You read that right. Fast and easy fresh tomato marinara sauce! The idea of homemade marinara sauce from scratch can conjure thoughts of painstakingly peeling and mashing tomatoes; and standing for hours over a hot stove stirring a pot. For years, I wavered back and forth between a) trying in vain to make my own tomato sauce and invariably finding disappointing results; and b) resignedly buying jars of it at the store. The store bought stuff can honestly be pretty darn good, BUT, homemade has the potential to be even better.
This summer, things changed. I ate a restaurant called 00 + Co. My friend and I dined on a stunning pizza dotted with tomato confit, almond ricotta, arugula, and chili oil. All of that was phenomenal. But the backbone of the pizza, the element that brought everything together, was the perfect tomato sauce. It was a little sweet, a little tangy, and beautifully robust. It was cooked down to a thick and rich consistency, yet was still carried by the pure flavor of fresh tomatoes. I don’t know why, but that pizza finally pushed me over the edge to become resolute in my search for an excellent homemade marinara sauce recipe.
I told myself I’d cook marinara sauce for half a day if I needed to. But after some time spent researching marinara technique, I came to the happy realization that I didn’t even need an entire hour. It turns out that making excellent, restaurant-quality marinara sauce is actually very simple and you can do it in about 30 minutes. Like with the corn in my sweet corn curry, it all comes down to finding good quality, ripe summer tomatoes, and treating them delicately. If it’s not tomato season, good canned tomatoes can make a great sauce too. But if it is, do yourself a favor and make an OUTSTANDING sauce with fresh tomatoes. Here are some of the things I learned:
- You needn’t peel the tomatoes at all. Pulverizing them in the food processor will get the tomato skins plenty small enough to melt into nothing in the sauce. You probably won’t even be able to tell they’re in there. Awesomely, using the food processor means you don’t really need to chop the tomatoes yourself at all! Just remove the stems and cut out any thick white pieces that were near the stem, and toss them in to blend.
- You can use any variety of tomato, as long as it’s ripe and red. You can even use cherry tomatoes, which will produce a sauce that’s sweeter. For the marinara sauce pictured, I used a combination of Roma and Brandywine tomatoes.
- The key to getting a thick texture while preserving the most fresh tomato flavor is to use a very wide pan. Put away that saucepan and get out your biggest, widest skillet. This is what allows the sauce to finish cooking so quickly but also thicken; the greater surface area allows the liquid to evaporate more efficiently.
- There’s no need for onion, sugar, peppers, or anything else aside in your marinara from extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, the tomatoes themselves, and a nice big sprig of basil, which is simmered in the sauce to impart flavor and then fished out before serving. I assure you it already tastes fantastic without those additions!
There are going to be some people who may disagree with me about my marinara technique*. It’s okay if you or your family make it differently, but I am telling you from one home cook to another that this recipe produces the best marinara sauce I have ever made. If you make it and season it with care, I’m confident that you’ll love it too.
For the record, my pizza recreation was a rousing success. And after a couple more weeks of playing around with fresh tomato marinara, I figured it was about time I share the recipe with you.
*And on that note, it may not even be proper/authentic to call this marinara at all, as I have learned that Italians use the term ‘marinara’ more in conjunction with complete dishes, like spaghetti marinara. It seems that sugo di pomodoro might be a more correct term, but I’m sticking with the name that is more familiar.
If you give this 30-minute, 4-ingredient fresh tomato marinara sauce a try, let me know how it turns out and how you use it! On Instagram, tag @yupitsvegan or use the #yupitsvegan hashtag so that I can see. 🙂
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 4.5 lb. (72 oz./2040 g.) fresh tomatoes (any variety; see notes), stem pieces removed
- 1 large sprig of basil
- scant ¾ teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to a food processor. (Don't worry about peeling or seeding them). Pulse the food processor until the tomatoes are broken down into a salsa-like texture (very small chunks). If you want your sauce to be completely smooth, rather than a bit chunky, see my tips in the recipe notes.
- In the widest pan you have (avoid using a saucepan; see notes), warm the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and cook for about 60 seconds, just until it becomes fragrant and sizzles a little bit.
- Add the chopped tomato mixture and a generous pinch of salt; stir. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, then reduce to a steady simmer. Do not cover.
- Take a sharp knife to score the stem of the basil sprig in a few places, without cutting all the way through. Place the basil sprig on top of the sauce and press it down.
- Continue cooking the sauce uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 20 more minutes, or until thickened to your desired texture. You may notice that the marinara sauce looks pink at first, then eventually turns a brighter reddish orange as the tomatoes cook. Some of the oil will start to separate to the top. Cooking time will vary depending on the variety of tomatoes used, and will be longer if you don't use a shallow, wide pan.
- Season the sauce to taste with additional salt. Leftovers, once cooled, can be stored in the refrigerator in a glass container for up to a week.
A regular width pan will result in a longer cooking time, because there is not as much surface area for the excess liquid to evaporate. Using a saucepan with tall edges will cause steam to be trapped longer around the surface of the sauce and thus also increase the cooking time. In both cases, the sauce will still taste great but will not have quite as pronounced of a fresh tomato flavor as they continue to cook.
For a completely smooth marinara sauce, I recommend either: (a) peeling the tomatoes and then pureeing the food processor mixture thoroughly, or (b) using a high-powered blender to finely pulverize and puree the skins and flesh of the tomatoes; this may require stopping a few times to scrape down the sides.
Sorry, I don't know whether this recipe is safe for canning!
Selected sources consulted: The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples; The New York Times
This homemade marinara would be wonderful in my pizza-stuffed spaghetti squash recipe!