Amici miei, if there’s one thing you need to know about me, it’s that I am Italian. Not Italian and French, not Italian and Greek, not Italian and a-little-bit-of-something-else-European: my people, both maternal and paternal, hail from The Boot and The Boot alone. (Well, unless you could Sicily, the Soccer Ball Being Kicked Around By Said Boot, as a separate entity. Then I’m 50/50.)
And as such, I’ve made it a point to slowly but surely learn my mother’s and grandmothers’ cadre of southern Italian specialties. Hopefully in that totally Zen, made-from-scratch-without-actual-measurements kind of way.
Which means, thankfully, that I can share these recipes with you! (Minus Pop Pop’s cannoli. My aunts are taking that one to the grave.) The first is known by many names: “gravy” in New Jersey, red sauce, or my favorite, a Basic Marinara. The beauty of this sauce is that you can easily adapt it into a Bolognese, a chunkier Pomodoro, or any other slew of tomato-based pasta and pizza sauces. I’ll even use this sauce in its simplest form as a pizza base. Fresh, easy, and delicious: killer combo, indeed.
Basic Marinara (serves 4-6 over pasta, or fewer with leftovers)
- Olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 white onion, diced
- 1 whole carrot, or 3-5 baby carrots, diced (optional)
- 2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp dried parsley
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp dried basil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 32-oz cans of crushed tomatoes
- optional: 1 small can tomato paste
Here’s what you do:
- Heat the olive oil and butter over medium-low heat until bubbly. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic cloves, stirring regularly and cooking until the onions are translucent. (The carrots will take longer.)
- When the onions are translucent, add your herbs, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Sautée a few minutes longer, or until the sauce base is aromatic and the carrots seem mostly cooked through.
- Add your cans of crushed tomatoes (and tomato paste if using; the paste adds a great “cooked all day” flavor, but I prefer it in pasta sauces over pizza sauce. Depends on how you’re using your marinara) to the pot, mixing thoroughly. Lower the heat slightly (around 2 or 3 on your stovetop dial), cover, and let it sit for a good 2-5 hours. Stir occasionally. If you’re in a pinch time-wise, it’s usually pretty tasty after an hour, but the longer it stews, the richer and more flavorful your sauce will become.
- Note: Remove the bay leaf before serving! While it imparts a great flavor, unless you’re playing “Whoever Finds the Inedible Bay Leaf Gets an Extra Meatball,” you should scoop that bad boy outta there.
- Pour over cooked pasta when you’re ready to eat. If you’re making meatballs (recipe pending), add these after about 2 hours of cooking time, letting them stew with the sauce until you’re ready to eat.
As Neil Simon once (allegedly) said, “There are two laws in the universe: the law of gravity, and everyone loves Italian food.” Mangia mangia, indeed.
Are any of you lovely folks of the Italian persuasion? Or just great big fans of Italian cuisine? What are your basic marinara recipes? Or are you pesto people? Happy Eating!