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Marinara/Tomato Sauce help

I make my own sauce 99% of the time using San Marzano tomatoes (sometimes crushed, sometimes whole but I puree them in a food professor), garlic, olive oil, basil, parsley. My sauce usually comes out watery - do I need to add tomato paste? Please help me find an amazing recipe like the kind you get at a great Italian restaurant! Thanks in advance!!

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  1. Maybe towards the end of your cooking time, remove the lid completely and let it simmer gently for, say, 5 to 10 minutes...the water should cook off and the marinara should become a little thicker.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Val

      thx - I will definitely try that :-)

    2. I don't puree my tomatoes, just cut with scissors and let them kind of break apart more with the simmer. I also leave simmer it uncovered. I don't think you need to add tomato paste but let is simmer for hours, making sure to stir occasionally.

      1. This may be more rustic than what you want, but I usually roast my tomato sauce.

        I also use San Marzanos. I reserve the juice from the can and freeze it, to save to add to soups or other sauces, later on.

        I usually just break the tomatoes in half by hand and put them in a rectangular pyrex or ceramic baker. If I want other vegetables, such as onions, eggplant, olives, carrots, fennel, mushrooms in the sauce--whatever--I rough chop them and add them.

        Drizzle the whole shebang with EVOO and toss to coat. Toss in about a half cup of wine of choice, if desired, and a *small* pinch of baking soda. S&P and herbs of choice. Drizzle a little more oil over the top.

        Roast at high heat, 425-450, for about 30 minutes to 45, depending on the quantity. I usually check it after a half hour and use a silicon spatula to break up the tomatoes more, if I want a less chunky sauce (depending on what I want it for).

        Be careful when you stir it during cooking not leave a thin layer near the edges of the baker. It will burn, rather than caramelize. IOW, push the stragglers back closer to their buddies.

        You could probably put this through a food mill or large sieve if you like a smoother sauce, or need it for a recipe. But even Sicilian hubby loves the taste of this.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Steady Habits

          That sounds great! I am definitely going to try making sauce like this. I would imagine the tomatoes and veggies kind of dry out during roasting, though - what is the consistency of the sauce? Also, what is the optional baking soda for? Thank you!

          1. re: fbf242

            The baking soda cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, fbf. BUT. When I say a small pinch, I mean a small pinch. If I were using one 28-oz. can of San Marzanos, which might give me maybe 3 or 4 moderate sized servings to top spaghetti (not enough for lasagne or baked pasta, for example)...then my pinch would probably be 1/8 of a teaspoon, at the outside. Too much and you just get this cloyingly wierd flat-sweet-salt aftertaste.

            Yes, the tomatoes and veggies are "drying out" in the roasting, in the sense that they're releasing their water, reducing and caramelizing. Therefore, It's a thick sauce, with a deeper, slightly smoked (pleasant smoked) taste, but the veggies aren't dry in mouthfeel when done. It's like caramelizing onions. It's not a smooth sauce (or "gravy", as my MIL would call her simmered sauce). But how chunky you want to make it is up to you, by breaking up the tomatoes more or less, to your preference, and by how large or small you chop or dice the veggies.

            If I want a slightly spicy sauce, I sometimes add a little Chili oil, in addition to the EVOO. Or, for a gentler kick, you could add a shot of Worcestershire. Also, my market sells small pieces of left-over rinds of Reggiano and Pecorino. Sometimes I toss one of those in and stir it around when I check the sauce. (I leave it alone for the first 20-30 minutes, but after that take a peek at it every five minutes or so and push the thin layer at the edges back toward the mixture.)

            I could never master a simmered sauce on top of the burner and, to tell you the truth, I don't even like tomato sauce. But I felt bad, never serving my husband some of *his* cuisine (versus my "boring" New England Yankee cookery). So somewhere I heard about this method, which is easy for me. This is my go-to when I don't really feel like cooking, and even I love the stuff. I could eat it in big gobs cold out of bowl. (And sometimes do, when nobody's watching, ha ha.)

        2. how about not adding the juice from the cans?

          1. We in my family has used Pastene Kitchen Ready canned tomatoes since forever. The tomatoes are crushed and there's not more "juice" then necessary. You don't have to put the tomatoes in the food processor....you don't need parsely either. But, no matter what canned tomatoes you use.....:

            Fry the garlic in the EVOO till golden but not brown,,, add the tomatoes, the basil, some sea or Kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper and some crushed red pepper flakes. Let that simmer for about 20 minutes or so .... uncovered....stirring gently every now and then. In the meantime the pasta is cooking...when the pasta is al dente...drain and toss into the sauce. Gently toss all and serve. If you want less sauce with the macaroni, take out a cup or two from the sauce pan and save for later.... and then toss the pasta into the pan. Grate some fresh Romano or Parmisano over each serving and enjoy.

            12 Replies
            1. re: Gio

              Echoing Gio's post: uncovered cooking is the key to a sauce that isn't watery. Cooking it covered creates steam... which condenses on the lid... which drips into the sauce... which.....you get the picture.

              1. re: janniecooks

                What's wrong with adding a little tomato paste? I don't always, but if I need to thicken the sauce I usually add a little sun dried tomato paste towards the end.

                1. re: pilches

                  There's really nothing "wrong" with adding a bit of tomato paste to your sauce. I don't because I usually make a marinara sauce...or a variation of one, but I remember my Mother adding a small can of paste to her meat sauce to give it a depth of flavor. I think tomato paste has it's own steong flavor and changes not only the consistency of the sauce but the final flavor as well.

                  1. re: Gio

                    I've only ever known tomato paste to be used in meat sauce. And, like you said, it has a strong, pronounced flavor. A basic tomato sauce (marinara) is delicate and simple - tomato paste would change it completely.

                    I don't puree my tomatoes or sauce. I keep it very simple; garlic, onion, diced tomatoes, s&p, a pinch of sugar & red pepper flakes and a handful of grated romano cheese. I stir in chopped fresh basil at the end.

              2. re: Gio

                My family's recipe exactly, except my grandmother used Redpack tomatoes. Also, I add fresh basil at the end, when tossing with the pasta.

                No need to cook plain tomato sauce for hours. Just cook uncovered until it's the right consistency. Meat is another story.

                1. re: Kagey

                  If the tomatoes are fresh, I like minimal cooking but I hate the texture/taste of canned tomatoes unless they've been simmered a long time. It's one reason I'll use premade tomato sauce if I don't have the time.

                  1. re: Kagey

                    I agree. A non-meat sauce probably doesn't need to simmer any longer than 30-45 minutes to meld the flavors. Meat sauce is different. I use tomato paste when I'm making meat sauce. I add the paste to the browned meat and cook it just a few minutes, stirring to get it evenly incorporated into the meat. Then I add crushed tomatoes, etc. and let it simmer for another hour, or two, or sometimes even longer.

                    1. re: Kagey

                      Oh yes.... added basil and/or oregano, crushed is absolutely the needed flavor boost.
                      I remember seeing the Redpack cans. But I don't remember if they were used for the meat sauces... I'm thinking probably so. However I do remember the cases of Pastene.

                      1. re: Gio

                        Gio, if I use canned tomatoes, I don't add tomato paste. But I add a pinch of cloves as an undercover agent to bring up the sweetness of the tomatoes. Also, I don't give the basil a long cooking. After the garlic and oil and tomatoes have melded, I just put in a handful of torm basil leaves and let them wilt and serve. By the way, I read someplace that Parmesan is traditionally not served with marinara sauce. I know a lot of people would argue with that. But folks may enjoy tasting it without cheese for a change. It is a light sauce and marries well with the flavor of the pasta itself.

                        1. re: Father Kitchen

                          Right Father.... Basil added at the end.... but a little pinch of dried leaves at the beginning too. However grated Romano on the serving is/was the last flavor component, in our family anyway....sometimes just served in a little bowl at table along with the ever present dried red pepper flakes. I never did hear of cloves added. The thing is - it all depends on the canned tomatoes one uses. As I said above, we use Pastene Kitchen Ready specifically.and Olive oil - no butter. They seem to have a tomatoey yet not too pungent, intrusive taste yet still a fresh tomato flavor. I guess it's all about what one has grown eating and used to. Our sauce is not sweet but slightly acidic. That's the way we like it.....

                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                            Over the years I've noticed that some folks add that pinch of cloves you mentioned. Is this a regional thing? My family never did it and none of the other Italian families in our hometown did either - that I know of. But, I've known a few families from upstate NY that did it. I have to say I don't really care for it, only because it's not what I grew up knowing.

                            1. re: lynnlato

                              Actually, I kind of figured out the cloves on my own. I've cooked marinara with fresh tomatoes and cooked it with canned tomatoes. And when the flavor was a bit flat, I just add the clove as an undercover ingredient to bring up the sweetness. An Argentine Italian friend will sometimes add a bit of baking soda when the tomatoes are too acid. I think it just goes to show you that you really need to adjust things and use your instincts to get things right. I remember once adding a few tablespoons of red wine when the canned tomatoes I used just didn't seem to have enough depth of flavor.
                              By the way, some years ago I was asked by a friend to join him for lunch at a regionally popular pasta and pizza place in Stanwood, Washington. I ordered spaghetti all marinara. I got something so bad I wanted to send it back. It was clearly canned tomato sauce with unincorporate globs of tomato paste and chunks of almost raw peppers and onions and tons of dried oregano. I learned the hard way that many Americans don't know what a marinara sauce is. Please keep it light and simple. Even pasta tossed with bread crumbs toasted in olive oil would have been far better.