too much water as I don’t want to lose all the starch.
*Now is the time to remove the bay leaf. In a conversation I had with restaurateur Joe Bastianich, he voiced a valid point that one could choke on a bay leaf…thus I now remove them before serving.
MY technique for absolute best taste. Read Carefully!
*On medium high heat put about 2 TBSP of EVOO and one pressed garlic clove into the pasta pot and cook garlic until golden.
This starched water process is key!
Immediately add to that your reserved 1/2 cup of starched pasta water (stand back a bit and breathe in those beautiful fumes), 2/3 of the fresh basil, parsley and bring to a quick boil on medium high heat. Add about 3 cups of sauce and cook for a minute or two until the starched water is reduced.
* Immediately add the AL DENTE pasta to the pot and stir vigorously for about 30 seconds until pasta is coated. Add salt to taste. Stir again for just a few more seconds.
Both of these stir processes MUST BE DONE QUICKLY so as not to overcook the pasta.
Empty pasta onto platter, ladle some sauce over the pasta and then top with the rest of the chiffonade of fresh basil leaves.
Very Important Cooking Technique:
Total cooking time will reduce if you want to remove by hand the small core from each tomato (I learned this technique from the folks at the original Rao’s NYC) since you will also lose some water from the tomatoes. Use and do not throw away, however, the tomato juices the tomatoes are packed in.
Removing the cores of the tomatoes maximizes the flavor as a core from a tomato can create a bland tasting chewy bite.
You will then reduce the cooking time to about 45 minutes since some water from the inside of the tomatoes can come out when removing the cores.
Since cooking times can vary, the most important thing is to cook the sauce down until most of the water is cooked out and the sauce has thickened.
Even though tradition demands a sprinkle of grated parmigiano or grana on this type of sauce…I resist. I think it gets in the way of the flavor of this sauce and for sure a seafood sauce. I do, however, wholeheartedly support cheese till your hearts content on meat sauces. Bottom line…your choice.
***EVOO = Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Chiffonade of Basil