I love pasta. Whenever I didn’t feel like spending hours in the kitchen, I would grab a jar of sauce, boil some pasta and call it a meal. In the last few years, though, I’ve noticed that most commercial jars of marinara sauce contain added sugar. It boggles my mind. Tomatoes are sweet on their own; why do we need to add sugar? The simple answer to that question: we don’t need to add sugar to marinara sauce. In fact, we don’t need to buy it either. We can make our own. To make a basic marinara is easy and quick, and is often the base to many other sauces.
The first time I had an authentic marinara was at an Italian restaurant in New York. I was a little thrown back. It tasted nothing like I was used to from the commercial canned versions. It tasted fresh and light and it had a vibrant red color. For a moment, I thought that I ordered the wrong thing. But, what was wrong was that stuff I had been eating for years, not the food I just ordered. You can’t even compare the two. After eating a fresh marinara, I realized that it’s hard to taste anything in a jarred sauce. Everything tastes muddled. Since then, I haven’t turned back. In 15-20 minutes, I can make as close to authentic of a marinara sauce as I can with no added sugar. I really get the best of both worlds. And you will too.
One of the key ingredients of a good sauce is a good tomato. It would seem obvious to use fresh tomatoes, but this is one of the few times canned tomatoes might be better, especially if you want a quick sauce. Even still, we are picky about the tomato we use. Make sure they are italian tomatoes, like San Marzano. It’s best if they are whole. Tomatoes degrade the more they are processed. Of course, you can use whatever tomato you want. We are not feeding world class chefs who will judge our every choice. We are just trying to eat real food without added sugar. For a cheaper option, go ahead and buy the tomatoes that fit your budget.
A traditional marinara has tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and fresh basil or oregano. When we add additional ingredients to it, it becomes another sauce. But, I’m not looking. If you want other ingredients to your sauce that’s between you and your kitchen. Enjoy!
1/4 cup of olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
1 – 35oz can of San Marzano whole tomatoes, including juice
1 tsp salt
6 leaves of fresh basil or more, according to taste, chopped*
Use a skillet, not a deep pot. Heat oil in skillet on medium heat and saute garlic and pepper until fragrant about 30 seconds to one minute. If you brown the garlic, it is ruined. Add canned tomatoes to skillet and use potato masher to break it up, leaving it chunky. Season with salt. Turn heat on high until boiling, about 2 minutes, and then turn it down to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 15 minutes. It should have thickened but still be vibrant. Turn off heat and add chopped basil. Taste it before serving. If it needs more salt, add it.
*If you use dry herbs, saute with garlic in the beginning. Do not add fresh basil in the beginning, it will muddle the taste.