Guest blog from j9online – Marinara: Tomatoes…and Basil…and Squash… Oh My!

J9's Marinara Sauce

This post is courtesy of our great friend and Blogger Jeaneane McNulty from j9online!

Sometime around late July/early August, my garden gets unruly. It’s getting enough water (thanks to my handy-dandy timer-controlled drip irrigation system), an abundance of sunshine, and not enough human attention, so the things that like it hot start to get a little, um, “frisky”. One day, I noticed a pile of very ripe tomatoes where my countertop used to reside. Curious, I ventured out of the AC to check on the growing things and – gasp – the basil is bolting! The eggplant has suddenly produced a dozen ripe fruits! A mega-squash is visibly lengthening on the vine and the bell peppers, while copious, are tiny from overcrowding.

Folks, it’s time to stop the madness and make some marinara!

blanching the tomatoes for marinara

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “but I don’t have a garden” or “it’s 102 degrees outside, my garden died weeks ago” or “I only have one ripe tomato”. Lucky for all of us, gardeners far more talented and better equipped will experience this same late summer veggie boom, and they will have so much produce they’ll want to sell it on the cheap. These expert gardeners are also known as “farmers” and can be found at your local Farmer’s Market. When you notice the original prices have been crossed out and lowered, that’s your cue to chat up your farmer for the best deals. Stock up on some farm fresh veggies and make yourself some SAUCE! I guarantee it will beat the socks off of anything you can buy at the store.

Here’s the Marinara recipe I use, with a list of possible “after-market modifications”. Today, I made it as a “primavera” sauce using eggplant, squash, carrots, sweet onion and bell peppers. It yielded 18 cups of sauce, enough for about six or seven meals.

Fresh Tomato Marinara Ingredients List

  • 5 lbs (about 15 big) ripe tomatoes
  • 2 – 8 oz cans tomato sauce
  • 2 – 14 oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 can or pouch of tomato paste
  • 1 large head (or more) of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 Tbsp dried basil
  • 3 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 Tbsp coarsely ground fennel seed (I put whole seeds through a pepper mill)
  • 4-5 dried bay leaves (remember how many you used so you can be sure to fish them all out later)
  • 1/2 tsp (more or less to taste) crushed red pepper
  • ¼ cup (more or less) fresh oregano, chopped
  • ½ cup (more or less) fresh basil, chopped
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Salt, pepper and sugar to taste

Preparation steps:

  1. To peel the tomatoes, bring to a boil a large pot of water.
  2. Cut a V in the top of each tomato, removing the stem. Eat the little ripe ends of the Vs as you go.
  3. Put the tomatoes in the water several at a time for a few minutes. When the peel starts to pull away from each tomato at the cut edges, use a slotted spoon to remove it from the water. Let cool until you can handle them and the skins should then slide right off. If not, boil a few minutes longer.
  4. Set your peeled tomatoes aside to cool a bit more. When all are peeled, make sure your hands are still clean, then squeeze and crush them into a large stockpot, along with any juice that seeped out of them while cooling. Imagine each tomato is a fear, or bad habit, or politician as you squish it into oblivion. There. Doesn’t that feel good?
  5. Okay! Now that therapy is over, throw in your cans of stuff, garlic and dried spices. Cover and simmer 1-2 hours, then add your desired mods (see below) and simmer another 2-3 hours, until the sauce is no longer watery and slightly reduced.
  6. Add fresh basil and oregano, olive oil, salt, pepper and 1-2 tablespoons of sugar (if needed). Simmer 15 minutes more. Freeze in dinner size portions. Will keep up to a year.

The “Mods”: Mix and match any of the following to suit your individual taste. Add after the basic marinara has simmered 1-2 hours. Veggies such as squash, carrots, peppers, onion can be finely shredded and added raw (easier prep and great for sneaking veggies to your kid) or you can sauté larger pieces in olive oil until soft before adding to the sauce for a chunkier texture.

  • 1-2 lbs hot or sweet Italian sausage (pork or turkey). Squeezed from casings, browned and drained.
  • 1-2 lbs ground beef. Browned and drained.
  • 2-3 eggplants, diced and sautéed in olive oil. If bitter, first slice eggplants into slabs. Lay flat and sprinkle tops generously with coarse salt. Let sit 1 hour. Rinse and press out water.
  • 1-2 onions (sweet, yellow or white)
  • 1-2 bell peppers
  • 1-2 yellow squash or zucchini
  • 1-2 large carrots
  • 1 lb mushrooms, sliced or chopped and sautéed in olive oil.

Further tomato musings:

eggplant from the garden for the marinara

When it comes to marinara, I personally don’t have a preference for a particular tomato. I’ve used all-purpose tomatoes, such as Better Boys, Celebrities, Early Girls, with equally tasty results as Romas (billed as “THE” sauce/paste tomato). If the tomato tastes GOOD, e.g., not like a store-bought tomato, so will the sauce. If you are into growing your own tomatoes, and you want to make marinara – or put them up in some other form such as salsa, sun-dried tomatoes, canned, etc. – look for “determinate” plants. They ripen all their fruit at the same time, give or take a couple weeks, so you’ll have a big harvest all at once. Indeterminant varieties are great for fresh eating; they’ll give you a few at a time all season long to use in your day-to-day cooking. I love cherry tomatoes as an indeterminate for snacking on while I’m tending the garden!