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Feb 5, 2009 05:38 PM

authentic Italian red/marinara sauce?

Just wondering what people do to make their own pasta sauce. Our family is having a Tastebud Dispute and its now escalated (downgraded?) into What Is Authentic in Italy.

So I ask...

sugar or no sugar? if yes how much?
cheese in sauce or no? If yes what kind?
which herb(s)?
other major or secret ingredient?

Thanks for your input!

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  1. in order:
    if you like a rich sweet sauce, which i sometimes do for a hearty marinara, add a tablespoon or more granulated sugar. to taste of course.
    no cheese in tomato sauce. ever. period.
    when no fresh basil is on hand i add dried basil and oregano as well as fresh chopped italian parsley early in the process while i am sweating the onions.
    chili flakes at this time add a little nice heat if you like some.
    red wine added to the sauteed onions and herbs and then reduced before adding the tomatoes could be a "major ingredient" to some.
    bay leaves if you are long simmering the sauce.
    at the end of the cooking process swirling in a tablespoon or two of unsalted butter will add a richness to the sauce.

    1. In my family where my grandmother who came from Sicily would never use sugar,but would add celery to lessen the acidity and sweeten the sauce .Cheese also wasn't added but grated at the table. Marinara ( the sauce of the seafarer just might have fennel but never cheese) I also remember those arguments on The Family Traditions such as raisins in meatballs ,porkskin ,neckbones ,pig feet or a peeled hard cooked egg. this may help ................or not

      1. You get a few responses on this for sure.

        Me, just a bit of sugar, no cheese, fresh herbs if I can, dried will work. I used carrots, red wine, some times a dash of red pepper, depends. There are hundreds of recipes.

        1. What people make and what would be MOST authentic are very different as you can see people adding this, that to a ridiculous point. Eventually they will have M&Ms and popcorn in there.
          Even within Italy there are so many variations, of course but they do not go to the nasty lengths of people in the US.
          I say most authentic would be most basic, goes back the longest.
          NO sugar
          NO cheese
          Basil most prevalent herb

          Secret ingredient, get really good tomatoes instead of the garbage that is so prevalent.
          Ripe is key, most tomatoes are not ripe enough or then just go rotten.
          Jarred tomatoes are better than canned, very hard to find especially if you are not in a big city or get them locally and they are quite pricey.

          You can really go just tomato, garlic, basil if you like. Adjust with salt, I guess.
          Yes, that basic and that is how some highly regarded sauce is made.
          I like heat in many uses of my sauce so will add some.
          Sometimes some onion but not so much. Usually if the tomatoes aren't ripe enough.

          Oregano, thyme, alternatives to basil. Dried basil not so useful, dried oregano is.

          Problem is, Americans have screwed up palates, so much sugar and the likes in everything(and most don't even realize it)they would not think something, even if ethereal, was good or great.

          Some additions are just preposterous, some are within reason.

          1 Reply
          1. re: dietndesire

            I agree. Authentic is relative to the person.

            No sugar and cheese in my sauce. Simply crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, garlic, italian seasoning, and GOOD olive oil. I also add beef stock.

          2. The first important fact you must face is that there is no one single authentic Italian pasta sauce, there are bazillions, of which many don't involve tomatoes at all, but we'll leave those aside. "Marinara" is a slightly ambiguous term in Italy. In Rome, it describes a cheeseless pizza with tomato sauce sprinkled with garlic and oregano. Elsewhere it might also have anchovies. "Alla marinara" for pasta may mean with seafood, but my Italian-language food encyclopedia says it's a tomato sauce with herbs, such as basil or oregano, sometimes with capers or olives. But this is a book definition and not one you see on the ground much.

            Sugar is sometimes used to compensate for bad tomatoes, not because you actually want a sweet taste. If you use onions, they should provide quite a bit of sugar, even more if you start with a soffritto of carrots, onion, and celery, and their sweetness is considered desirable. This sauce may be served with parmesan (not in the cooking, at the table or at least just to finish).

            Another version starts with sautéed garlic, hot pepper, and possibly also anchovies. The tomatoes are added to the pan and cooked briefly (about the time it takes the pasta to cook. This is served with no cheese at all, but you can get away with pecorino romano (never parmesan with garlic).

            The herb of choice in Rome is basil, south of here oregano. Italian parsley can go anywhere and I've never heard anyone object to a bay leaf.