So I decided that being a wooden-spoon shaking Italian chick in the kitchen means nothing if you can’t make a fine marinara sauce from scratch. That means from real, fresh tomatoes, yes. If I am to be a real woman in the kitchen, I’ve got to get a few impressive recipes perfected.
Oh, and by the way, my feminist friends: Being a good cook isn’t being a “slave” to my role in society. In fact, I think being artfully skilled in the ways of being a woman is one of the best things a girl can do for herself. It keeps the men wondering how we do it so easily, and being smart and strong on top of it is the icing on the cake. At least don’t let yourself be a poor cook because you think you’re making some kind of statement! My “vintage disposition” inclines me to love these humble and underrated things you can do for fun.
So I had mixed feelings about sauce from scratch. I thought it would be easy to do but that I might mess it up just as easily. After having had some real w.o.p. sauce from an ex’s brother-in-law, I had an idea of how I wanted to make it. So here’s how it went!
About 16 roma tomatoes (spend your time finding the good ripe ones, without any green).
About 1 bulb of garlic (I know, a bulb. Or be a sissy and have half a bulb… to taste.)
About 3 tablespoons of olive oil (I like my sauce a little oily but when I made it I went with about 5 tablespoons and it was too much!)
Dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme. About 1 tablespoon of basil and a teaspoon each of the others.
Salt to taste (You might get away with a bit less salt than jarred sauce, especially if you get good tomatoes, and let the sauce simmer longer)
Fresh Mozzarella (makes this dish better than going out, honestly)
How to make the marinara:
You’ll want to peel the tomatoes, certainly. So get some water boiling. While the water is heating up, cut the tops off of the tomatoes and cut a little “X” at the bottom to make peeling easier.
When the water is at a full boil, toss the tomatoes in and start cutting up the garlic. Keep an eye on them because they won’t need to be in very long. Once you start seeing the skins get wrinkly or peeling away from the “x” cut on the bottom strain them and let the tomatoes cool.
You probably still have a lot of garlic to cut, so chop the rest of it while the tomatoes cool enough for you to handle them to peel them.
Peel the tomatoes. This is a very hand-oriented process. Hopefully you enjoy getting your hands in a squishy mess.
After you get the peels off, now comes the fun part, squishing! Get a big bowl that can easily hold all the tomatoes and their juices. I squished my tomatoes by hand. If you don’t like tomato seeds (and why wouldn’t you?) you can squeeze the juice into a separate bowl and strain them out of the tomato juice. You’ll need all the liquid that’s in there though, so don’t drain it out. I personally liked the seeds in, it felt more “rustic” and tomato-y.
Once you’ve got them mostly squished, you can mash them further with a hand masher. People online say to put it in a food processor and I couldn’t disagree more. Hand mushing it is much better because you can have it a little chunky, I think it would be a bit boring if the tomatoes were blended. Plus it adds an extra step that is not as fun as hand mushing, and pretty much doubles the clean-up time.
Also, note that there is no sugar in this recipe. Adding sugar to tomato sauce has always been a pet-peeve of mine. I never buy canned sauce with sugar, ever. It’s usually used to hide the flavor of poor quality ingredients. It can bring out the flavor if you use it sparingly, like salt does. If you have poor quality tomatoes or just are used to sugar-added stuff, I’d say keep it under a teaspoon, that’s all you should need with fresh tomatoes.
All done with squishing? Ok, now pour the olive oil into a nice big sauce pot. Let the oil heat up and throw in your garlic. Once it’s starting to get translucent, throw in the spices. I like to let them soak up some of the garlic-oil flavor for a bit, but make sure they don’t burn!
Now toss all the squished tomatoes back in the pot. Let it simmer, uncovered, a good long time for the best flavor. While it’s simmering you can mush the tomatoes a little more after they’ve cooked a bit and get it to the consistency you like. I think having sauce on the stove for a half-hour is the minimum to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes. If it’s a little bit too watery, just let it simmer longer. So you can start your pasta after you’ve got the sauce ready to simmer for a while and everything will be done together. I took some of the fresh mozzarella, cutting it as thin as I could it kind of crumbles into little pieces so that it will melt when you put it on your piping hot sauce!
As an afterthought, when the pasta was almost done, I took a sandwich roll, cut it in half, and microwaved some butter with some of the chopped up garlic I set aside. Then I poured the butter & garlic on the roll and put it in the toaster oven until it browned. Fancy, considering I used a microwave and a toaster oven :)
I actually got my toaster oven from my full-blooded Italian Nonna (yeah, that’s grandmother to you non-Italian people, hehe). In the spirit of the way Italians actually do things, she likes things simple and practical. Once I asked her about some recipes, but it was almost hard for her to explain because the way her family always cooked was just throwing a bunch of what was around in some kind of meal. Her version of bruschetta included boiled egg and corn, which surprised me, compared to my Americanized ideal of Italian food. To me Italian food is all tomatoes, in everything, with a side of a tomato based something else. But when you think about it, tomatoes were a new-world food, so they didn’t even have tomatoes in Italy before the Americas were discovered. :) Oh well. I’m also not going to go grab any of the meats that Italy is famous for, so I guess I have a very small slice of Italian cooking that I’ll ever be making for myself.
Now, this isn’t a low-fat/low-calorie dish, but if you ditch the buttered garlic bread and fresh mozzarella it’s not that bad. Just trying to eat one serving is!