Monday Marinara

When I was pregnant with our son, my husband Chris and I bought a chest freezer to keep in the garage.  It’s not the greatest freezer – it cost, like, $175 at a scratch-and-dent appliance warehouse, as a third-generation deep-freeze owner, I know that good looks aren’t everything: a good deep-freeze just needs to hold a lot of whatever it is you want to freeze, be easy to access, and stay really, really cold, even when it’s in a 115 degree garage in the middle of a Georgia summer.  My freezer does all of these things, and does them well.  (Mostly – there was this one time when, three days after a power surge, I realized that the power to the freezer never clicked back on, resulting in the loss of nearly a gallon of frozen breastmilk.  Oh, the tears!)

Right now, my deep freeze contains about 10 cups of pumpkin puree (one cup per ziplock), about a dozen quail and a few ducks from my husband’s hunting trips last fall, ziplock bags full of red beans and rice and chickpea soup, jars with last summer’s pesto, and a pile of meat from the meat CSA we belong to – pork shoulder roasts, rib eyes, ground beef, and like ten pounds of sausage.  There are also a couple of ziplocks full of marinara, and that’s what I’m going to write about for my first post.

See, I have this job where I have meetings away from home every Monday, and generally one or two other nights a week, too.  If things around here have been particularly frenzied, I’m perfectly willing to bust out some 365-brand fish sticks and sweet potato fries, especially if Chris is out of town or working late, but I’d really rather have my family eat something reasonably fresh.  That’s where the marinara comes in.

Lately, we’ve been having pasta with this marinara sauce nearly every Monday night.  I’ll generally serve it with Italian sausage if there’s some in the fridge or the freezer, or if I have some ground beef handy, I’ll whip up some meatballs, but my family doesn’t miss the meat if there’s no time to make anything.  It’s also a great go-to red sauce to have on hand for other Italian-style dishes.  I’ve put some in the crock-pot with leftover roast beef to make a daube (fantastic over pasta), I’ve used it in casseroles – it’s as flexible as it is easy.

Based on this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, it’s quick to prep, it’s healthy, and most importantly, it relies on pantry and fridge staples.  And if you have a Costco nearby, it’s a double-plus bonus for you, because they sell these 106-ounce cans of fantastic, imported from Italy, real deal San Marzano tomatoes for $2.98.

San Marzano

So, here’s my recipe for easy, freezable marinara:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (more or less, to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 106-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (or 3 32-ounce cans crushed tomatoes)
  • 20 or so fresh basil leaves (if you’d like – the Costco tomatoes are canned with basil)
  • 3 bay leaves (dried or fresh – I use fresh ones that I keep in the freezer)
  • Optional – parmesan rinds, Italian seasoning, butter

In a large casserole pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Sauté until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes, then add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, basil, sugar, and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaves, and season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste.  If you’d like, you can shake in some Italian seasoning at this point, but I generally don’t.  Also, if you keep your leftover parmesan rinds, you can toss one in while the marinara simmers – but be sure to remove the rinds when you remove the bay leaves!

Remove the pot from the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the sauce until it’s smooth.  Add a tablespoon or so if butter if the sauce is too acidic for your liking.  Serve immediately, and let the rest cool while you eat supper, put the kids to bed, and clean up.  I like to store mine in 2-3 cup portions in gallon-sized freezer bags – you can double bag if you’re concerned about leaks.  Lay flat to freeze.  To reheat, I just let a bag sit on the counter for a while to defrost and then reheat it in a pot over low heat until it simmers.

I generally make a batch of this sauce once a month.  I’ve made it in the pressure cooker, but the results were mixed.  Once, it was phenomenal and the flavor was like nothing I’ve ever tasted in a marinara; another time, the sauce completely scorched.  So use the pressure cooker to prepare this sauce (25 minutes) at your own risk.


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