Once upon a time, I believed that a well stocked pantry contained at least one bottle of pasta sauce. You know, for those emergency, make-a-quick-dinner nights.
Now, I know the truth. Those nights still happen, but all you really need is a can of tomato paste. Because marinara sauce? It's embarrassingly easy to make. In fact, it's so easy to make that all sorts of non-chef type people like to sneak hints at how awesome their marinara sauce is whenever they can.
Which is why I learned to make marinara sauce, not from a cookbook or my mother, but from movies.
The first thing you need to know about marinara sauce is the very basic ingredients. Tomato paste, olive oil, wine, and sugar.
From there, it's a matter of taste, experimentation, and preference.
So what do I consider my most basic marinara sauce?
First, the godfather of all film marinara sauce scenes, The Godfather. Yup, if you've never seen it, I highly recommend it. And if you want to see a murderous, middle aged man teach you to make spaghetti sauce in less than a minute, behold (and feel free to skip to :40):
Now, being a vegetarian, I tend to omit the sausages, but I do add all sorts of other things there. The things that make a marinara sauce special.
From Heathers, "Lots of oregano." I use a TON of oregano.
Garlic. Because everything is better with garlic, no?
And, thanks to a marvelous scene from a mediocre movie called Bandits starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis (it's actually kind of hilarious), a little saffron.
I also frequently add basil during the summer, and I'll throw in rosemary pretty often too. The thing is, depending on what else you're cooking, you can sort of borrow flavors. Rosemary roasted vegetables? A little rosemary in the sauce brings the whole meal together. Serving it with a nice fresh salad? Toss in some lemon juice. Pairing with an onion-y soup? Onions are good in marinara sauce. Hell, anything is good in marinara sauce.
How certain am I of that?
Let's put it this way. Once you've done it half a dozen times, you can make marinara in the same amount of time it takes to boil the pasta. And in one of those holy-cow-let's-all-eat-now moments, I was tossing together my batch of marinara just this week. Without checking bottles, I grabbed garlic and wine and threw everything onto the stove. My first taste of the marinara blew my mind.
It was, without a doubt, the best marinara I had ever made. But why?
I kept eating by the spoonful- what was making it so delicious? What was that extra flavor? And as I heard my husband mention the heaps of Christmas candy adorning our living room table, it hit me.
That flavor? It was chocolate. I had opened a bottle of chocolate wine my parents had brought me for Channukah.
And you know what?
It was the best marinara sauce I ever tasted.