I found this make-ahead marinara sauce recipe in a Good Housekeeping magazine in 2009, and it’s been my go-to pasta/spaghetti/pizza/whatever sauce ever since!
Do you know what’s in your store-bought marinara sauce? Here’s the ingredient list for Ragu:
Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Vegetable Oil (Contains One Or More Of The Following: Soybean Oil, Corn Oil), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Dried Onions, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Romano Cheese (Cow’s Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Spices, Natural Flavor.
I like making my own, so I know there’s no sugar, corn syrup, or bad oils in it, but I love how easy this recipe is to whip up! I double the original recipe, and keep the extra in the freezer. Because there’s no shortage of what you can pair with marinara…
Things to do with marinara sauce:
- Of course, the classic: Serve it with meatballs or browned beef, and pasta or zucchini/squash noodles.
- Use it as a basic pizza sauce.
- Dollop some heated marinara over cooked green beans or zucchini. Optional: add a little grated Parm on top. Yum! You might get veggi-phobes to like this one!
- Delicious on salmon, too.
- Top a grilled chicken breast with some marinara and a slice of mozzarella cheese, and heat till the cheese melts.
- Brown some crumbled sausage, then add marinara and heat through. Toss with some cooked store-bought tortillini. Optional: add chopped spinach.
- Add it to a soup of broth and vegetables — adding meatballs, sausage, or chicken is optional — and you’ve got something close to minestrone.
- Italian tomato butter: Blend 1 stick softened butter and 1/4 cup marinara sauce; refrigerate till solid, and let it melt over hot vegetables, fish, or grilled chicken.
- Pasta alla vodka: just add cream and vodka for this classic Italian sauce. Simmer 1/2 cup heavy cream and 3 cups marinara sauce in a skillet for 3 – 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons vodka. Optional: cook a few minutes to burn off some of the alcohol. Toss with cooked pasta. Shrimp or lobster is a nice add-in, too.
- PALEO pasta alla vodka: Yep! No cream, no vodka, no pasta — still tastes great! Recipe here.
This sauce tastes best if you can get fresh basil, but if you can’t, just substitute two or three tablespoons of basil pesto.
And if you make it without pesto (because of the cheese), this is Paleo friendly and Whole30 compliant! And perfect for anyone who’s trying to go sugar-free.
(Oh, by the way… I’m not including the salt and pepper in the “6-ingredient” count, because: 1) everybody’s got S & P, 2) they take no effort, and 3) they go in everything, right?!)
Make-ahead marinara sauce recipe
2 T. olive oil
2 small or 1 large onion(s), chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 5.5 or 6 oz. can tomato paste
2 28-oz. cans tomatoes: crushed or sauce, depending on desired texture
2/3 c. loosely-packed fresh basil, chopped
1/2 to 1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper – freshly ground, if possible
- In a 4-1/2 quart sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, and saute the onions till soft and just starting to brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Stir in garlic and tomato paste and cook one minute; add tomatoes. If you want a really smooth sauce, use tomato sauce. If you want a sauce with a little more body, use crushed. If you want a chunky sauce, use whole tomatoes and break them up with a spoon as they cook. Or use a combination. (See my comparison of two brands of organic crushed tomatoes at the end of this post.)
- Turn up the heat and cook till the mixture boils, then turn the heat back down to medium/medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the basil and minimum salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
That’s it! How easy is that?!
Tips for freezing marinara
If not using immediately, transfer to container(s) and refrigerate or freeze. Here are some tips on the freezing process…
I like to divide the batch into one-cup units, but that’s for a household of two. For a bigger family, you might want to go with two-cup or larger containers. I pour it into individual plastic containers then put those on a cookie sheet and get it as level as possible in the freezer, so the frozen sauce will be an even thickness.
Then once they’re frozen, I pop them out of the plastic containers and into sandwich-size baggies, then seal those and put them in a gallon baggies. This takes up less space than the hard containers. Putting it in the larger baggie makes it easier to keep them all together in the freezer (easier to find and make sure no one is left behind), plus it’s an extra layer of protection in the freezer. I label the large bag so I don’t end up wondering later if that’s marinara or chili.
Another tip: I’ve found that 17.6 oz. Fage yogurt containers create frozen disks that fit perfectly into these 2-cup glass storage bowls when it comes time to thaw the sauce. (link goes to my Amazon store)
It keeps well in the freezer and reheats beautifully! It may separate while thawing, but just stir it together and it’ll be good as fresh.
To thaw, you can use the microwave, or set it in the fridge for several hours, or just heat it slowly at first in a sauce pan, then break it up and turn up the heat as it begins to thaw.
You are gonna love this sauce! It tastes really fresh and light, and knowing it’s completely free of sugar, corn syrup — better yet!
Comparison of Simple Truth Organic and Muir Glen Organic crushed tomatoes
I used a combination of two brands of crushed tomatoes, so I could test them against one another, at least before they went in the sauce.
On the left, Dillons/Kroger organic store brand; on the right, Muir Glen organic. You can see the second has a little chunkier texture and a slightly redder color, both of which I like. It tasted a little better, but that wasn’t really a fair fight: the store brand was plain and no salt added; the Muir Glen had salt and other seasonings. I would use either one again.
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