For the sauce
- five pounds ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes (or 4 28-ounce cans peeled plum tomatoes, drained)
- 1 28-ounce can tomato puree
- 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 rounded tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chopped basil
- 10 cloves garlic, minced and divided
- 1 teaspoon crumbled, dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- (optional) strip of rind Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (about 1x4 inches)
- kosher or sea salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
Large pot, preferably with a built-in strainer (optional), for blanching tomatoes before peeling (only when making the sauce, using fresh tomatoes)
6-quart, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive saucepan with a lid (for fresh tomato sauce): Use a 4-quart saucepan for the Quick Variation and a 3-quart saucepan for the Ultra-Speedy Sauce
To peel and seed your tomatoes
Bring large pot of water to a rapid boil and, working in small batches, put some tomatoes into the water and count to ten. Remove them from the water and place in a large bowl. Use your thumbnail or a small paring knife to remove the stem end and cut the tomato in half through the waist. Squeeze the seeds out and coarsely chop the tomatoes. If using canned tomatoes, use kitchen scissors to snip them in half and gently squeeze out the seeds. Snip them all into smallish irregular pieces.
To assemble the sauce and simmer
Heat a 6-quart nonreactive, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add the olive oil and butter. When the butter is bubbling, stir in the flour. Let it bubble for about 15 seconds, then stir in the red pepper flakes, half the minced garlic, 1/2 cup chopped basil and the oregano. When fragrant (about 15 seconds), stir the chopped tomatoes, puree and tomato paste. When combined, push the cheese rind deep into sauce, if using, and bring the sauce to a brisk simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook the sauce gently, with the cover ajar, for 35 minutes. Add the remaining garlic, chopped basil and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.
A heartier variation of the above
Use a food processor fitted with the steel blade, to finely chop 1 quartered medium yellow onion, 1 trimmed and sliced stalk of celery, 1 peeled and sliced medium carrot and 5 cloves chopped garlic. Increase the butter to 3 tablespoons and, together with the olive oil, gently sweat these vegetables, directly covered with a piece of greased wax paper for 10 minutes, or until fragrant and starting to soften. Discard the paper and stir in the flour, red pepper flakes and half the basil, as directed in the original recipe. Raise the heat to medium and cook for a minute or so, just to fully incorporate everything. Follow the remaining sauce instructions above.
A quick sauce variation
By just changing the type of tomatoes, you can have quicker version of marinara sauce that’s still great tasting. Heat a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. When the oil is hot, add half the minced garlic, basil and the red pepper flakes. When fragrant (about 10 seconds), add a 28-ounce can each of tomato puree and crushed tomatoes. Bring to a full simmer through the center, and then add two 28-ounces cans drained canned plum tomatoes, snipped into irregular pieces, using kitchen scissors. Bring back to a full simmer, and then reduce the heat to low and cook the sauce gently for 15 minutes with the cover ajar. Add a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, the remaining garlic and the last dose of basil and simmer 5 minutes more.
An ultra-speedy version
When time feels nonexistent, substitute your favorite prepared marinara sauce for all of the tomatoes. Heat a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add a few tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. When the oil is hot, add half the minced garlic, basil and the red pepper flakes. When fragrant (about 10 seconds), add about eight cups of your favorite prepared tomato or marinara sauce (I use four 15-ounce containers of the refrigerated Buitoni Marinara Sauce). Stir to combine, and then bring to a full bubble through the center. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 15 minutes with the cover ajar. Add a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, the remaining garlic and the last dose of basil and simmer 5 minutes more.
Timing is Everything
All of the marinara sauce variations can be stored, when cool, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or frozen for 3 months.