Every home cook needs an essential marinara sauce in their arsenal that can be prepared from pantry ingredients before the pasta water even comes to a boil. It feels good to avoid the high sugar content of jarred sauce and not to pay $10 a pop for it. I call it My Main Squeeze because I keep coming back for it, always will.
The key to perfect marinara is to cook it at a vigorous simmer in a skillet, not a saucepan. The tomatoes will cook through evenly, and the sauce will thicken. It’s best done basic, consisting of olive oil, crushed tomatoes, a generous dose of garlic, dried oregano, fresh basil and a pinch of chili flakes. What doesn’t belong in it is a longer list: no meat, no anchovies, no onions, no tomato paste, no wine, no cheese and no butter.
After visiting Italy a few times, last time I was in Rome I took a cooking class. It was there I received this valuable warning… A mistake many American cooks make is to spoon marinara on top of plain pasta. This is a huge error and may be the most important step of all. It should be tossed in a preheated serving bowl or pot as soon as the pasta is ready. And never leave the pasta sitting around in a colander, in Italy you could go to jail for that.
After getting this recipe down try experimenting with different variations. Done right, it explains why tomato sauce can be eaten on nearly everything with a smile.
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (I like San Marzano)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and chili flakes (if using) in the oil for about a minute. Add the oregano and pepper, and sauté for a minute more. Add the tomatoes and salt, and stir everything together. Cover the pot, leaving a little gap for steam to escape, and cook for 10 minutes. Add chopped basil and mix well. Taste for salt and seasoning and serve!