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Making my own Marinara

February 21, 2007

Marinara in a jar or two

Since I’m working from home today, I thought it was a good day to make marinara. I think I was inspired by one of my new cookbooks, Giada’s Everyday Italian. Most of her recipes start with a basic marinara, and I think I would feel like something of a wimp if I started writing posts about how I doctored jarred marinara. It seemed like an easy and important staple to have in the refrigerator, anyway, and today, I had plenty of time.

This was, in fact, so easy that I suspect I’m going to have to make it regularly, kind of like chicken stock, just to have on hand. I changed up Giada’s recipe a bit, but essentially all marinaras are the same, right? Mirepoix, tomatoes, herbs. You can’t go wrong.

I did use canned crushed tomatoes. Winter tomatoes are suck, and while I could have used canned whole tomatoes, and crushed them with my powerful food mill, that would have dirtied more dishes and taken some of the easy out of the whole project. Perhaps during the summer, when tomatoes are pretty again, I’ll try my hand at making marinara with fresh tomatoes, but for now, this is plenty good.

If San Marzanos weren’t so darned expensive, even canned, at my grocery market, I would have used them. I understand they are supposed to be heads above all other tomatoes in the taste sensation category, but people, I work in publishing, I can’t afford $7 canned tomatoes. I had to go with the Contadina supermarket variety, but I think they still taste lovely and sweet.

A very basic and easy Marinara recipe

  • 1 T. olive oil 
  • 1 carrot, chopped finely
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped finely
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, chopped
  • 2 28-oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large pinch of oregano
  • 1 large pinch of tarragon
  • salt and black pepper, to taste

Seriously, nothing could be easier than this. Chopping the vegetables does take a little bit of time, it’s true, but that’s really the only work you have to put into the project. I saved up all my skins and peels, and put them in a freezer bag in the refrigerator, too. I’m following Mr. X’s lead, and I’m going to make vegetable stock out of my week’s worth of vegetable peelings. But that is another project altogether.

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan, and add the onions and garlic. Cook the onions and garlic, stirring only occasionally, for about 3 minutes, then add the carrots and celery. This is a mirepoix, which is a fun word to say. You want to let all of this cook for about 5 more minutes, to let them sweat and release their tasty waters and do whatever else it is they want to do in the pan.

Sweating Mirepoix

Once they’ve been sweating for awhile, and are just about to brown, but aren’t doing that yet, they are ready to party. Add the tomatoes, the bay leaf, and the herbs, and stir it all around. You could probably also add thyme, or maybe some fennel seeds, or even crushed red peppers if you were feeling adventurous. I’m curious, too, about adding coriander, or cumin, but I wanted to go basic basic basic this time around. Giada doesn’t add any herbs except bay leaf, but that seemed just too austere for me.

Tomatoes and dried herbs

Bring it to an almost boil, then reduce the heat to very low (not restaurant low), cover, and let it all cook for an hour. At this point, I tasted it, burned my tongue, and added a little more salt, because I like things that are salty. Then I let it cool off a little and put it in some jars. I filled one and a half mason jars, but if I’d used 32-ounce cans, like Giada, instead of the 28-ounce cans they had at the market, it probably would have filled two whole jars.

Saucy Sauce Sauce

Now I have a lovely homemade marinara I won’t be ashamed to doctor up for all of you out there, and I can play around with some of Giada’s other recipes with abandon. I love working from home.

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