Making homemade pasta sauce is an experience. I will not lie to you - it takes time. If all you want is a quick sauce to cover your weeknight noodles, go with Prego. It will undeniably save you hours. But if you want to spend an afternoon dancing around in a tomato-splattered apron, sipping red wine, and singing "Hey mambo, mambo Italianoooo," go the authentic route. Not only will you feel like an absolute boss magically turning tomatoes from your garden into creamy sauce, you will have the unique pleasure of tasting a simmering spoonful right from the pot and getting goosebumps because it tastes so good.
You're wondering if you can really taste the difference between this homemade stuff and the Prego. Let me just tell you about this sauce. It is light and airy like you never thought a tomato sauce could be. And yet, robust and savory flavors linger on your tongue that taste wholly sweet and salty at the same time. Fresh parsley and basil are like tiny bursts of Italy. You will feel drunk on this sauce, even though the alcohol from the red wine will have cooked off long ago. It will make you taste things you cannot buy in a store.
Quality ingredients are at the heart of this sauce. My tomato plants are completely bowed to the dirt because they are so full. I can't make enough salads, stir-fries, and sauces to keep up with production - which is a lovely problem to have. This sauce is the second batch I have made from this year's crop. The first was mostly romas and a few heirlooms, but I made this batch with a mixture of roma and grape tomatoes, and found it to be slightly sweeter.
A heavy dosage of parsley and basil picked the day-of is pretty great, too.
There are two steps which are essential for the success of this soft, luxurious homemade sauce. The first is peeling the skin off the tomatoes, and the second is removing the seeds. The first tomato sauce I ever tried to make (last year, when I was young and naïve in the ways of turning solids to liquids), I skipped this step. It seemed like a lot of work and I was daunted by the task. So I just didn't do it. And it wasn't good. It was like a tomato jam. And as it turns out, nobody wants spaghetti and tomato jam.
After that botched attempt at pretending to be Italian, I knew I would have to suck it up and do some peeling and de-seeding this time. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was only minorly intimidating, and after a quick dunk in boiling water, the skins of the tomatoes slipped right off. And squishing the seeds out was kinda fun.
The first step to peeling the tomatoes is to wash them, then slice an X in the bottom of each with a paring knife. It should look a little something like this:
Then, lower 4-5 tomatoes at a time into a large pot of boiling water. I use a strainer spoon to do this so that I don't splash boiling water all over myself. Watch the tomatoes carefully. It should only be 15-20 seconds before the skins start falling away - once you see this happening, use the spoon to remove them from the water immediately.
Have a bowl of ice water prepared for the hot tomatoes; this will stop the cooking process. After 15 seconds, they should be cool enough to touch. Pull away the loose skin by sliding your hand from the bottom to the top of the tomato. Repeat this boiling-cooling process until you have done all of the tomatoes. Once you are finished, they should be nice and naked like these ones!
Now here comes the fun, messy part - getting out the seeds. Place a strainer over a medium-sized bowl to catch any juices. Then, gently break apart the tomatoes and slide your fingers through the flesh to push out any seeds. You might want to wear an apron for this - you'd be amazed how far those little guys can fly. Once you've gotten out as many seeds as you can (don't worry, not even Giada could get out all the seeds), put the remaining part of the tomato in a large bowl and squish the juicy seeds on the strainer to get any lingering juice to drain. When you have done this with all your tomatoes, remove the strainer from the bowl and pour the reserved juice into the bowl that holds the tomatoes.
There. You've done the hard part. It's all sautéing and simmering from here. Sautee the yellow onions and garlic in the olive oil until they begin to become translucent, then add the red wine. Feel free to pour generously. Bring it to a boil, then allow it to reduce until it is about half the amount of liquid you started with. Then, you're ready to add your precious tomatoes. Add a few pinches of salt as you go. Set over low heat, and allow to simmer for at least one hour, but preferably two. You just can't beat that low and slow flavor.
Taste test. Does it make you smile? Does it taste like the perfect companion to homemade pasta? If not, adjust. Add more salt if it's too sweet; allow to simmer longer if it hasn't got a flavor yet robust enough for your taste buds. Once the sauce is everything you have ever dreamed, remove it from heat and make it even better. Toss in the freshly chopped up parsley and basil. With an immersion blender, give the sauce a few quick pulses. Blend until you reach your desired consistency. I like mine richly smooth.
Now all that's left is to spoon it into jars for later. Or, if you're as eager as I am, eat it spoonful by glorious wooden spoonful. Then pour it all over pasta and dip large chunks of gushy garlicky bread in it. If there is any left over after that, put the remaining sauce in mason jars and stash in the freezer so you can get a heavenly taste of harvest sometime during the mid-winter deep freeze.
Love well and eat well,
Recipe for Homemade Marinara
Ingredients (Makes about 60 oz.)
- 4 lbs roma, heirloom, or grape tomato
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1 1/2 cup red wine
- handful of fresh parsley and basil
- sea salt to taste
1. Prepare a large pot of boiling water and a large bowl of ice water. Slice an X in the bottom of each tomato with a small paring knife. Lower 4-5 tomatoes into the boiling water at a time. Allow to remain until the skin begins to fall away, approximately 15-20 seconds. Immediately remove the tomatoes from boiling water and place in cold water. After 15 seconds, slide the skins off the tomatoes by moving hand from bottom to the top of the tomato and peeling skin with it. Repeat until you have removed the skin from all tomatoes.
2. Next, place a medium-sized strainer over a medium-sized bowl. Remove the seeds from the tomatoes by gently breaking apart with hands, then using fingers to push out any parts containing seeds over strainer. Repeat until you have removed as many seeds as possible from all tomatoes. Place flesh from tomatoes and juices collected from strainer in separate bowl.
3. Over high heat and in a large stockpot, sautee onions and garlic in olive oil until they become translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add a shake of salt.
4. Add red wine and bring to a boil, then allow mixture to reduce until about 1/2 of the liquid remains. Add another shake of salt.
5. Add tomatoes and let mixture simmer over low heat for at least an hour, preferably two.
6. Remove from heat. Taste, and add any more salt that is desired. Add chopped fresh parsley and basil and, with an immersion blender, blend on low until your sauce has reached the desired consistency.
7. Eat sauce fresh or store in mason jars in the freezer.