Say No to the Jar

Despite my penchant for making all things from scratch, there is one shortcut from which I have been unable to wean myself - jar spaghetti sauce. Recently though, a friend of mine asked me for a good marinara recipe. Much to my chagrin, I had none – nor do I have an old Italian grandma - so I did the next best thing and turned to my trusty Cook’s Illustrated annuals to see what they had to offer. In March, 2006 I found the answer…Marinara sauce in less than an hour.

After I emailed the recipe to her, I scanned the list of ingredients again and realized I had ALL of them. AND, since my youngest could and would eat saucy spaghetti – with or without meatballs - every single day, I decided to give it a try. I got out the tomatoes, garlic, onion and merlot (Yes, I keep some in the house for cooking – just cooking) and snipped fresh basil from my 7 Pod Aerogarden (I love having fresh herbs at my fingertips. It often inspires dishes depending on what is currently growing like crazy). Technically I didn’t have plain dried oregano but instead had a shaker of Mrs. Dash Italian Medley which contains oregano along with garlic, basil, rosemary, parsley, marjoram, white pepper, sage, savory, cayenne pepper, thyme, bay, cumin, mustard, and coriander – wow! Even with all the extras, I reasoned this one change would not make or break the recipe.

I chopped, minced, sautéed and simmered and the smell in the house is divine! All that is left to do is feed it to the spaghetti connoisseur and see if she approves. If so, then it’s bye-bye Ragu and Progresso…

Regarding the ingredients…Cook’s Illustrated regularly tests food products to pick the best brands. These are a few pertinent to the sauce:

~Extra Virgin Olive Oil - The highest recommendation was for DaVinci brand (they also make the “best” regular olive oil used for every day cooking). The Filippo Berio I use did rather well too.

~Whole Canned Tomatoes - Progresso Italian-Style Whole Peeled Tomatoes with Basil were the hands-down favorite with Redpack and Hunt’s right behind. (Hunt’s also won in the diced department with Muir Glen Organic Diced Tomatoes in a close second)

~Dry pasta – Ronzoni was number one with De Cecco, Mueller’s and Barilla also on the tasty list.

Here’s the recipe. I encourage all to throw away the jars and make marinara from scratch.  I did!

Makes 4 cups. This recipe makes enough to sauce more than a pound of pasta; leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen. Because canned tomatoes vary in acidity and saltiness, it's best to add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste just before serving. If you prefer a chunkier sauce, give it just three or four pulses in the food processor in step 4.

2 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes, packed in juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup dry red wine, such as Chianti or Merlot
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1-2 teaspoons sugar , as needed (see note above)
1. Pour tomatoes and juice into strainer set over large bowl. Open tomatoes with hands and remove and discard fibrous cores; let tomatoes drain excess liquid, about 5 minutes. Remove 3/4 cup tomatoes from strainer and set aside. Reserve 2 1/2 cups tomato juice and discard remainder.
2. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden around edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add tomatoes from strainer and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring every minute, until liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to stick to bottom of pan and brown fond ("fond" is defined as carmalized bits of food) forms around pan edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Add wine and cook until thick and syrupy, about 1 minute. Add reserved tomato juice and bring to simmer; reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and loosening browned bits, until sauce is thick, 8 to 10 minutes.
4. Transfer sauce to food processor (or transfer to saucepan and insert immersion blender) and add reserved tomatoes; process until slightly chunky, about eight 2-second pulses. Return sauce to skillet and add basil and extra-virgin olive oil and salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.

Thanks to Aerogarden for the picture:

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