Submitted by Jeff Forrester
A Schoolcraft CES student for years, I was chatting with a fellow aspiring Chef in the college kitchen and explained that I just couldn’t find a marinara sauce that I really liked. He responded, “I have one for you that I finally was able to get from my 100 year old Italian grandmother…” He managed to give me one of the best recipes that I’d come across at my time there.
My first impression was that the recipe was a circa ‘60’s because of the dry ingredients that it included. So maybe 50 or 60 years old. It was peculiar enough that I thought I’d give it a try.
Much to my pleasant surprise this was the most outstanding marinara sauce that I’ve ever made. It’s a huge crowd pleaser and I use it now on all of my Italian cooking. Make this one time and it’s all you will ever use again. I’m listing the recipe below here – and then a list of cooking tricks that I use to bring it to a professional grade result.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
20 oz. tomato paste
29 oz. tomato sauce
29 oz. crushed tomatoes
Fry garlic in oil then remove it from the oil (be careful not to burn). Add tomato paste simmer 10 minutes stirring constantly. Add sauce, crushed tomatoes and the following ingredients.
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon parsley flakes ← use fresh and add toward the end
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning
½ teaspoon crushed basil ← use fresh and add toward the end
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 shots whiskey
½ teaspoon celery salt
Simmer on low heat for as long as you want, adding a bit of water when needed and stirring occasionally. Add fried meatballs a, piece of beef or pork with bone or Italian sausage to sauce and cook for at least one hour. If adding mushrooms add about one hour before finishing cooking sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste and adjust other seasoning.
Let me explain a few tricks that I’ve used and incorporated to make this my own.
- Garlic infused oil. The recipe calls for cooking garlic in oil and removing the garlic to start your sauce. This is actually a French cooking technique as burnt garlic can turn bitter. I use the pre-minced garlic in oil – a California product – that’s popular in most stores. Have a 5-6 quart pot ready to prepare the sauce, but take a small pan to start your garlic oil. Add the oil – not a lot, just a small pool in the pan. Throw in the garlic and sauté’ until the garlic just starts to turn brown – a light caramel color – take the pan and pour the mixed ingredient through a fine strainer into the pot that you making the sauce in.
- Fonding the Tomato Paste. This is a key trick in adding depth to your sauce. Add the 20oz of tomato paste and with a spatula draw thin lines of paste on the bottom of the pot. Wait a few moments until those thin wisps start to turn from red to orange. Stir it all back in cleaning the bottom of the pot, and repeat. Be patient with this and continue it for about 20 minutes. You want the deep red paste to start to take on more of an orange look from this technique. This gives your sauce a really nice caramel flavor/depth.
- Mix Dry Ingredients. Once fonded – add the tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes and start your simmer – with a lid – the thick sauce spits as it heats up. While you’re awaiting the heat to come up on this – mix all of your dry ingredients in a small bowl – put them all in there together – leaving the parsley, basil, and whiskey out for now.
- The Baking Soda Affect. Dump the dry ingredients in there and watch the sauce foam on you – it’s the baking soda taking the acidity out of the sauce. Stir it all in and continue to bring it up to heat.
- Add the Whiskey. Once it’s all coming up to heat – two shots of your favorite whiskey will be added next – Jack Daniels is a good choice, but I’ve also used 100 proof Jeremiah Weed, etc.. Two shots in total or roughly 5 ounces – just more than a half cup. You’ll put the lid on the pot slightly cocked so that the alcohol can cook out of the sauce.
- Don’t let the simmering sauce burn. Simmer on a very low flame for about an hour – or even two – stirring occasionally to keep sauce from burning on the bottom of the pot. If you do burn the sauce, it’ll add unattractive black spots to the sauce (from the sugar burning) – but the taste will still be fine – use it in lasagna if that’s the case and no one will know the difference.
- Add in Basil and Parsley and season. About a half hour from calling it finished – add about 6 basil leaves finely chopped and about a like amount of parsley similarly chopped. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper. I’ve added a twist of lemon juice in it too to pop a more fresh taste – it’s your call.
If you are adding meat or mushrooms – now is the time to add and give it more time to cook the additional ingredients. This recipe makes about 2.5 quarts of sauce. It freezes beautifully and keeps in the fridge for quite some time.