A good red sauce is something all of us need in our cooking repertoire and these are my three favorite versions!
No All Day Simmering Required- That’s Marinara!
Do you know the difference between spaghetti sauce and marinara? I would have been hard pressed to say exactly what that difference was until recently (thank you Google) when I started writing this post.
My mother in law and my sister in law make luscious red sauces- the kind that simmer all afternoon filling the house with delicious, comforting aromas that make you feel like you’re in an old school Italian grandmother’s kitchen somewhere in Naples. THAT’S spaghetti sauce. It’s thick with a more concentrated, rich flavor because of the long, slow cooking. And often it contains meat.
Marinara, on the other hand, cooks for a much shorter time. It’s not as thick as a simmer-all-day pasta sauce and it doesn’t contain any meat. The flavor is brighter and more like fresh tomatoes.
Both of these red sauces are wonderful for their own special qualities. But when you want good sauce with homemade flavor AND you don’t have hours to wait- marinara is the winner!
What Can You Do With A Batch of Marinara?
So. Many. Things.
The most obvious use is to serve it over pasta- spaghetti, rigatoni, whatever pasta shape your little heart desires! Our boys will eat pasta with sauce as an after school “snack” and it’s so convenient for a quick dinner. Marinara is so much more than pasta sauce. When you have a pot simmering on the stove (or a jar in the pantry or freezer) the dinner possibilities are endless:
Here are some of my favorite marinara uses:
- Meatballs My Way– these are BIG meatballs topped with sauce and cheese and served over green beans
- Tomato soup- thin with some cream or broth and puree until very smooth
- Chicken Parmesan- bread and sauté chicken cutlets, top with sauce, cheese and bake
- Stuffed peppers and stuffed cabbage- pour it under, over and around before baking
- Use it in your favorite Lasagne recipe
- Eggplant Rollatini or Eggplant Parmesan
- Use it in place of diced tomatoes in soups like minestrone
- Stir into cooked Spaghetti Squash, top with crumbled Italian sausage and shredded cheese, pop under the broiler to quickly brown
- Simmer Italian Sausage and bell peppers in marinara for a to die for Italian sausage sandwich
- Pour it over meatloaf before baking (I like to use it IN the meatloaf mixture, too)
- Shakshuka- if you haven’t heard of this eggy-tomatoey deliciousness google it asap!
- On pizza in place of traditional pizza sauce
- Warmed up as a dip for breadsticks or fried mozzarella
…and so many more…
In No Particular Order Here Are My Top 3 Marinara’s…
So when I say that the red sauces in this post are my favorites I need to clarify that these are my favorite marinara’s. If you’re looking for spaghetti sauce you might need to give my MIL or SIL a call 🙂
All three require an hour or less of cook time and 100% deliver when it comes to big flavor! The one you decide to make may depend on the season, the ingredients available to you or the amount of time you have.
My Favorite Sauce From Fresh Tomatoes
When beautiful, juicy summer tomatoes are available THIS is the sauce you should be making! Easy Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce is pure summer tomato heaven! I make several batches every summer and freeze the extras.
Here’s What You’ll Do:
Gather the juiciest summer tomatoes you can find. Core and quarter them and place in a roasting pan (skin, seeds and all) along with a roughly chopped onion, salt, pepper, a little sugar, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Stir it up.
Cut the top 1/4 inch off of a full head of garlic and place it in a square of foil, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and enclose it in the foil. Throw that shiny little package right in with your tomatoes and roast the whole thing about an hour, stirring once or twice- the tomatoes should get some nice little charred spots.
At this point you’ll stir in chopped fresh herbs- make sure to add the herbs AT THE END because fresh herbs lose flavor when they’re cooked for a long time. As soon as the garlic is cool enough to handle you’ll squeeze the roasted garlic out of the bulbs and into the sauce. Use your immersion blender to whirl it up as smooth or as chunky as you like it.
It’s ridiculously good and you can get the full recipe here- Food 52’s Easy Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce.
This is the sauce I love to turn into creamy, delicious tomato soup! Just puree with a little cream or broth and serve along side a gooey-inside crispy-outside grilled cheese and you have hit the flavor-texture jackpot. Want to kick it up another notch? Make this Pane Bianco (the caramelized onion version is especially good) for the best grilled cheese sandwich….you’re welcome 🙂
My Favorite Sauce From Canned Tomatoes
When fresh summer tomatoes aren’t in season I make Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato sauce. It’s one of my very favorites for it’s simplicity and silky feel. It’s literally three ingredients- tomatoes, butter and an onion. Seriously, that’s it! The quality of the ingredients MATTERS here. Get San Marzano tomatoes and use real butter. DO NOT skip the butter or think you can sub olive oil- the butter mellows the edges of the tomatoes and creates the silky mouth feel.
Here’s what you do:
Cut an onion in half and put it in a stock pot along with your butter. Let it cook for a few minutes on low until the butter is melted and then add the tomatoes. I roughly crush them with my hands as I add them to the pot. Stir occasionally while it gently simmers away on the stove for an hour or so.
If you’re used to a highly seasoned sauce, know that this is not that kind of sauce. This one is all about the rich, smooth mouthfeel and the pure, simple flavor of tomatoes. personally, I enjoy it exactly as Marcella wrote it, but to please all of the palates in my house I usually doctor the original recipe to spice it up.
Here’s what I add:
I throw a parmesan rind in the pot along with a whole carrot (for sweetness), a pinch of red pepper flakes, dried oregano, a smashed garlic clove, kosher salt and balsamic vinegar. When it’s done remove the parmesan rind but only 1/2 of the onion and smooth it out with an immersion blender (or in batches in a regular blender or food processor).
Taste. Adjust. Enjoy.
When I make this sauce I like to make a lot of it (it’s great for freezing)! Costco carries huge #10 cans of San Marzano tomatoes for less than $5 (at the time of writing this post). When making a large batch I multiply the recipe x 4.
My version is in the recipe card at the end of this post. You can find Marcella’s famous tomato sauce recipe here, or buy her book The Essentials Of Italian Cooking (it’s a classic and one of my favorites).
Roa’s To The Rescue!
Let’s finish with the absolute EASIEST sauce. All you have to do is twist off the lid- I mean, it doesn’t get any easier than that, right?
Life happens and sometimes we just don’t have the time (or the desire) to make sauce from scratch and that’s where Roa’s Marinara comes in. It’s SO good and tastes homemade. I always have at least one jar in my pantry for quick meals- it’s like a pantry security blanket.
Also, read the Roa’s Marinara ingredients label- it only contains REAL food ingredients you’d use yourself if you were making sauce from scratch. Compare their label to most other sauces and you’ll be shocked at the added sugar, oils and preservatives they contain. You and your family deserve better!
Having marinara on hand is like being halfway to a delicious meal at all times!
If you try one of these marinara recipes I’d love to hear about it! Tag me on Instagram or Facebook @breathingandcooking or tell me about it in the comments.
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 5 Tablespoons butter
- 28 oz can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and left whole
- 1 parmesan rind (optional*)
- 1/2 Tablespoon Diamond kosher salt (use less if using other salt)
- 1 smashed garlic clove
- 1 teaspoons dried oregano
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
The amounts in this recipe are flexible. Sauce is one of those things that you taste and tweak as you go along. Make it yours!
- Starting with a cold pan, cut onion in half (stem to end) and place in a stock pot or sauce pan with the butter. Cook on low until the butter melts and let it go for a couple minutes more without browning the onion.
- Add tomatoes to the pot, breaking up with your hands as you add them. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer 1 hour, partially covered, stirring occasionally.
- Taste. Adjust. Taste again. Remove 1/2 of the onion and the parmesan rind. Use an immersion blender to smooth out the sauce to your liking. You can also do this in a blender or food processor in batches (let it partially cool first if not using the immersion blender!)
- When I'm done with a block of parmesan cheese I put the rind in a ziplock bag and throw it in the freezer. The rind adds lots of flavor to soups, stews and sauce!
- If you can find a #10 can and want to make a large batch, multiply the recipe by four. Freeze up to 4 months.