The first thing I ever cooked completely by myself was marinara sauce. It was for the final project in 7th grade home economics. I had watched my mother prepare sauce hundreds of times. So I asked for the recipe. My mom was a little surprised and wondered why I wanted to try something that hard when most of my classmates would probably just make peanut butter and jelly. I asked her how hard it could be to boil tomatoes in a pot for awhile. A funny smile came across her face and without a word she wrote down the recipe. As she handed it to me she said the measurements were just estimations and that I would need three hours to cook the sauce. So off to school I went the next day recipe and a box of ingredients in hand. To speed up the process, I cut the recipe in a quarter. This also reduced how many ingredients I needed to bring. Home economics was only an hour so to complete the project I decided to cook the sauce at a higher heat. Everything started off all right, but after I added the garlic to the pan I realized I forgot to mix the tomato paste. The garlic had already started to brown so I tossed in the paste and added enough water to mix it together. Then the can of tomatoes went in and the heat went up. Since I forgot the fresh basil at home I used dried from the school pantry. I will say the higher heat caused the sauce to thicken in an hour and it did smell better than some of my classmates’ attempts at cooking. But my attempt was inedible compared to what my mother made.
I passed the class because I did not light anything on fire and my food still resembled something a person would eat. I was surprised that my attempt failed so badly and realized that even though there were only a couple of ingredients stewing in a big pot, the cooking process actually mattered.
It took me years of practice through college to perfect marinara sauce.
A few notes: I have found that using quality canned tomatoes tastes the same as fresh. Hunts is my product of choice. If you use fresh tomatoes they need to be skinned first. Here’s how: Heat a pot of salted water to a boil. Cut a small X in the bottom of each tomato. Toss into water and boil till skin loosens, about two minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and peel away skin. Allow to cool in bowl. Add a little more sugar during stewing to offset the acidity of fresh tomatoes as well.
- 5 28-ounce cans of Hunts whole tomatoes (or comparable brand)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with enough warm water to be the consistency of tomato soup
- 6 medium cloves garlic finely minced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 4 basil leaves
- 1 cup red wine
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large stock pot (at least six quarts). Add garlic and turn heat down to a low simmer. Stir constantly until garlic softens and starts to look clear. Do not allow garlic to brown. Add tomato paste mixture and stir to incorporate. Bring heat to high and cook till sauce bubbles and thickens. Add all tomatoes and leave the heat on high. Stir and then crush tomatoes. Don’t worry the sauce will be cool at first. Once crushed, tear basil leaves into small pieces and add to sauce along with sugar and wine. Mix and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and cover pot partially with lid. Cook stirring every five to 10 minutes for three hours or until thick. Do not let sauce stick to bottom of pot. This is base marinara sauce. It can be frozen for future uses or meat and vegetables can now be added to make any number of Italian dishes.