Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Marinara Sauce

As an Italian Chef, I have heard this question a hundred times.  Do you make your marinara from fresh tomatoes or canned?  Ahh...  Trying to catch me using canned ingredients are you?  Because products that come from a can in a restaurant is the seed of all evil, and Marinara is best when it comes from fresh tomatoes.  WRONG!  Marinara is a sauce to be made from tomatoes that have been bottled or canned for the change in season, and not to be confused with pomodoro sauce which uses fresh tomatoes, and is usually not cooked, but tossed lightly into hot pasta as it comes out of the water.  So if your Chef replies, "Of course," he is either unwilling to correct you and is lying to your face, or he doesn't know his butt from a hole in the ground.  Marinara is Neapolitan in origin, and the root of the word is marinaro or "Sailor".  This sauce traditionally was made for sailors when they came home from the sea.  Now I will tell you that not all canned tomatoes are made the same.  There are defiantly superior products, and using a good one will make all the difference.  When making a marinara, you want San Marzano tomatoes. (" San Marzano tomatoes are variety of plum tomatoes, and are considered by many chefs to be the best sauce tomatoes in the world. The story goes that the first seed of the San Marzano tomato came to Campania in 1770, as a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples, and that it was planted in the area that corresponds to the present commune of San Marzano. They come from a small town of the same name near NaplesItaly, and were first grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.  The volcanic soil is believed to act as a filter for water impurities. Compared to the Roma Tomatoes with which most people are familiar, Marzano tomatoes are thinner and pointier in shape. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is much stronger, more sweet and less acidic. Many people describe the taste as bittersweet, like high-quality chocolate." Wikipedia.)  Canned tomatoes are better for sauces for a number of reasons, but depth of flavor is the most important.  Have you ever made a good pot of soup only to find that the next day, after a night in the fridge, it has become a great pot of soup?  The same thing happens to tomatoes when they are canned properly.  Part of it is because tomatoes are blanched before they are canned, and the cooking process changes the chemical makeup of the fruit.  As the product is "aged" in a can like a fine wine, much of the acidity mellows, and a deeper, richer flavor emerges.  You can buy San Marzano tomato seeds in the States, but a lot of the flavor comes from the soil they come out of.  Unless you happen to have a volcano in your back yard, these very expensive seeds are a waste of money.  Buy the imported ones in the can.  They have been aged properly, and all the work is done for you.  I like the Cento brand, but there are even better ones you can likely find in your local gourmet shop.  Here in Athens, the Healthy Gourmet has a good selection.  Now for Marinara, there are only three base ingredients; tomatoes, garlic, and basil.  Some people add oregano, and even anchovies because of the fisherman reference in the name.  This is not a traditional marinara, but the flavors are good if done properly.   The basil is also traditionally dried, because the season to make this sauce is after the basil has died.  I love fresh basil in my marinara, but only added at the very last second, and only along with the dried.

PLEEEEAAASE! don't be one of those people who thinks they are being clever by asking if a chef makes their marinara from fresh tomatoes.  The staff will be laughing at you back in the kitchen.  Now here's the recipe.  Don't blink, you might miss it.

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 32oz cans San Marzano tomatoes, or as close in ounces as you can get.
6 cloves finely crushed and minced garlic
2 Tbsp dried basil
*** 1/2 tsp salt
a few turns of cracked black pepper

Do you have a crock pot?  You know that thing in the big box your friend's mother told him to get you as a wedding present?  If so, open it now.  Crock pots are wonderful inventions.  In restaurants we have giant kettles that look a lot like RTD2.  These are heated along the bottom by steam and are in essence, giant crock pots.   Most restaurants make the marinara they serve in these giant steam kettles.  You have a mini one at home, go ahead and use it. I suggest using a crock pot because no matter how good your pots are, there is a large chance you could burn this sauce, even on low heat, so why incur the risk.   By the way, there is a great book called "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook,"  It is a fantastic book, and you will never look at your crock pot the same way again.  Turn your Crock pot on low, and add the tomatoes.  Using a potato masher, go ahead and crush the tomatoes in the crock pot.  It should be deep enough to not risk soiling your clothes.  Why use a potato masher?  Do you think that little Italian Grandma was using an immersion blender when she was making this sauce for her beloved grandson coming home from months at sea?  Also, if you want tomato soup, make tomato soup.  Add the black pepper.  Now this may seem weird, but put a small fry pan on the stove, and turn it on medium heat.  Add the oil, garlic, and dried basil.  Fry the garlic and basil for only about thirty seconds, and using a silicone spatula, transfer the contents of the fry pan into the crock pot.  Since you can't fry your garlic in the crock pot, this is the only way to really release the essential oils in the basil and garlic, and infuse the oil with all that flavor.  Don't salt your marinara at this point.  Let it cook for an hour or so before you add any salt.  Canned tomatoes usually have salt in them as a preservative, so you may want to taste the sauce before you add anymore salt to make sure it's not salty enough already.  You won't really know if the taste is right until it has cooked a while.  Add about 6 fresh julienned basil leaves right before serving.

No comments:

Post a Comment