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Is fresh oregano in a tomato sauce a crime?

  • d

I was once told never to use oregano in tomato sauces.
Never told WHY, just not to do it by an Italian.

Is it really a sin? I like oregano!

The sauce will have tomotoes, garlic, onions, basil, fresh tomatoes at the end.

Can I add oregano?

Also, what is the prevailingopinion about black olives in sauce?

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  1. I suspect every region has its rules and what will fly in the Abruzzo is NEVER done in Puglia...oregano is just fine (ensuring that none of the twiggy bit falls in).

    Now olives...yuck! but thats just me, the "region of LJS" - not Italy as a nation of fine cooks.

    1 Reply
    1. re: LJS

      Unless you are making puttanesca which definitely requires some flavourful olives - but that is Sicily! lol

    2. If you like the flavor, put in whatever you want.

      1 Reply
      1. There is a recipe for olives in tomato sauce, where you saute pepper flakes and sliced or rough chopped olives in hot olive oil for 2-3 minutes then add to the cooked sauce just before putting it over the pasta. As for oregano, I use it all the time in tomatoe sauce, but I'll typically use dried oregano because I'm cooking it with the tomatoes for a long time. For a quick "spur of the moment" sauce of say crushed tomatoes and a little cream, I'd use fresh herbs to give it the flavor.

        1 Reply
        1. re: crewsweeper

          We often include olives in our tomato sauce, just how you describe it crewsweeper. I have no idea if it's "authentic" to any particular region of Italy, but we like it, so we eat it. The olives add a really nice depth of flavor to the dish.

        2. I love oregano, and to be honest, Il use the dried herb more often than fresh, simply because I would waste it. I should plant more herbs it would solve this problem. Anyway, I do put a little oregano into my marinara. I think that once you come up with a recipe, a formula that works for you it really isn't much about what other people do or think.

          We have a small Portuguese restaurant not too far away. It was there that we were treated to zucchini dish laced with oregano, and I mean heavy. I didn't think I would like it. Was I wrong. I have a feeling the owner and chef is using fresh though which would make a difference. My husband asks me to make it all the time. I think its one of those herbs that is very much under-rated, and see it as an Italian herb only and to be used with that cuisine only.

          4 Replies
            1. re: Diana

              I don't have a recipe since I try to duplicate the dish from the restaurant from memory. I have done this with zuchinni and carrots.

              Its basically taking a LOT of dry oregano and sauteeing it with 2-3 minced garlic cloves and minced onion, olive oil, butter salt and pepper to make a nice sauce. I steam the veggies al dente separately, then place them in the sauce to finish. I want to say just that the veggies are coated with oregano well. Not like you''re adding a pinch for a hint of flavor. This is about the oregano and you see it clearly.

              It's especially good with carrots and zucchini, oh and speaking of a pinch.I also add a little sugar too. Sorry this one I haven't been precise because they are usually requested on the fly. But I'll make them tonight and see if I can't get it down on paper.

              1. re: chef chicklet

                does "a lot" mean like around three tablespoons or a half cup, or......

              2. re: Diana

                Another recipe that I haven't done in a while (I've forgotten) and I got the idea from a meal while dining in Napa.It was shrimp in a wonderful oregano,olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, fresh tomatoes and a few other things sauce over a cappelini
                or angel hair pasta. So good.

            2. Just a note -- there is more than one type of oregano and the flavor varies quite a bit between the Mexican and Mediterranean varieties.

              RE your question: "Is it really a sin? I like oregano!"
              Cooking and eating what you like should never be regarded as a sin. Cooking and eating are joyous activities to be relished, savoured and remembered for the pleasures they bring. Leave the "sins" to pious priests and the food police. Enjoy!

              1. I cook a lot of Italian food--much of it better than my friend's Italian grandmothers. When I make my pizza sauce (which is from a classic italian recipe), I start by sautéing red pepper flakes, oregano and garlic in olive oil. I've had probably 2 dozen people tell me it's the best pizza sauce they ever tried. Only trick, I always use good San Marzano.

                But I digress--use oregano if you like it. I like cheese on my linguini vongole. Italians would have a coronary at that. This is why I live in San Francisco--I do what I like and as long as I don't vote republican, no one harasses me.......

                6 Replies
                1. re: hankstramm

                  I thought cheese on linguine vongole was just my dirty little secret!

                  To OP: why deprive yourself of a flavor you like? Eat what you want!

                  1. re: Kagey

                    Italians put cheese on their linguine vongole and with scampi as well, believe me. As for the oregano....use it and enjoy. I use both dried oregano and fresh or dried basil in my marinara sauce, and I am thoroughly Italian.
                    FYI: Dried herbs in general have a more intense flavor.

                    1. re: Gio

                      In Italy, there is a difference between how things should be done and how they sometimes are done. The two are rarely fused. In America, we like to fuse is and ought; Italians are far more comfortable honoring rules in the breach.

                      1. re: Karl S

                        Karl: did I misunderstand your reference to "rules more honoured in the breach than the observance"? My impression is that Italians are, by region, the most vigilant about how things SHOULD be done and follow area traditions to the letter. I think Americans understand experimentation much better...

                        1. re: LJS

                          Experimentation is an example of a norm that fuses should and is. Avoiding the fusion would be, for example, saying oregano should not be used in tomato sauce (or cheese with clams and linguine) but occasionally doing so without even a wrinkle of a brow. Which is not experimentation. The ideal is still held to be correct and worthy of observance. The ideal does not incorporate the notion of experimentation as a parallel good. Real life just happens not to coincide with the ideal.

                          Americans cannot usually stand this and fight to create a new rule: experimentation is good.

                          It's subtle but powerful cultural difference, that plays out in so many dimensions of our respective cultures.

                  2. re: hankstramm

                    I do the same exact thing when making my sauce. That's exactly how my Mom made pizza...oregano always.

                  3. When I can tomato sauce in August my herb garden is running wild, so in go a lot of different herbs, including oregano.

                    1. Stepfather born Palermo 1911 *always* put dried oregano in spaghetti sauce.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Amanita

                        Put what you like in it. It's not a crime, you won't go to jail.

                        1. re: Stack8

                          Italians can be blustery about food rules--though in fairness it's not too common to find pronounced oregano flavor in simple tomato sauces for pasta. That said, those "marinara" and "puttanesca" type vividly flavored sauces (olives, capers, etc), almost demand oregano. For the record, my Calabrese nonna never used it except in pizzaiolo-type sauces for meat; basil and parsley only for sugo and ragu, and I remain partial to this style. Frankly, unless the herb really works against the qualities of tomato (rosemary and sage do not work, IMHO) almost anything goes--thyme, bay, a few celery leaves.

                      2. Thanks guys! Here's what I did, it sounds a little odd, I know, but it turned out good. First, I chopped up half of the fresh garden tomatoes from my neighbor (poor thing planted 18 tomato plants and discovered she's allergic!) and let them sit out for a few hours in garlic, fresh basil, salt, olive oil and a darn fine balsamic. Then I blended them into a goo wit just a touch of good paste.

                        I put that in the fridge.

                        The next day, I chopped up the other half of the tomatoes, sweated a big white onion in olive oil (Extra virgin) and salt, and then added a handful of garlic cloves that had been peeled and quartered. When those were fragrant, I tossed in the rest of the tomatoes, some dried oregano and let that simmer. then I put in the puree I'd made the night before, a bunch of fresh basil and some fresh oregano. i just let that simmer on low for a good while, and then right before serving, I added more fresh basil and oregano, salt and peppered to taste, and there you go.

                        I wish I had some parsley.

                        I had it over spaghetti squash with eggplant. My husband had it on whole wheat linguini with a good shaving of romano.

                        the sauce left over is sitting and maturing in the fridge.

                        Next time, I'll take even more time and fire roast the tomatoes, maybe on a plank for smokiness.

                        I hope the tomato lady gives me more!

                        1 Reply
                        1. I always put oregano in, as well as garlic, onions, and basil, but
                          the one herb that no one has mentioned in this thread is tarragon,
                          which I think marries really well with basil, oregano, and tomato.

                          I typically use dried, because I can't use fresh herbs quickly

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: KevinB

                            you're right. And sometimes the fresh are just plain not the same. Don't forget lavender. That dried, is really a nice touch as well.

                            1. re: KevinB

                              So, Kevin have I got a recipe for you: its a Tarragon Bread Salad....just roughly chop about 1-2 cups fresh tomatoes (best if in season, even better if heritage or beefsteak straight from the garden). Take the same amount of any decent Italian bread, with a bit of chew to it, broken or cut into bite size chunks. The bread is best if a bit stale (or warm in a low oven to dry slightly). Mix and drench in olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper and fresh or dried tarragon to taste...serve immediately!