Some people have complained that my Marinara Sauce recipe is too vague. They’re right–it’s more like general guidelines for making sauce, not very helpful if you’ve never done it before. My sauce-making technique is constantly evolving, and every batch is different. I decided to write down what I do each time I make a batch of sauce and post these “recipes” to give aspiring sauce chefs a more detailed idea of how it’s done.
I almost always make a large batch of sauce using a #10 can of tomato puree. My family of three eats as much as we can in one meal, and then I put the rest into jars (saved from purchased spaghetti sauce) in the refrigerator, usually three jars. Spaghetti is my favorite food, and we use spaghetti sauce in Stuffed Shells and Grilled Cheese as well and sometimes as a topping for baked potatoes or scrambled eggs or something, so we go through a jar every week or two.
My favorite spaghetti sauce pot is a deep soup kettle. The depth is helpful when the sauce starts bubbling and splattering: Most of the splashes hit the inside of the pot instead of the stovetop, walls, my clothes, and my arms. I’ve learned the hard way that boiling sauce splashed onto skin can cause a second-degree burn very quickly. Use a long-handled spoon!
This particular batch of sauce used fresh vegetables and garlic from our farm share. All the vegetables were finely diced. I usually cut up the ingredients I’ll be adding early (onion and any vegetables that need more cooking) before I start cooking and then cut up the others in between stirring. The sauce needs to be stirred once every two minutes or so in the preliminary vegetable-browning stage and then about every ten minutes after adding the tomato puree.
Anyway, here are the instructions/ingredients/method for approximately reproducing this batch of sauce:
- Place pot over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to cover bottom of pot.
- Add half a large yellow onion. When it starts to sizzle, reduce heat a little. Cook until transparent.
- Add 1 small yellow squash and the white part of 1 large green onion. Cook until the edges start turning brown.
- Add 1 green-turning-red pepper, 2 branches of basil, a thorough sprinkling of dried oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Notice that vegetables have a sharp, acidic smell. Add 1/2 teaspoon honey and immediately stir well so it doesn’t burn. Cook until veggies are noticeably reduced in volume. Meanwhile, get to work opening the giant can of tomato puree because this always takes longer than you think it will.
- Add tomato puree and 2 fresh plum tomatoes. Turn up heat until sauce starts bubbling, then turn it down just to the point where it is bubbling a little but not so much that it’s difficult to stir safely.
- At this point, I would add red wine if I happened to have any lying around, but I had to quit drinking (my body suddenly noticed that alcohol is poison when I was 27) and Daniel doesn’t bother very often, so we don’t typically have wine in the house like we did when I wrote the old recipe. So I added about 1/2 cup water to help the sauce bubble safely–a too-thick sauce makes more explosive bubbles.
- Begin tasting sauce after each stirring. At first, you are doing this just so you can appreciate the wonderful chemistry of sauce-making, because the first lick is going to taste like plain tomato puree with chunks of raw-ish vegetables in it. Over time, you will begin to taste the emerging flavor of this batch of sauce and adjust it accordingly. This particular batch turned out well without much later adjustment, except
- Suddenly realize you forgot the garlic!!! Duh! Crush 2 large and 2 small cloves of garlic in garlic press and stir in.
- Keep simmering and tasting sauce until the rest of the meal is ready or for at least half an hour.
Homemade spaghetti sauce works for me! In fact, I enjoy making spaghetti sauce so much that I’ve volunteered to make the sauce for my church’s spaghetti dinner tomorrow night. It’s hard to estimate how many people will come, so I’m prepared with 4 giant cans of puree and a 20-pound box of spaghetti! But I can’t promise to write down what goes into that batch of sauce–I’ll be distracted with getting ready for the dinner.
UPDATE: The dinner went very smoothly. We only cooked about half the food, but of course my family can eat the rest or cook it for our church’s monthly meal served at the homeless shelter. My sauce was delicious even though I forgot to put in the garlic! I just didn’t think of it at all until I was unpacking my stuff at home afterward! What’s with this recent trend of garlic-forgetting?! Stay tuned!