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Oct 5, 2013 07:39 PM

Favorite variations of a simple marinara sauce

A simple basic marinara sauce is always good and it's a great base for adding various flavors. I've used it for Shakshuka, cumin/chipotle/paprika flavored dishes, and of course with basil, rosemary and oregano for Italian dishes, but I imagine the possibilities are endless and my creativity is just too stifled. What are your favorite variations on a simple marinara?

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  1. This is a very interesting question and I look forward to perusing others' responses. I actually haven't mastered the basic marinara... My family likes it but I don't think I ever get it right. But I make it, and always enough to use it in further variations like you described.
    One is I like to add a bit of heavy cream and blend it with my stick blender. This makes a creamy pink sauce.
    I also like to braise chunks of beef in it and make a tomatoey stew.

    1. 1 clove of garlic sauteed in olive oil for a minute. Add around a pound and a half of tomatoes from garden,cut into quarters.Salt to taste. Cook until sauce is slightly thickened. Turn off heat and add handful of fresh basil. Cover for 10 min. Strain through seive, pushing it through with a spoon into a bowl.

      1. I add chicken stock and about a quarter of a stick of cream cheese along with finely chopped basil and it makes a great approximation to the Le Madeleine tomato-basil soup.

        1. I sautee the onion/garlic/olive oil with a generous amount of oil packed sun dried tomatoes, and then add the can of san martzano and (sacralidge!!!) a small can of v8 juice. It adds another layer of flavor and the salt. I leave the texture but you can blend for a smooth sauce.
          I love to add spanish smoked paprika, or another version i add a splash of pernod and anise seed

          8 Replies
          1. re: Ttrockwood

            Adding V8 is far from sacraledge for me LOLZ.

            I am up to my $%% in ripe tomatoes from the garden right now (24 on the counter and 100 that need picking as of today) and I just juice and freeze and add to tomato sauce as necessary.

            If doing a true "Marinara" sauce, that means liberal doses of oregano and marjarum to me, thus making it difficult to reflavor.

            If doing a generic tomato sauce I often add in anchovies , Madras curry powder , soaked currants, sauted onions and other items and use for currywurst sauce. I've got a local butcher that does German brats and weisswursts weekly.

            Cumin and oregano are such powerful spices that I find it hard to find a fork in the road if using those two as cumin laced Italian sauce is not my thing.

            It may be yours, but certainly is not mine.


            On the other hand, in a pinch if making "Sunday Gravy" and no wine in the house, I add equal parts Cranberry Juice (Or CranGrape Juice) and Balsamic vinegar to pinch-hit for the wine.
            Works like a charm.

            YMMV of course. LOLZ.

            1. re: jjjrfoodie

              marjoram is a sweeter, milder relative to oregano, so why do you need both? a "basic" marinara shouldn't be so heavily seasoned that it tastes like bad pizza sauce on 'roids.

              while cumin had a place in ancient roman cooking, italian cooks have not used it in many, many centuries, so am unsure why you think a cumin-based marinara sauce is even a "thing"? (they stopped using it hundreds of years before there was even a place called italy, lol.)

              as to adding fruit juice to marinara sauce? eegads, my italian grandfather is rolling over and over and over in his grave. a cup of crangrape has 35 gms of sugar, while a cup of dry red wine has about 4 gms.

              the simplest and easiest for me is something that lets the tomato flavor be bright, especially when using fresh tomatoes. it's not a kitchen sink project. heat a fair amount of olive oil with a few smashed garlic cloves and a bay leaf. simmer til the garlic gets golden and the leaf edges start to brown then remove both. sprinkle a little dried thyme in the pan with a bunch of cut-up tomatoes. add salt and red pepper flakes. let the oil come back to a simmer, then cook til tomatoes are wilted, very soft and sort of a confit. some of them may be a bit brown, which is good too.

              when tomatoes are all over the place at summer's end, i make batches of this for the freezer. it works well even in winter with grape or campari tomatoes too.


              you can finish this with some lemon zest and/or butter.

              fennel seeds are nice added in with the thyme.

              a splash of cream at the end.

              mash up an anchovy (or 3) in there.

              toss in basil chiffonade at end.

              you can add meat, chicken or fish stock to loosen it and for use in something stewish.

              melt in goat cheese.

              add a splash of pernod or anisette and simmer some more. excellent over roasted eggplant.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                From the OP:
                "I've used it for Shakshuka, cumin/chipotle/paprika flavored dishes, and of course with basil, rosemary and oregano for Italian dishes, but I imagine the possibilities are endless and my creativity is just too stifled. What are your favorite variations on a simple marinara?"


                Hoytoynoodle, the OP brought up the cumin, not I.

                As for your comments, folks like you are the reason I so seldom visit this site any more.

                As for my cooking, it's just fine thankyouverymuch. In fact, damn fine.

                I;d suggest helping out the OP and use that old saying about comments that your mom taught you.

                And I use both marjarum and oregano because it was the way my 90 year old now deceased Italian born grandmother in law taught me how to make it.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  The intention of the post was to elicit ideas other than the typical Italian flavors of rosemary, oregano and basil. Perhaps I should have phrased it as "ways to use pureed tomatoes." My mention of cumin referred to a sauce with tomatoes and cumin as in some Mexican, Spanish and Middle Eastern dishes. I was not thinking of an Italian sauce with cumin.

                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                    my apologies to you both if i got hung up on "marinara."

                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                      If you're looking for ideas for pureed tomatoes, that leaves a lot more room for experimentation since you're working with a blank slate.

                      For Eastern Mediterranean:, tomatoes, sauteed onions, barely cooked garlic, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, sometimes cardamom, white pepper, allspice, Aleppo pepper and lemon juice or pomegranate molasses. Depending on the dish, I might finish it with Isot pepper.

                      South Asian: darkly cooked onions, garlic, ginger, cumin seed, coriander, turmeric, maybe cardamom/fenugreek, garam masala, kasoori methi, red chilli powder and of course the tomatoes. Sometimes add a dollop of yogurt, green chilies and/or cilantro.

                      Filipino: Sauteed onions and garlic, tomato, soy sauce or fish sauce, sambal, bay leaf, black pepper, maybe oregano.

                      Cajun: Onions, garlic, celery, bell peppers, thyme, oregano, parsley, white pepper, black pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, scallions, maybe bay leaf and stock thickened with a roux.

                      1. re: JungMann

                        Yea, these were the kind of ideas I was looking for, not that the others are not great as well, but I was hoping to find something away from basil and oregano. I didn't mention anything because I didn't want to stifle the wonderful creative variations within the Italian flavor realm. Thanks, these are wonderful variations.

                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                          I love chicken tikka masala or butter chicken, follow the above south Asian sauce and add lots of butter or cream then you can add grilled chicken seasoned with garam masala or preferably marinated in yogourt, garlic and a warm Indian spice blend.

              2. I use the base for braising such as bricole, or a good porky sauce.