Many years ago, when I was being taught to cook, this was the first savoury recipe I learned. Having gotten my instructions, I lined the ingredients up on the worktop, found a chopping board and knife and off I went. Serving dinner to the family that evening, I felt so proud of myself!
Marinara, a classic Italian sauce, is made by pairing the main ingredient, tomatoes, with onions, garlic, some herbs and seasonings. So simple but also so adaptive, this is a core savoury recipe in our kitchen. It can be used as a jumping off point for a multitude of other meal ideas.
If you are not used to cooking from scratch, this is a great recipe to start with. It uses very basic ingredients and it is very hard to go wrong if you follow the instructions.
Lesson of the Recipe: Seasoning
Seasoning in a recipe like this is important. Add your sugar, salt and pepper gradually and taste the sauce between additions. This will help you to understand how the flavour develops and how to attain the levels of sweet, salt and heat that you like.
Name: Marinara Sauce
Recipe Type: Sauce
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 1 Hour
Chopping Board and Knife
800g Tomatoes, chopped
2 Onions, medium sized, chopped
200g Tomato Puree
4 cloves Garlic, crushed
Sugar, to taste
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Drizzle some olive oil into the saucepan, add the onions & stir over a medium heat until golden.
Reduce the heat, add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds to cook the garlic through.
Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, herbs and about 1 tsp sugar. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring the sauce to the boil and then reduce the heat. Allow it to simmer for about 10 minutes.
Taste your sauce. You may wish to add more salt, pepper, herbs or sugar.
Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer gently for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve on a bed of freshly cooked, just drained pasta (shape of your choice), topped with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
Some Notes about the Recipe
Chopping the Onions More coarsely chopped onions will give a more chunky sauce whereas more finely gives a more smoother sauce. If you have fussy eaters, (- I do, and I always need to hide the onions especially!-) you could even blend the sauce when it is ready for a velvety smooth texture.
Cooking the Onions If you cook the onions more slowly, they tend to have a sweeter and deeper flavour. You can cook them on your stove top, or in the oven. Putting a lid on them will stop them from burning if you have them over a low heat, as the steam gets trapped (this technique is called sweating). Season the onions with a little salt at this stage for richer flavour.
Preparing the Garlic When you have the skin off, it really doesn't matter if you mince, crush, chop, slice or grate the garlic. If you do leave it large though, it will cook more slowly and someone risks getting a large chunk of garlic in their dinner!
Adding the Garlic Garlic cooks very fast (especially if it is minced or finely chopped) and tastes unpleasant if it is burned. When I add the garlic to the onions, I actually turn off the heat and use the residual heat from the pan.
Which Tomatoes? It really is up to you what types of tomatoes you use and whether they are fresh or canned. If you are using fresh tomatoes, they may have more water in them and it may take a little longer for the sauce to cook down to the thickness that you like. If you are using tomatoes from your garden, depending on the variety, they may be paler fleshed, or even a colour other than red which will mean that the resulting sauce colour will look a bit different from the picture. It will taste great in any case.
All that sugar? Tomatoes are very acidic which is the reason for the sugar: the sweetness is needed to cut through the astringency and make the final result more palatable. Also, the type of sugar used makes a difference too: the less refined the sugar, the better the flavour it will give. If you wish to substitute or omit sugar, you may of course do so.
So much Salt? When cooking, it believe it is important to season your food properly. In fact, as the household 'chef' I believe it is my duty! My approach to salt is to add small amounts of seasoning at each step as I cook which results in the finished dish having an overall better flavour instead of just tasting salty. If you wish to substitute or omit salt, you may of course do so.
Cook it Slow This recipe would of course be suitable for a slowcooker, but cook the onions off before putting them in.
Double the Recipe This is a great recipe for batch cooking and it freezes really well, so it is worth making more than you need.
Sweetening If you want to use a sweetener other than sugar, that's no problem. In the past I have used fruit juice, jam, honey and maple syrup to name just a few. You could even use something like apple sauce if you had some stored from autumn time.
Salting Table salt is not the only option though it is probably the one we are most familiar with. Other ingredients, like soy sauce, can be added in its place to bring balance to the flavour too.
Tomato Passata This is a sauce of just pureed tomatoes that have been sieved so that the skins and seeds have been removed. It is less thick than tomato puree.
Do I love this recipe for its ability to be adapted? Do I ever! Here are some examples of other ways the base recipe can be used.
Tomato & Roasted Garlic Sauce
Tomato & Basil Sauce
Lasagne (Component Part)
Ross-fil-Forn (a Maltese baked rice dish)