Big Batch of Marinara

Jaimie writes: My dad is always bringing me stuff from Costco (even though I don’t ask for it!) – our theory is he goes there for the free food samples. Today, he dropped off this humongous can of tomatoes. My thought was to make a large marinara and freeze it in containers. I never really make my own marinara, though.

Tony’s take: Making a large batch of marinara is a good weeknight strategy. It’s easy and you can use the sauce for all sorts of pastas and quick braises (a cacciatore with chicken, a saute with clams and Italian sausage, a minestrone and so on). The trick to a good marinara is to produce intense flavors in a short amount of time. To do this, make an infused oil at the start of cooking with that rosemary, garlic, and some crushed red pepper flakes and use this as the base for the sauce.

How to do it: The whole canned tomatoes that you’ve got are a lot better than the ground peeled tomatoes – cleaner flavor, lighter texture. The only catch is that you have to puree the tomatoes yourself which is easy enough. As for the infused oil for the marinara – you just want to really gently cook some garlic (smashed cloves), herbs (fresh rosemary in this case), and crushed red pepper flakes (for a touch of heat  – if you’re alright with that sort of thing). Note: that big can of tomatoes you have (10 cans as they’re known in the restaurant industry) is the equivalent of 3 regular 32-ounce cans.

To start with, using an immersion blender or working in batches in a regular blender, puree the tomatoes and their juices and set this puree aside. Heat a large splash of olive oil (about 1/2 cup for this large batch) in a heavy pot (like a Dutch oven) over medium heat with 4 or 5 smashed garlic cloves (use the side of a chef’s knife and press down on them to crush them), stirring occasionally, until the garlic starts to brown lightly and becomes very fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in about 1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary, and a light sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes (1/2 to 1 1/2 tsp. depending on how how you like things) and cook until they, too, start to sizzle steadily and become fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the pureed tomato (and a bay leaf or two if you have) and bring this mixture just up to a boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic and herbs infuse the sauce, about 20 minutes. At this point you can fish out the garlic cloves and bay leaves if you like (they’ve already done their flavoring thing), season the mixture generously with salt and pepper (different brands of tomatoes will contain different amounts of salt so it’s best to add this in 1/2-tsp. stages and taste), and a splash of balsamic vinegar (about 1 Tbs.). Feel free to chop up and stir in any other fresh herbs you’ve got kicking around – like thyme or basil.

Cool the sauce to room temperature before packaging up and sticking in the freezer. It will hold nicely for up to 3 months there.

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