Monday, August 23, 2010

Marinara Sauce - This Time it IS Your Italian Grandmother's Red Gravy

This is one of those "application" posts.  In order to make dish B, I need to make dish A.  This is dish A, but tomorrow I have an amazing dish B...

Here's dish B, with the addition of the sweetness and richness of fresh Kalamata Olives, as well as the residual brine and oil they were shipped in, makes this tuna casserole, "Not your Grandmother's Tuna Casserole".  But that's a post for tomorrow.

I like to use phrases like, "Not your Grandmothers's..." (Like my "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence").  Often, with availability of ingredients, new fangled cooking appliances or even building on years of other cooks experimenting, updated recipes really are better.  But also often, all you are really doing is dressing up a classic that doesn't really need to be dressed up.

And marinara sauce is one of those things that really doesn't need much of a dressing up.  Tomatoes are everywhere now.  Cheap; $2.50 a pound is the going rate for sorted, top quality, and as little as a dollar for a bag if you are willing to take fluctuating sizes, a few bruises and variations in color.  For this recipe, grab the dollar a bag ones.  In fact, grab 5 or 6 bags.  Make a big batch, freeze in bags of 1 cup size each bag and you will be very glad you did.  February is just around the corner.  I don't think my wife will take me to the tropics this year.  But with a few bags of these in the freezer, next winter, I can take my wife to the Mediterranean.  Well, at least her taste buds.

Need I add that this bounty all came from my Farmer's Market.  If you missed it, I did a photo review of the Kansas City River Market.  Click HERE to see one of the best in the country.

And you don't need much to make this thick rich sauce.  All "real food", nothing zingy.  But deep rich flavors will add all the zing you need.

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 clove Garlic, smashed and minced
3 pounds ripe Tomatoes (a $1 bag), skins removed
1 tsp sugar
and a few leaves of Basil
2 TBS "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence"   
or, use the herbs you like, thyme, rosemary, lavender, whatever you please.  My  "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence" herb mixture works great, and since I always have a little bag of it handy, easy and fast, and is a ready made batch of the herbs I like.

Removing the skins is an easy thing to do.  Get a pot of water boiling, and have a bowl with ice water handy.  Cut an X into the top (not the vine end, the other end)just enough to break the skin.  Plunge them into the boiling water for only 15 seconds.  You want the outside to cook just a shade, but not so hot that the inside starts to cook.  Remove and plunge into the ice bath.  The skin peals easily now.

Smashing and mincing garlic is just as easy.  Take a wide chef's knife, put a garlic clove between the flat of the knife and a cutting board and smash away with the flat of your hand.  Then just mince away.  Easy and fast!

And now, once all the prep work is done, it is finally time to cook.  In a big cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil.  Add the minced garlic and sauté for just a few minutes. 

While that is working, rough cut the tomatoes into quarters.  Be careful and don't cut your hand, but best to quarter the tomatoes over the skillet. Every bit of juice you lose on the cutting board is just a bit less flavor.  Also, while you are cutting, remove any hard parts.  the stem end, and if the center is not ripe and red, pull it out.

Add a little sugar, add the "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provence" spices (or your own favorites) and stew away at a gentle simmer.  At a simmer, it takes about 45 minutes for the tomatoes to break down properly.  BUT, the longer you allow them to simmer, the sweeter the sauce will be.  I was doing other things around the house, and let mine cook for an hour and a half.  If you have less time, you can cook at a higher heat.  But keep an eye on them and stir often so they do not scorch.

And here it is after the hour and a half... All bubbly, sweet and filled with flavors.  I moved this in a couple of batches into a food processor and pulsed for just a few times to break it up.  At the last minute, add some fresh minced Basil leaf.  If you want a thin sauce, pulse a lot.  If you want a thicker sauce, no real need to pulse at all.  Me, i like the smooth even look, texture and taste of a thick but not chunky sauce.

Like This...

Can you stand a little history???  As originally printed in the WISEGEEK.COM site...
Marinara sauce originated with sailors in Naples in the 16th century, after the Spaniards introduced the tomato to their neighboring countries. The word marinara is derived from marinaro, which is Italian for “of the sea.” Because of this, many people mistakenly believe marinara sauce includes some type of fish or seafood. However, marinara sauce loosely translates as “the sauce of the sailors,” because it was a meatless sauce extensively used on sailing ships before modern refrigeration techniques were invented. The lack of meat and the sheer simplicity of making tasty marinara sauce were particularly appealing to the cooks on board sailing ships, because the high acid content of the tomatoes and the absence of any type of meat fat resulted in a sauce which would not easily spoil.
Even though marinara sauce has a reputation for being easy to make at home, there are currently several hundred different types of marinara offered on the market. Perhaps the increased popularity of marinara sauce is due to recent research which revealed that cooked tomatoes are rich with lycopene, an antioxidant which may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
Written by A. B. Kelsey
 So, simple, fast, easy to make and much richer than the jars you get in the stores.  And CHEAPER!  Save a dollar here and 50 cents there, and you have the budget to buy those little extras (like Kalamata Olives that add so much extra flavor to a simple tuna casserole (well, not so simple actually)).  But, that's a post for another day

See you tomorrow for this...


 I will be submitting this to Two for Tuesday.  Join the fun, all the ask is that you submit a recipe using "Real Food", I've been dreaming of REAL FOOD.  Makes me cry just a little bit 
(Click HERE for 2 for Tuesday details)...



  1. Oh Wow! Super yummy looking...



  2. NICE! I'll be posting mine tomorrow! Love it.

  3. I too, am looking forward to tomorrow's post and I promise to not stop trying to make your "this IS your grandmother's gravy" until I can get it to look like an apostrophe, just like yours.

  4. oh so gorgeous, nothing better then fresh ingredients. i love that first picture on your post too!

  5. YAY - finally comments are working! You're right, this is a recipe that grandma got right the first time. Good quality fresh ingredients equals awesome sauce.

  6. It was fun reading about the history of Marinara! Your Marinara came out beautifully! It's great that you were able to take advantage of your local farmers market.

  7. Fresh, homemade tomato sauce...does anything taste better? I'm inclined to think not.

  8. nothing is better than homemade tomato sauce. NOTHING. seriously, nothing. I learned this the year my husband worked at an organic farm and we had too many tomatoes. I was cooking none stop and we were so happy the whole year through, eating our canned sauce.

  9. Oh, it's beautiful! I totally want to lick that plate! Or maybe just use some garlicky bread to sop it up ;) Thanks for sharing it w/ Two for Tuesdays, Dave!!

  10. Daviiieeee..I love reading the history of marinara! I am also laughing because WAY back in college when i was working at a resort on an island in new england we had no money for a whole month and we fished squid and made our own marinara and pasta and had that for ALL our meals for about 3 weeks...I did get sick of the squid, but never lost my love of the gravy! :) Thanks for linking to the two for tuesday recipe blog hop and hope you are getting used to being back in the states! Alex@amoderatelife

  11. I just made this the other day with 2 huge bags of tomatoes. I didn't peel them first, we just spent the day pulling peels off as I stirred and in the end left some on - the lazy lady way of doing it. I cooked mine for like 4 hours and WOW! was it yummy. I didn't add Herbs de Provence but will look for it next time! Great Two for Tuesday post!!

  12. Ooh, I like the little tidbit about the history of marinara sauce. Of course now the name makes sense. Thank you for linking up with the blog hop at Two for Tuesday.

  13. An amazing Sunday special when you can smell it simmering all day long - mmmmmm - nothing finer.

  14. A good marinara sauce can be used in so many ways. You got the perfect swirl on that plate, nice job.