My Quest for the Perfect Marinara

Marinara Ingredients

The New York Times

Over the last 6 months or so I’ve been obsessing over trying to cook a quick, simple, light and fresh tasting marina sauce.  It really became something for me to care about when our little girl took a strong liking to pasta with marinara sauce.  Rather than feeding her something out of a jar or can from the grocery store (which I don’t really scoff at, honestly) I took it upon me to learn to cook a great tasting marinara for her and me to eat (my wife is not as fond of tomato sauces).

I searched the web for recipes and tried several.  Some were “ok” and others tasted too sweet or too bland or simply not like marinara sauce.  We frequently eat lunch at That Little Place by the Lights here in Huntsville, Ontario and I love their marinara sauce.  It’s fresh and light, like it’s supposed to be.  So I continued searching recipes on the net but none seemed right.  Finally, I searched something along the lines of “the art of marinara”  or “mastering marinara” on and came accoss a New York Times article called Marinara Worth Mastering which is written by Julia Moskin.  The article speaks more to the thoery and art behind making marinara sauce, and understanding what it was meant to be.  She draws upon the expertise of Lidia Bastianich, a highly regarded Italian chef, to explain to us what marinara is meant to be, its roots in Italian cooking and how to make it.  This seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.  To top it off, her recipe was included in the article.

So, armed with this new understanding of marinara sauce and the recipe (which seemed so simple in comparison to the others) I purchased the ingredients from our local Independent Grocer, including a 28 oz can of Pastene D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes, and made the sauce.  Now, in order to test the San Marzanos with their $4 price tag against a cheaper variety, to see if they’re worth it, I also purchased a No Name variety of whole peeled tomatoes at $1 for a side-by-side comparison.  I won’t get into the details here (I’m continuing to test different brands and I’ll post something about that soon) but the San Marzanos won.  They weren’t 4 times better, but they were better.  More importantly, the sauce was fantastic and exactly what I was looking for.

The consistency of the sauce was somewhat velvety, thanks to the significant amount of extra virgin olive oil, and fresh tasting, thanks to the hand crushed tomatoes.  It’s not puréed, so it’s somewhat chunky, and the other ingredients don’t overpower the tomatoes, but enhance their flavour.  Bottom line is the tomatoes are the main event in this sauce, as they should be.  Now, I should mention that I knocked back the amount of garlic in this sauce and the amount of chili as well, not because I thought I knew better than Lidia, but I was a little afraid how my little girl would react with the stronger amounts.  I used 4 cloves of garlic rather than 7 and half a dried chili instead of a whole dried chili and the sauce was still great.

I encourage you to try this recipe, as it’s now my go-to recipe for our Thursday pasta dinner nights (or pa-ba as she pronounces it).  It’s similar in style to a tomato sauce I grew up with and love, that my Mom makes, but it’s different in flavour.  More “Italian” if I had to poorly describe it, while my Mom’s was more “Greek”, due to my family being of Greek heritage and through her usage of strong-flavoured oregano rather than basil.  I’m exploring the best ways to preserve the sauce and might post about that sometime soon as well.  I hope your search for the perfect marinara sauce ends here, should you have found this page looking for the perfect recipe as I was.


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