At the heart of ItalianAmerican cooking are the pasta sauces, the tomato based ones in particular. Red Gold, this is priceless stuff. Everyone has their particular style and signature methods of making their pasta sauces so this isn’t a post about what’s right..and what’s wrong. It’s a guide. It’s using my style to sauce your pasta, but it’s one particular type. Italians do not use a single sauce every time they pair pasta with a tomato based sauce. There’s types with meat, like that one that’s turned into the typical ItalianAmerican Sunday Sauce/Gravy we all love. Depending on the region the sauces will change and signify a completely new dish. And then there’s the basic tomato sauce which ALSO will change from region to region, kitchen to kitchen. This post is a guide for what we Italian Americans call MARINARA SAUCE. It denotes a light fragrant sauces of tomatoes, aromatics, olive oil and NO MEAT. On the other side (Italy) it’s referred to as SUGO DI POMODORO. Marinara in Italy means something to do with the sea, a dish using some type of fish or shellfish..nothing to do with tomatoes. I suppose the early immigrants used the term Marinara to simply mean a tomato sauce “senza carne”, without meat, like one you could use for fish and seafood. Drop some lobster, or crabs, or clams, mussels, shrimp or calamari into a Marinara and you have…Frutti di Mare Marinara. So there’s the connection. Order something on an Italian menu that says Marinara, it will be a fish/seafood dish of some sort. By the way, NEVER feel foolish when that happens. How are you supposed to know if you don’t live there and for your whole life you were told Marinara means a meatless tomato sauce?? Just a little tip for traveling or general food knowledge now. No debating or judgements here but but the best advice I can give regarding cooking is that the better the ingredient the better the finished product. My choice for all my Italian and ItalianAmerican tomato sauces and dishes are the D.O.P. San Marzano imported form the Sarnese-Nocerino area of Campania (Naples) Italy. DOP means the government certified them as genuine. The cost from 2.89 up to 9.00 depending on which brand you choose. I’m not married to any brand, as long as I’m satisfied with their taste. San Marzanos are usually softer (one of the key qualities) than other Plum tomato varieties. They tend to cook quicker and have more flesh to seed ratio so they are a chef’s choice for sauce for this reason. Also, they are low in acid and therefore sweeter. Ok, I love them, I eat them straight out of the can. Now you know!! LOL.
The other advice I will give is to limit the list of ingredients. Italian cooking, with some exceptions relies on a handful of ingredients to make a dish. I’m going to give you my Marinara Sauce recipe, add or subtract if you like, but it’s pretty delicious just as is. I’m in the less is more when it comes to Italian food. My sauce is made with the canned DOP San Marzano but you can use a like amount of your homegrown bottled tomatoes. The most important element of this sauce is the TOMATO. Tomato should be the fresh overriding flavor at all times. All the other players “support” the lead. This version of tomato sauce comes from the Napoletana (Naples) tradition.
MARINARA FOR A POUND OF COOKED MACARONI (PASTA)
1 28 oz can of SAN MARZANO D.O.P. TOMATOES (or a good brand of Italian plum tomatoes) termed POMODORI PELATI, or PELATI
1/8 cup EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
3 SLICED FRESH CLOVES OF GARLIC
PINCH OF PEPERONCINO (DRIED CHILE FLAKES, the RED ONES, not A CHIPOTLE TYPE)
1 TEASPOON SEA SALT or KOSHER SALT (or to taste)
6 FRESH BASIL LEAVES OR PINCH OF OREGANO
Use a wide skillet if using 1 can. For doubling or increasing the amount of sauce you’re making use a sauce pot. For the one can of tomatoes though a wide skillet works best. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic when hot, and sprinkle with 1/2 of the salt. Add 3 basil leaves, or the oregano, and the peperoncino. You’re flavoring the base of the sauce. Crush the tomatoes in the case with your hands (pour into a bowl and crush). After about 1 minute or so, the garlic will have flavored the oil..do not let it brown. Now add the tomatoes, Blend well. Add about 1/4 of an inch of water to the can and swirl it around, then add to the pan. Bring to a boil then reduce and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally. When the sauce is at your preferred consistency taste for seasoning, add more salt if necessary and the rest of the basil, another pinch of oregano if using oregano. PINCH of oregano is what I mean by the way…so often Italian food gets muddled down in too much oregano…only a small bit between the finger tips is needed. A little goes a long way. Use either or (basil or oregano). Let the sauce sit off the heat now for about 2 hours. Then reheat and use. Once it’s all at the heated preferred temperature it’s done. DON’T OVERCOOK THIS!!! The long simmered sauces are different, not marinara. Use on your preferred pasta, this is good for 1 lb. of cooked.
Happy Cooking!! BUONA CUCINA!!!