A Marinara Sauce Revolution

Mark Bittman wrote an excellent article in the Week in Review, which said that we don't need any more diet books. People just need to cook more at home, instead of getting take out food or frozen dinners.

The problem is, real food is cooked by real people — you! — and real people are cooking less than ever before.We know why people don’t cook, or at least we think we do: they’re busy; they find “convenience” and restaurant foods more accessible than foods they cook themselves; they (incorrectly) believe that ready-to-eat foods are less expensive than those they cook themselves; they live in so-called food deserts and lack access to real food; and they were never taught to cook by their parents, making the trend self-perpetuating.

He provides three basic recipes for a stir-fry, lentils and rice, and a cabbage salad. They're good recipes. I'm going to try out his lentil recipe for sure. I'm always looking for a new way to make beans.

I have Rachael Ray's Big Orange Book, but I'm not a huge fan of hers. I don't like gooey casseroles and I prefer simple hamburgers. She assembles meals, rather than cooks food. My favorite simple cookbook is Dad's Own Cookbook. I regularly use it for his chili recipe and his cold tortellini salad.

If I had to teach a non-cook one simple recipe, it would be a marinara sauce. It's healthy and it's flexible. Advanced cooks can keep tinkering with it, so it doesn't get boring.

The basic recipe requires five ingredients: garlic, salt, onion, olive oil, and a can of crushed tomatoes. Saute two cloves of crushed garlic in olive oil until they turn white. Add one diced onion and cook until soft. Then add a can of crushed tomatoes and some salt. Cook for half an hour and add to pasta.

It can be cranked up with a few of the following ingredients: dried or fresh herbs (basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, cracked pepper), heavy cream, wine, meat (beef, sausage, ham, meatballs, pork chops, tuna), vegetables (artichokes, spinach, olives, capers, carrot).

It also doesn't have to be added to pasta. You can use it to cook chicken breasts or meatballs and just pair it with a salad. A vegetarian could pile in extra vegetables, including eggplant. Add a box of chicken broth, a can of beans and you have a tomato soup.

We need a marinara sauce revolution. Teach a kid how to make a marinara sauce and he'll never go to McDonald's again.



18 thoughts on “A Marinara Sauce Revolution

  1. As far as cookbooks go, we (my wife and I) really like Nigella Lawson’s books, especially “Nigella Bites” and “Nigella express”. They have very good recipes that are not especially difficult. I’d also recommend _Perfectly Simple Pasta_ by Marilyn Bright- easy and tasty (and not boring) recipes. I especially like the blue cheese and walnut sauce one.

  2. “We need a marinara sauce revolution. Teach a kid how to make a marinara sauce and he’ll never go to McDonald’s again.”
    Not being of Italian extraction myself, I have never been able to discover the attraction of pasta and tomato-based sauces. I’ve got several packs of spaghetti and a couple jars of spaghetti sauce in the cupboard, but I can never bring myself to cook the spaghetti and heat up the sauce–that just isn’t food in my book. That’s what you eat when you’re desperate and broke and don’t have any actual food. Plus, the kids don’t like Italian tomato sauces, so there’s no point.
    Given the blessings of an excellent and inexpensive (for faculty) dining hall system, I’ve been joking that there’s this shiny black thing with knobs in the kitchen that I can’t identify. The cafeteria shut-downs have been a trial, gotten through with the occasional stir fry, canned soup, and the occasional restaurant meal. However, this winter break (perhaps due to big, well-behaved children), we’ve had a breakthrough. Last night’s dinner was tandoori chicken ($2.65 in drum sticks, Patak’s tandoori paste and Greek yogurt marinade), whole wheat naan (from the store), peas and carrots, and slow-cooker kheer (rice, sugar, milk, cardamon seeds, raisins, almond slivers). It was really good and the actual prep time was minimal. I’m not sure how much it cost, if you total everything up, but most likely around $15 for a family of four, with some rice pudding left over for bedtime snack.
    The thing that has improved is that I think we now have much more automaticity in our process, which is crucial. I don’t need anything like my full brain power to measure out brown rice into the rice maker, and I think my husband is the same with regard to muffin making. We can make at least the following for dinner without fear: Thai curries, Thai meatballs, fried rice, stir fry, black beans and rice, tandoori chicken, pancakes, salmon loaf, catfish, salmon and ham and sweet potatoes. We’ve had 50% whole wheat homemade French bread three times this week and we usually have some frozen whole wheat pumpkin muffins in the freezer, to be doled out for snacks and school lunches. There are still a few cupboard orphans that it may take us a while to get to, in particular the spring roll wrappers that I bought in an excess of confidence.
    Although there are definitely benefits to home cooking (a better meal for the money than you’d get going to a restaurant), I really don’t think I’m getting any thinner.

  3. Not being of Italian extraction myself, I have never been able to discover the attraction of pasta and tomato-based sauces.
    Cooking some meat in the sauce improves both. Just brown some sausage and then cook it in the sauce and both are great. Meatballs are more work, of course, but the same principles apply. You can also just plunk a piece of (browned and seasoned) chuck roast in the sauce and simmer for a couple of hours. This kind of stuff works much better with homemade sauce, but jarred stuff comes out okay.

  4. I cook at home 6 nights a week and no one is loosing weight over here. And I cook fish, healthy lean meat etc.
    My marinara is: Crushed tomato, loads of olive oil and garlic, basil and red wine.
    if you want a good meat to put into sauce, buy a veal chop and just throw it in…YUM.
    another great one is:
    1 stick butter
    1 can whole tomatoes
    4 cloves garlic
    Cook that all together for 1/2-45 minutes using the back of the spoon to mash the tomatoes. It is divine. I use 1/2 per pound of pasta. Or you can put it in tons of other stuff and even decrease the butter if you want.
    another thing that people need to get-a block of Parmesan cheese and a mircoplane grater. In the long run it is cheaper than the green can. And makes it feel like a meal out.

  5. Tomato sauce doesn’t work at my house–my husband and son will only eat it grudgingly and if it has a lot of meat. But I stumbled upon a meatless lentil soup recipe they’ll eat happily more than once a week: brown a chopped onion in olive oil, add one cup lentils and 5 cups water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes, uncover and add a chopped head of kale and two chopped cloves of garlic, return to a boil, turn down to low and simmer 20 more minutes. Toast or crackers on the side makes a complete protein.

  6. Thanks for the link- that lentil recipe looks delicious and I love all the variations he suggests at the bottom. Lots of possibilities!
    I have resolved based on this posting to do more cooking at home this year and to try new recipes even if the kids will resist or whine about it. I’m bored with our staple dinners and need to jazz it up for my sake.Thanks for getting me started!

  7. What’s wrong with assembling meals? That’s what I like about Rachael Ray’s show; the final product is a nice looking balanced meal in a relatively short time. I’m not familiar with the Big Orange Book, but I do like her Look + Cook one. Love a recipe with photos.

  8. I like that thought. I think I’m going to teach my daughter how to do a marinara sauce this afternoon.
    Since lentil soup is on our menu tonight, I’ll share my favorite which comes together in about five minutes. It’s from the Family Chef cookbook:
    saute onion and garlic in oo, add 2 c lentils, 1 T cumin (I do less), and 1 t salt and 1/2 bunch cilantro, saute a few more minutes. Add 8 cups chicken stock. It looks hideous but is delicious, though I may try Kai’s instead.

  9. Lee–the kale is key, it adds texture and complexity of flavor. The same soup without it, my guys won’t eat.
    They like it even better if I use beef or chicken broth, but they like it fine with just water.

  10. I totally second this. (and I HATE Rachael Ray — I haven’t even really seen any of her books, the little I’ve seen of her on TV I didn’t like and I disliked her with a passion when I read some of her thoughts on why she doesn’t want to have kids). One of my favorite cookbooks is by Deborah Madison (Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone — I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn to cook all kids of vegetables & also beans, etc).
    I cook all our (vegetarian) meals from scratch, not everyday, though, we eat LOTS of leftovers here. 🙂
    Marinara sauce is a specialty of mine, ever since I was a teenager and HATED the canned sauce that my mom would put in pastas and longed for my grandma’s homemade one (I cook better than my mom and always have, she let me cook as much as I wanted growing up). I remember that one summer (maybe the year before I started 9th grade) I just decided I would make all tomato sauces in hour house from then on, and I did. My brother loves my sauce and always asks me how I make it (similar to the way you do)…
    … except I don’t ever use canned tomatoes, though, I use Roma tomatoes, usually peeled. I’m picky like that. In the summer I make as much marinara sauce as I possibly can and I freeze it to use in the fall & winter. I only have 3 containers left right now. 😦

  11. Beloved quick and easy soup at our house–it’s related to Kai Jones meatless lentil soup.
    1 pound sausage (Italian or breakfast, loose or in rounds)
    1 pound frozen greens (kale/collards/mustard)
    1 pint can white beans.
    Cook the sausage, add the greens and cook until they are tender, add the beans, season with salt, vinegar and cayenne (and sage or fennel if you like).
    That’s the super-easy version; you can of course use fresh greens and cook the beans from dried.

  12. … except I don’t ever use canned tomatoes, though, I use Roma tomatoes, usually peeled.
    It occurs to me why I always use the canned tomatoes, aside from being completely unwilling to peel a tomato. Nobody in my family actually makes marinara sauce. It is supo (sp?) and it cooks for longer than the “fresh” taste of a tomato would matter. My grandma would use some kind of sundried tomatoes that they used to make, but that gets expensive once you aren’t making it yourself.

  13. On NPR today, they mentioned that the average American watches 5 hours of TV a day – a day! Now, that average is probably skewed by outliers – shut-ins who watch TV all the time – but the point is, I think most Americans can find the time to cook – they just don’t really know how. We have a ton of different cookbooks that we use (we cook pretty much all of our dinners), but I just bought 3 new ones for Christmas. The one that I think is relevant here is Jamie’s Food Revolution. Love him or hate him, I think Jamie Oliver gets that people need simple meals to cook that are healthy and taste good. We’re trying out his Vinadloo curry tomorrow night – can’t wait!

  14. I recently went back to work full-time and dinners at home have been causing some serious stress. We don’t hit the front door until 6:30-7PM and by that time, our daughter is absolutely starving. This week is my first attempt in about two months to have a plan. Before that, we were relying on sandwiches and take out. Ideally, I would like to spent Sunday making ahead, so I can pop dishes into the oven.
    I love the idea of a revolution and I’m going to make some marinara and definitely buy Dad’s Own Cookbook. Seems like a great go-to.

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