When my husband Vic and I got serious about healthy eating in 1967, his mom Virginia gave me a copy of Let’s Cook It Right by Adele Davis. Vic was not thrilled with bran molasses cookies and kidney stew. By 1971, Vic, our baby David, and I were vegetarians. I bought Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé and baked leaden nut loaves. Few of my creations made our mouths water, so we visited the Cornell University Hotel School Library and borrowed cookbooks. I tried Japanese, Thai, Ethiopian, and Indian, but when I cooked Italian, I scored. Vic loved food that reminded him of his Italian grandma’s garden creations, the food he had loved as a child, so I couldn’t go wrong if I started with olive oil and garlic. Swiss chard and fresh onions, zucchini and escarole, and garlicky green beans made him smile, but he especially liked pasta with marinara sauce.
Virginia taught me how to make marinara sauce the way her mother made it. I simmered peeled and mashed tomatoes many hours to boil away the moisture before adding onions and garlic sautéed in olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, and basil.
In 1996 on a vacation in Costa Rico, Vic and I found a modest Italian restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The barely cooked tomato sauce was vibrant red with flecks of bright green. The restaurant owner, a haughty Italian woman who wore spike heels with her white chef’s apron, reluctantly gave me a vague recipe. When I got home, I did the unthinkable. I created a marinara sauce that Vic liked better than his grandma’s sauce. I offer it to you.
16 cups peeled Italian paste tomatoes mashed with your hands or a potato masher. Put the lumpy mush in a stainless steel colander (I use a large stainless pot with a vegetable steamer or colander insert) and let drain until the tomatoes lose half their volume. Timing depends on the moisture content of the tomatoes, but I begin first thing in the morning and let the tomatoes drain all day or begin after dinner and let them drain in the refrigerator overnight. Gently use a spatula to pull tomato mush away from the colander sides a few times to free the holes of seeds and hasten draining.
Then, sauté 10 cloves thinly sliced or diced fresh garlic (more or less) in 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil.
When the garlic is lightly browned, add 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, and ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional).
Add drained tomatoes and heat to a low simmer. Finally, add ½ cup (or more) of finely chopped basil, let the leaves wilt, and serve when the tomatoes are hot, but barely cooked. The taste is supreme and the sauce freezes well. I thaw a quart or two of frozen sauce on the darkest days of winter and serve over Christmas pasta. Here I show the sauce served over a black bean burger.
How do you make marinara sauce? Follow this link for more of my favorite recipes.