Merry Marinara

Tomatoes, onions, garlic, and fresh – FRESH – herbs all convene to bring a party in a sautée pan. And what a beautiful party it is! A beautiful Italian party that is… The audacious flavors that emerge from the combination of simplest of ingredients never ceases to amaze me. Marinara isn’t just any old Italian pasta sauce, it’s a vibrant memory of years past made alive again… If even just for dinnertime on a weeknight.

Alex Guarnaschelli’s Weeknight Marinara (aka her mother’s marinara) was just that. It’s simple and rustic, but with all the impetuous flavors one would expect from a good, family-owned Italian restaurant in your hometown. She truly serves up her Italian roots. It’s as if she’s sharing something so personal and intimate. She’s welcomed you into her home and made you a friend closer than a sister.

Lower in acid with fewer seeds, San Marzano tomatoes are the ones you want to use for this recipe. You could use other canned varieties of whole peeled tomatoes, but the flavor will be muted and more bracing. You’ll need to compensate with more sugar (and salt to mitigate the higher acidity) to make up for the fact that San Marzanos are naturally sweeter than your average hothouse toms. Romas are the next approximate choice.

The recipe called for yellow onions, but Vidalias are my onion of choice when a yellow one is requested. Rooted in 1930s Georgia history and sweeter and less astringent than other yellow onions, Vidalias make a good stand-in for other yellow onions called for in recipes. My choice wasn’t a mistake here. It didn’t make the sauce overtly sweet, but played well with the San Marzanos’ sweetness. I know I said San Marzanos were top choice earlier; but at the end of the day, if you choose ingredients you love, you’ll love the results. I’m permitted a contradiction on occasion.

When you’re eating this dish, you don’t feel like you’re eating a meal at home on an ordinary weeknight. It feels special and and elevated. Much, much more than an ordinary weeknight meal. I also loved how Alex had us using generous quantities of Parmigiano-Reggiano (and I drove the extra mile out to Central Market in Fort Worth to get the real deal)!

What is one of your favorite ingredients with which you just won’t compromise?

What I’m Reading: Saveur Magazine, October 2015 issue.

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