Marinara Sauce – An Italian Essential

Marinara Sauce is a basic Italian ingredient that can be used in many recipes.  My  marinara sauce has no added sugar.  Ground up fennel seeds are used to give the illusion of sweetness.  This is actually an Indian cooking tip that I learned from my great grandmother.  TIPUse fennel powder to impart the illusion of sweetness without using any sugar or sugar substitute.  

Marinara Sauce Feature

When I was 12, my family moved to America.  We settled in Queens, New York.  We lived in a very Italian neighborhood.  Most of the Italian families were related to each other, and everyone had vegetable and herb gardens in their backyard.  I had never even heard of Italian food, much less tasted it.  The Italians I met were full of joy and very generous.  They loved to feed me whenever I visited.  This was my introduction to Italian food, where I learned how to make marinara sauce from one of the Italian grandmothers (nonnas.) They always seemed to have jars of homemade marinara in their cupboards.

I learned from the nonnas, the great TIP of having marinara sauce on hand because it can be used to make so many dishes.  I have already created and photographed two recipes using my homemade marinara.  They will post on July 11th and July 18th.  For the 4th of July, I have planned a very special red, white and blue Italian dessert that is low carb and keto friendly.  I named the dessert Berries & Fennel Scented Zabaglione.

INGREDIENTS:

Marinara Sauce Ingredients

  • 8 large ripe tomatoes ( these beauties came from my neighbor’s garden.  I have the best neighbors 😃)
  • a large handful of basil ( the basil in the photo was grown by me.  I grow herbs in pots in the sun room just outside my kitchen.  This way I can get fresh herbs when I need them.  I feel truly blessed to be able to have the luxury to do this.)
  • 1 large white onion (this one was grown by my neighbor.  He brings us vegetables and we give him eggs from our chickens and ducks.)
  • 3 Tbsp of the best extra virgin olive oil you are able to find (the can of extra virgin olive oil in the photo, was picked up in Tuscany while I was taking a pasta making class.)
  • 1 bell pepper and 1 Serrano pepper (optional.  I like adding the peppers for an extra kick.)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano
  • 1 tsp of red chili flakes (leave these out if you want to make the dish less spicy)
  • 2 tsp of fennel seeds ( grind these to a powder in a spice grinder)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Parmesan cheese rind.  TIP: Keep leftover cheese rinds in the freezer and use them to add flavor when making marinara sauce.
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup of red wine
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

PREPPING THE TOMATOES:

 

  • Score an “X” mark in the skin at the base of each tomato
  • Boil a large pot of water
  • Get an ice bath ready
  • Blanch each tomato in the boiling water for 30 seconds
  • Immediately place the blanched tomato in the ice bath to stop the cooking process
  • Once the tomatoes are cooled, peel off the skin starting at the scored “X” mark.  It should peel off easily.
  • Dice the peeled tomatoes and place them in a crock pot

TIP: Use a crock pot to make the sauce so you don’t have to spend hours stirring the sauce like the Italian nonnas, who taught me to make the sauce did.  

Its a good time saver.  If you want to make it like the nonnas, feel free to make it the traditional way in a large sauce pot.

PREPPING THE OTHER INGREDIENTS:

Marinara Sauce Prep

  • Add the bay leaf and cheese rind to the tomatoes in the crock pot
  • Turn the crock pot to high, and put the lid on while you prep the other ingredients.
  • Dice the onion and bell pepper
  • Mince the garlic and Serrano pepper
  • Tear the basil into small bits

COOKING THE AROMATIC BASE (SOFRITO):

 

  • Coat a stainless steel pan with the extra virgin olive oil and place on medium heat
  • Add the onion, garlic, peppers, basil, red chili flakes, oregano and fennel powder
  • Saute until lightly brown
  • Add the tomato paste, stir it in and cook for another minute
  • Add the cooked sofrito to the crock pot that already has the tomatoes in it

COOKING THE SAUCE:

 

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  • Add 1 cup of red wine
  • Turn the crock pot to low and cook for about 4 hours.  At this point the sauce should have turned a deep red color.
  • Now add salt and pepper to taste
  • Turn the crock pot to warm and let it sit for 30 minutes to let all the flavors marry

I wait until the end to add salt and pepper because it allows me to balance the flavors once everything has already blended and come together.

You can use the marinara immediately for many recipes, or you can put it in mason jars and keep in the frig for up to 2 weeks.  It will keep in the freezer for 6 months.

On a final note, I want to credit Ceramiche d’Arte Carmela, in Ravello, Italy for making the beautiful bowl and plate that I used to present my Marinara Sauce.

Marinara Sauce Feature

I visited their shop when I was in Ravello and fell in love with their ceramics.  I ended up ordering a whole set.  I use it frequently and remember Italy fondly.  I get no compensation for mentioning Carmela’s lovely art work here, but I like giving credit where credit is due.

Please use the comments section to let me know what you think if this recipe.  I always love hearing from you.

Ciao for now.  🖐😃

 

 

Tips on Storing Spices

Hello everyone.

I have been meaning to write a post on how I store my spices.  Yesterday, Yummy Italy posted a photo of her under the counter spice rack on Instagram.  Her words, not mine–It is SUCH A MESS!  She asked for good organizing ideas, so I decided to take some photos and write this blog post in addition to posting the photos on Instagram.

I buy spices everywhere I go, but the bulk of my spices are bought at an Indian grocery store in Austin.  I use spices so often, that I buy them in large quantities, especially if I can get a good deal on them.  I buy my spices whole and keep the unopened bulk bags in the freezer.

Storing Spices Freezer

The photo above is my freezer filled with fennel seeds, cardamom pods, cloves, cumin seeds and more.  Whole spices are stored in the freezer.

Chillies, salts, cinnamon sticks and powdered spices are stored in my cool air-conditioned pantry.

Storing Spices Pantry

I mostly make my own spice mixes, but there are a few MDH brand spice mixes that I buy.

Once I open up a bag of spices, I transfer the contents into a mason jar with a rubber sealed gasket.  I keep these mason jars in a dark cabinet in my kitchen.

Storing Spices Dark Cabinet

The mason jars have bulk spices that will last me a few months.  The spices stay fresh because they are not exposed to air, moisture, heat or light.

For my everyday use, I have two spice racks with small bottles.  The first rack has the spices I use most frequently, so this one sits on my kitchen counter.

Storing Spices Rack

The second spice rack has the spices that I use less frequently, so it is kept in a kitchen cabinet with doors that can be closed to protect the spices from light.

Storing Spices Feature

This cabinet also contains salts, peppers, and spice blends.  In the photo, you can see the canister of garam masala.  I kept the canister because I like the seal and label on it, but the masala inside I made myself.

My spice bottles are not labeled because I have had these spice racks for 30 years and I know what each spice is, but you can Of course label them.  I still have one of the boxes of bottles I bought 30 years ago.  You can see that it came with labels which I never used.

Storing Spices Accessories

I am sure you can find these spice accessories on line.  They are many different configurations of spice racks.  These little bottles are my favorite for storing small quantities that can be used up quickly and not go stale.  When one of these bottles goes empty, I refill it from my bulk supply.

Since I cook with LOVE and SPICES, I have to have plenty of both on hand.  💖😄

 

 

Chargrilled Veggies

Spring is here.  My husband fired up the charcoal grill for the first time this year.  I was inspired to do some quick and easy meal prepping for the week.

Take whatever fresh veggies you can find.  Slice them into thick pieces.  If you have peppers, leave them whole.  Just poke a hole in each pepper so that it does not explode during the cooking process.  Coat with olive oil and sprinkle with my Italian Spice Mix.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Chargrilled Veggies Prep

In the photo above, I have tomatillos, baby carrots, baby turnips, eggplant, and a variety of peppers and squashes.  I also have Roma tomatoes but my husband put them on the grill before I had a chance to take the photo.

Grill the veggies till they are tender and charred.  I prefer charcoal but you can use whatever you like.

Chargrilled Veggies on The Grill

Once all the veggies are done.  Make a plate for today’s meal and refrigerate the rest in glass containers covered with plastic wrap.

Chargrilled Veggies Stored

 

Then all you have to do for the rest of the week is reheat the veggies and add proteins.  My husband also cooks different meats on the grill and reheats them later in the week.  I prep seafood for myself and cook what I need as my protein for the week.

Delicious, healthy and quick meals are easy to put together all week long.

 

Indian Spice Mix

I use my Indian Spice Mix in many of my recipes.  I have posted it here so that you can refer to it.  I have also linked this as a reference tip in each recipe where the formula is used.

Starting at the 12 o’clock position, the ingredients are as follows:

Indian Spice Mix Instagram

 

  • Onion Powder–1 part
  • Cayenne Pepper–1 to 2 parts depending on how spicy you want to make it
  • Garam Masala–2 parts
  • Turmeric Powder-1 part
  • Garlic Powder–1 part
  • Red Chili Flakes–1 to 2 parts depending on how spicy you want to make it
  • Dried Fenugreek Leaves (Kasoori Methi in Hindi)–1 part
  • Smoked Paprika–1 part

I sometimes combine the ingredients in the ratios suggested above.  You can also sprinkle on each spice as needed.

Many of these items can be purchased online or at an Indian grocery store.  Some of these items can be found at your local supermarket.

If you can’t find dried fenugreek leaves, just leave it out. If you use the fenugreek leaves, crush them in the palm of your hand first.  This will turn them into a powder and release their aromatic oils.

I do make my own Garam Masala, but you can buy it.  Every Indian cook has their own recipe for Garam Masala.

It is best to keep your spices sealed in a dry, cool and dark place.  Air, moisture, heat and light cause your spices to go stale quickly.

If you have any questions or thoughts, post them in the comments and I will help you out.

 

Italian Spice Mix

I use my Italian Spice Mix in a lot of my recipes.  I have posted it here so that you can refer to it.

To make a dry rub, mix equal parts of:

Italian Spice Mix

  • Onion Powder
  • Dried Oregano
  • Garlic Powder
  • Red Chili Flakes

You can also just sprinkle each item on individually.  It is a simple but flavorful spice mix.  I have linked this as a reference tip in each recipe where this formula is used.

If you want to make it less or more spicy just increase or decrease the amount of red chili flakes.