Who doesn’t like marinara sauce? We’re sure there are one or two people out there, but most of us just love the slow-cooked taste of a homemade tomato sauce. And there’s the rub: that slow-cooked taste. Sometimes a good marinara sauce just doesn’t work into your schedule. You just got home, you’re starting to get hungry, and you’d like to have a meal on the table in under an hour. So you think: pasta and sauce, and you reach for a jar of “rag goo” or something like that. Afterwards, you really feel cheated. The sauce was kind of bland, way too sweet, and don’t get me started about the salt. And where was the tomato flavor, anyway? But at least it was fast, right?
Well, today we are going to make up a great marinara sauce that takes a little over 30 minutes from start to finish. If you’re having pasta (we had ours over a spaghetti squash that we had baking in the oven), you can get this sauce started, put on a kettle of water, work on the sauce, put the pasta in to boil, finish the sauce, and have everything come together right at the end in a total of 30 minutes. First time through, we suggest you just make the sauce, then make your pasta. It’ll be a bit easier.
This recipe comes from the important-sounding editors at America’s Test Kitchen in the book The Science of Good Cooking, which not only had this recipe, but explained why this recipe works so well, and has other tips and techniques worth testing out. We really didn’t change this too much, except to cut it approximately in half, use all the reserved liquid, use white wine instead of red, and add mushrooms.
- 1 (28 ounce) can tomatoes
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/4 large onion, finely minced
- 1/3 cup dry white wine — Pinot Grigio works well
- 4 tsp olive oil
- 2 tsp fresh basil, minced
Tomatoes are essentially the only ingredient here, and you know the rule: if you have a few ingredients, use the best you can. So, we used San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. They really are better, plus they’re not canned with calcium chloride, which makes for tough tomatoes. If you’re not sure it’s worth it, try some San Marzano tomatoes at least once, then decide.
Drain tomatoes. Place a colander in a large bowl and drain the tomatoes. While draining, use your hands to open up the tomatoes and remove and discard any tough, stringy cores. The original recipe said the same thing about the seeds, but we didn’t have many seeds, so we didn’t bother. Drain tomatoes for 5-10 minutes.
Reserve tomatoes. Scoop out about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of tomato pulp and set aside. We’ll add that toward the end so we have a bright, fresh tomato taste in our sauce.
Saute onions. Like everything savory, saute the onions in 2-3 teaspoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Saute these until they are tender and start to brown, about 5-7 minutes.
Add garlic and oregano. Still on medium heat, add the garlic and oregano. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add tomatoes. Add the tomatoes from the colander, not the portion you’ve set aside, and really cook the daylights out of them. Turn the heat to medium-high, and cook and stir until all the liquid is gone. Keep cooking until the tomatoes start to stick and the edges of the pan start to get brown spots. Yeah, to really bring out those flavors, you’ll need to cook for 8 to 12 minutes.
Add wine. Once you’ve cooked down the tomatoes, add the wine, and cook it away for about a minutes. You’ll end up with a thick sauce that smells delicious.
Add reserved tomato juice. The original recipe suggested adding a little over a cup of the tomato juice and to discard the rest. Bah, put it all in, and cook it down to whatever thickness you would like your sauce. For us, this took about 10 minutes. If you’re adding mushrooms, add them when you add the juice.
Add reserved tomatoes and basil. Remember those tomatoes you set aside? Now’s the time to add them, along with the fresh basil. If you don’t have fresh basil, well, add about 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil.
Season. Right before serving, taste the sauce and add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. The sugar is there to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, but you don’t need much. Start with about 1/2 teaspoon and work your way up. Finally, add the last teaspoon of olive oil.
Serve. We had this sauce over spaghetti squash. And it was great. Thick enough to stand up to the extra water in the squash, and really fresh-tasting.
This sauce is definitely a keeper; it’s probably one of the best marinara sauces that we’ve made, especially since it’s so simple and fast. It gets five stars! But there is one change we suggest: we cooked it up in a skillet, and, while it was fast, it splattered over the stove (a lot), so next time we’ll use a heavy-bottomed 3-quart sauce pan.