TOMATO BASED SAUCES
“Pasta needs lot of water to move around in or it becomes gummy. Four quarts of water are required for a pound of pasta. Never use less than 3 quarts, even for a small amount of pasta. Add another quart for each half pound, but do not cook more than 2 pounds in the same pot…. For every pound of pasta, put in no less than 1-1/2 tablespoons of salt, more if the sauce is very mild and undersalted. Add the salt when the water comes to a boil. Wait until the water returns to a full, rolling boil before putting in the pasta…. Put all the pasta in at one time and cover the pot briefly to hasten the water’s return to a boil…. (Start timing) when the water has once again returned to a boil and, using a large wooden spoon, stir the pasta the moment it goes into the water and frequently thereafter while it is cooking.” Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Marinara, the most basic Italian tomato sauce, is taken from marinaro, the Italian word for sailor. What do sailors have to do with tomato sauce? Some theorize that marinara was created by Neopolitan navy cooks in the 16th century after Spaniards introduced tomatoes, a new world food, to Europe. The high acid content of the tomatoes caused them to resist spoilage on long voyages without refrigeration. The first Italian cookbook to offer a recipe for tomato sauce was Lo Scalo alla Moderna (The Modern Steward), written in two volumes by chef Antonio Latini in 1692 and 1694. Latini was steward of the first minister to the Spanish Viceroy of Naples.
In southern Italy marinara sauce is usually made with garlic, herbs, onions, tomatoes and sometimes seafood. It is typically used to flavor pizza, meatballs, rice, or seafood, and it is a favorite of children worldwide on pasta. Note that Italians refer to marinara only in association with the dishes it sauces (penne alla marinara translates “sailor’s wife’s penne”). Tomato sauce alone would be called salsa di pomodoro or pomarola.
Marinara has become ubiquitous in Italian-American cuisine. It can be made with fresh plum tomatoes, skinned, coarsely chopped and simmered with flavorings, or with good quality canned tomatoes, Romas preferred.(Romas are plum tomatoes, known for their meaty, unwatery texture. Italian canned romas are supposedly grown in the lava rich soil of Campania. While soil undoubtedly affects the taste of crops grown in it, Campania’s commercial plants process tomatoes from all over Italy.) It can be used chunky or pureed to remove seeds and create a silky texture. The two basic tomato sauces given here, the first a remarkably simple but delicious recipe from the doyenne of Italian cooking in America, Marcella Hazan, and the second celebrity chef Mario Batali’s recipe for marinara, both call for canned plum tomatoes. Mario uses “this sauce as a building block in lots of dishes as well as just a quick pasta sauce. If you add chile flakes, you have arrabbiata, if you add anchovies, chile flakes, olives and capers, you have puttanesca, and so on….”
Marinara can be refrigerated for up to one week and frozen for six months. If you have sauce waiting in your freezer, preferably frozen in three cup quantities (enough for a pound of pasta, serving four), all you need to do for dinner is finish the sauce and boil the pasta.
Recipes that follow arbitrarily call for penne, but other pastas will work equally well. And, if you’ve run out of your own marinara, you can substitute the canned sauce of your choice. You may need to increase the simmering time, though, to give the sauce time to thicken and absorb flavor.