Updated: May 17
Growing up, my mom always made her own marinara (or spaghetti) sauce. That's not to say that my mom didn't occasionally cheat and buy a jar of sauce from the grocery store, but more often than not the sauce we ate as kids was almost always homemade. Like most Italian homes, these recipes are typically kept quite secret. To this day, my mom has never shared her recipe with me. And I know she doesn't have it written down anywhere - she's made it so many times, its embroidered in her memory. But I watched her make it countless times and adjusted it to my own personal taste. Today, I'd like to share how to make that recipe with you.
First, let's talk about tomatoes. The tomatoes you choose will make or break your sauce. Not all tomatoes are created equal. Over the years I've tried many different brands, including Red Pack, Hunts, various store brands, etc. For a long time (over ten years), I favored Contadina crushed tomatoes, and until recently I liked these the best. Then about a year ago, I decided to see what all the fuss was about San Marzano tomatoes and if they made a difference. These are 3-4 times more expensive, but OMG what an amazing difference. I will never go back to the cheaper tomatoes again. Cento San Marzano is my new favorite.
When I changed tomatoes, I had to make two important adjustments to the recipe. The first was salt. I never added salt before, but after tasting the sauce for the first time using San Marzano tomatoes, something was off. Looking at the label, I noticed that the Cento San Marzano tomatoes had 1/4 the amount of sodium than the Contadina crushed tomatoes I was using for years. Adding salt (and it needed a good amount, 1-2 tbsp) brought it to life. Amazing what salt will do to a dish when its used in the correct proportion.
The second adjustment was in preparing the tomatoes. The Contadina tomatoes were already crushed. Just open and add to the pot. But the Cento San Marzano tomatoes came whole. I then remember what my mom used to do - she would buy both whole and crushed tomatoes and puree the whole ones. So I decided to puree half of the tomatoes and dice the other half. What a lovely texture this adds to the sauce. Now I know why my mom used to do what she did (she never told me why - I don't even think she knew why). I love the bite-size pieces of tomato mixed in with the pureed tomatoes. Lovely.
Second, let's talk about wine. This will also make or break your sauce. There are so many wines out there, so this is definitely a personal preference. I have tried Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, red blends, and tried multiple brands of wine. My favorite for marinara is Cabernet Sauvignon. Now as far as brand, most chefs say never use a bottle of wine you wouldn't drink a glass of yourself. But that can get expensive depending on your taste. Honestly, I use Beringer for cooking, and I think it works very well. They are sold in big bottles which I re-cork and keep for months and never have a problem (despite what people say about wine going bad). Beringer not a wine I would buy to drink, but it doesn't taste bad and I highly recommending it for cooking. If you can afford to use more expensive wine that you like to drink, go for it! I'm sure it'll make the sauce taste even better. I'll stick to my Beringer for now.
Video Tutorial (Season 1, Episode 1)
Watch our video making this recipe with our children.
Here is a link to the recipe made in this video: https://www.ardolinoskitchen.com/the-kitchen-table/italian-staples/family-secrets-homemade-marinara-sauce
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