Help me make the best tomato marinara sauce in the world. I want to make it from scratch. I want it to be the sort of thing youd see in Godfather or Goodfellas where it has to stay on the stove for like 3 months to achieve perfection. This is my holy grail.
August 26, 2012 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Help me make the best tomato marinara sauce in the world. I want to make it from scratch. I want it to be the sort of thing youd see in Godfather or Goodfellas where it has to stay on the stove for like 3 months to achieve perfection. This is my holy grail.

So cmon yall. What is the Holy Grail hand down best recipe and process for making the worlds greatest marinara?

I read the previous thread from 2009, and its good. But I want to dig deeper. I want something with a flavor that makes you cry.

Who's got the million-year-old family recipe that they dont mind sharing?
posted by Senor Cardgage to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 135 users marked this as a favorite
IMO, marinara isn't really a cook-all-day thing; about an hour is all it takes to coax all the flavor out of simple veggies. Though it will certainly taste better after resting for a day.

Goodfellas-style Sunday gravy is typically a ragu with meat, which is absolutely improved by long cooking.
posted by peachfuzz at 6:44 PM on August 26, 2012 [12 favorites]

For a good start, see Alton Brown's version. It involves roasting tomatoes with aromatics, and really can take as much time as you want, if you lower the roasting heat a bit.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:06 PM on August 26, 2012

Starchy, salty pasta water is the secret ingredient in most sauces.

And butter.

This is the best spaghetti I've ever had, and Scott Conant of Scarpetta uses both starchy pasta water and butter.
posted by kathryn at 7:12 PM on August 26, 2012 [12 favorites]

If you want the best tomato sauce of all time: Take 1 large can DOP San Marzano tomatoes. Either run through the coarse disk on a food mill or squish up the tomatoes by hand. Add to saucepan with half a stick of butter and a medium onion cut in half. Sloooooowly bring the pan up to temperature and simmer at very low heat until the onion is completely soft and has given up its flavor. Remove and discard onion. Season with salt and use sauce. Add minced parsley.

If you want something more garlic-flavored: 3 cloves of thinly sliced garlic and copious extra virgin olive oil in a cold pan. Bring slowly up to temperature until garlic softens and turns a very light shade of golden. Add 1 large can of DOP San Marzano tomatoes treated as above. Brief low simmer. Season. Add minced parsley. Optionally add crushed red pepper. This would be pretty similar to what most Italian-Americans would call a "marinara."
posted by slkinsey at 7:15 PM on August 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

With a few table spoons of olive oil, saute a few (3 or 4) crushed garlic cloves and half a white or yellow diced onion. While they're cooking down and starting up your sauce, cut up some Roma tomatoes. Nobody gives a shit about the seeds or skins, most of that will break down anyway. Add them to the sauce.

Just when everything has begun to break down and it smells like butter, add a cup of red wine, vino de tavola, nothing special. What you would drink with a piece of bread. Let that be for a few minutes and then add a cup of water and a couple of big bay leaves and continue to simmer for 15/20 minutes. This is salt and pepper point, add and taste, let simmer until it's at desired thickness.

After that, you're golden, just don't forget to remove the bay leaves before serving.

FWIW, the only reason I'm answering, is because I've had marinara from Sicily to Milan and the best, most earthy home made was in Mondragone between Naples and Rome. That was at an old ladies house and she was the only one to include the bay leaves. It was fantastic! Enjoy!
posted by snsranch at 7:26 PM on August 26, 2012 [20 favorites]

Yes, you need a food mill!

It will give you the correct consistency and take out the seeds:)

Buy a metal one. I live in LA, and can't find the right kind to replace the proper one that went missing a few years back. You have no idea how aggravating this is! Once you have a food mill, you will use it for damn near everything. They are brilliant!
posted by jbenben at 8:04 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Grating carrots into it will give it that yummy sweetness.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:30 PM on August 26, 2012

My husband makes a very quick tomato sauce from Artisan Pizza cookbook that is meant for a pizza but we end up using for pasta even more often. The rest of the book is good, but that simple sauce recipe was worth the price of the book alone. It's like a summer tomato in sunshine.

The other really really good pasta sauce we make at home is with the pressure cooker. I use a standard marinara recipe with whatever veggies I have left over for variations - bell peppers or extra garlic or whatever. But in the pressure cooker, somewhere around 45-60 minutes it all melds into glorious heavenly thickness. I've never been able to stand cooking it on an open pan that long to get the same depth of flavour.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:10 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The scenes that I remember in The Godfather and Goodfellas both involve slow cooked meat sauces. If that's what you're after, you should check out Gianni's Sunday Gravy. It even makes him cry in the end!
posted by shoesfullofdust at 9:10 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Snsranch's response is the most spot-on, IMO--it's the way my Italian grandmother made it.
posted by anonnymoose at 11:54 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Olive oil and bay leaves are definitely the key ingredients. I don't just use the olive oil to cook the onions, I add a bit straight to the sauce. Wine only if I have it.
posted by mareli at 6:23 AM on August 27, 2012

Start with Mario Batali's basic marinara recipe, but add one pound of Italian sausage.
posted by jbickers at 6:26 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This recipe from is the best pasta sauce I've ever had, and it only has 3 ingredients.
posted by stampsgal at 6:29 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

2nd'ing Mareli. Cook onions in a little bit of butter, you'll get better flavor out of them and don't add the olive oil until the end or you cook the flavor right out of it.
posted by VTX at 6:44 AM on August 27, 2012

I have a very easy and delicious sauce recipe.

2 Jars of Organic Crushed Tomatoes imported from Italy. (best taste, color and consistancy)
1 can of tomato paste-the little can
1/2 of a vidalia onion chopped fine
Chopped Garlic
Black Pepper
Red Pepper (ground not flakes)
Splash of red wine
Fresh basil
Olive oil

Sautee the onion over low heat in olive oil. A bit of salt and pepper will help them wilt and give them flavor. When the onions are translucent, add chopped garlic. You can run fresh cloves through a garlic press, but I use pre-crushed garlic I get from the Korean Grocery store. Don't burn the garlic. If you do, throw it all out and start over.

Add the tomato paste and stir together with the onions and garlic. Then slowly add the crushed tomatoes, reserving the jars for storing the finished sauce. Add the salt, peppers, wine and basil once the sauce starts to bubble.

Once the sauce is hot, it's ready.

nth using the starch water with the pasta and letting the pasta and red-sauce sit so the pasta can absorb the sauce.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:57 AM on August 27, 2012

As others have said, slow-cooked tomato sauces usually are meat rag├╣s. My favourite recipe is from FX Cuisine.
posted by turkeyphant at 8:05 AM on August 27, 2012

it can be good otherwise, but for sauce that's truly legendary, you gotta grow the tomatoes and basil yourself...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:24 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I asked a very similar question a few weeks ago, here.

You may be interested to know that the Finny Knits recipe is, indeed, the greatest sauce in the universe. Period.
posted by TomMelee at 12:30 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Very very much seconding user slkinsey's San Marzano recipe. When I discovered it on Smitten Kitchen and actually tried it, I was indeed smitten.
posted by parma at 2:12 PM on August 27, 2012

I am going to assume you mean a meat gravy, rather than a marinara. This is my MIL's gravy, which is AWESOME. My husband still suspects that I married him for his mother's sauce. ;) This receipe is for one "batch" (we usually double the sauce volume, but keep the meat the same):

    2 cans Hunts tomato puree 3 cans Hunts tomato sauce 2 small cans Hunts tomato paste extra virgin olive oil garlic salt dried oregano
(We have added red wine and fresh crushed garlic to this list, but they're not "official" ingredients.) :)

    3 lbs ground chuck 2 eggs 1 cup Progresso Italian style bread crumbs garlic salt salt/pepper 1/2 cup grated parmesean or romano cheese (Locatelli romano if you're me)

    sliced beef pounded very thin (My MIL asks for "beef for bracciole" at her butcher. Depending on where you live, they may hand you meat, or they may give you a strange look. Just use your best judgement.) extra virgin olive oil Progresso Italian style bread crumbs grated parmesean or romano cheese

Italian sausage (mild or spicy - your choice)
(Or, if you don't like sausage, we have substituted butterfly cut pork chops; either way, Mr.blurker maintains it doesn't taste the same without some pork in the sauce.)

And now, as my own grandmother used to say, you just cook it!

    squish everything together with your hands roll balls and throw from hand to hand to increase density (keeping your hands a little wet will keep the meat from sticking to you) fry in hot oil
    coat one side of each slice in olive oil sprinkle with bread crumbs and grated cheese roll up tie with twine or use toothpicks to hold together fry in hot oil
Sausage or pork:
    fry in hot oil

All the frying is just to brown the outsides and solidify the meatballs/bracciole. The meat will really cook in the sauce.

    coat the bottom of a large dutch oven with olive oil and heat add sauce, paste, and puree add water equivalent to the amount of puree heat to melt paste add garlic salt, oregano and wine if desired heat through add meat (If you have used toothpicks for the bracciole, take them out before you put into the sauce! Twine can stay on throughout the rest of the cooking.) cook for a long time (at least 3 hours, but we have gone up to 5 or 6) adding liquid (wine or water) and spices as needed
Don't season too strongly in the beginning, as the meat will season the sauce as it is cooking.

Achieve Nirvana.
posted by blurker at 3:23 PM on August 27, 2012

For a slow-cooked meat sauce, adding meat on the bone, or meat with a fair amount of collagen, will give the whole thing a nice flavor and texture boost. Beef short ribs are good and apparently reasonably traditional. Oxtail is also good though not traditional as far as I know. Browning everything sufficiently at the start is important. Another nice addition is a couple anchovies, added early and allowed to break up — not enough to give a perceptible fish flavor, just enough to add a bit of richness to the whole thing.

Another thing to try would be ragu Bolognese, which is VERY meat-heavy and includes whole milk and sometimes stock along with the tomato. The result still tastes like a tomato-and-meat sauce rather than a cream sauce, but there's a richness and sweetness to it that you wouldn't get without the milk, and it's all very dense and high-octane. The version I linked to also has chicken livers, which I've never tried but dude I totally intend to now, because hey, chicken livers, awesome. If I wanted to totally knock someone on their ass with a cook-all-day tomato-based sauce, this is where I'd start.

For marinara, yeah, honestly, really good ingredients is the most important thing, good tomatoes and fresh herbs if you use them rather than dried and good-quality pasta to put it on. Using enough fat and enough salt also helps. But if you want to turn marinara into some sort of heroic labor-intensive thing, I'd look into growing some sort of heirloom Italian-style tomato, or making your own fresh pasta, because otherwise it's really just not the sort of epic foodie adventure thing that you could sweat over for hours even if you wanted to.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:44 PM on August 27, 2012

I have taken to using this recipe as my base. I add another strip of bacon, I add another clove of garlic, I use chicken stock instead of red wine, I add a very small can of tomato sauce, plus I add basil and oregano.
posted by Silvertree at 12:20 PM on August 28, 2012

Previously (2005)
posted by about_time at 4:39 AM on August 30, 2012

The trick that my mother learned in Italy to great tomato sauce is to take carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and basil, and mince them very finely on a cutting board. Chop them up moving the knife back and forth over the vegetables until they are mixed together and cut very small. Her teacher called this a 'battuta', which means 'beaten', and it mixes the flavors together.

And yes bay leaves.
posted by bq at 10:40 AM on August 31, 2012

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