In my Italian family, Sunday dinners are centered on a generous pot of sweet marinara sauce and a few good bottles of red wine. Once mastered, marinara sauce plays a powerful role in enhancing the flavor of an array of Italian dishes. To make the perfect marinara sauce, you need good ingredients and patience.
It is important to use high-quality tomatoes as they are the main ingredient in any marinara sauce. Although fresh tomatoes are wonderful, I save them for salads and use canned San Marzano tomatoes for sauce. Picked and canned as soon as they are vine-ripened, San Marzanos have a sweet and concentrated flavor that is difficult to find elsewhere. Because these tomatoes are canned whole, they will need to be puréed before they are put into the sauce.
A small amount of red wine has the ability to help create marinara sauce with great depth of flavor. It is important to use good wine because its flavors become concentrated during the cooking process. Chianti is great for tomato-based sauce because its acidity levels complement those that are found in tomatoes.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when cooking marinara sauce is that it requires patience. Marinara sauce is created in a progression of steps, and it is important that the flavors in each stage of the process have adequate time to develop. The entire cooking process is done over low heat, so the ingredients are encouraged to mingle and develop together during the simmering process.
Basil, oregano, and flat-leaf parsley are some of the herbs used most frequently in Italian cooking, but a variety of other leafy green herbs such as sage and thyme also show up. While buying or growing fresh herbs is a wonderful way to liven up a meal, it is easy to end up with a lot of leftover herbs after you’ve finished cooking. If you know how to properly store herbs to keep them vibrant and flavorful for next week, next month, and next winter, you can have flavorful meals all year long.
When stored correctly, herbs can last for up to two or three weeks in the refrigerator. The key is proper storage.
As soon as your herbs are picked from the garden or brought home from the market, rinse and dry them carefully.
Dampen two connected paper towels (a flour-sack towel would also work) and lay on the countertop.
Arrange your herbs in a flat row along the length of the towel. You’ll want a different towel for each type of herb.
Beginning with the towel end nearest to you, carefully roll the herb-filled towel into a loose bundle. Store bundles in an unzipped gallon-size bag in the refrigerator.
My favorite way to store herbs for seasons is to freeze them in a small amount of olive oil, which preserves the herbs’ vibrant flavors all winter long.
In an empty ice cube tray, fill each empty cube with herb leaves. You can keep the various herbs in separate cubes or combine them to create herb blends.
Pour enough olive oil in each cube to cover the top of the herbs. Store the tray in the freezer.
When you are ready to use your herbs, simply place a cube in a small bowl for about an hour to let it thaw.
Dried herbs are wonderful for sauces, salad dressings, and spice blends. You can dry herbs the same way you might dry out a flower: upside down.
Wash and dry your herbs thoroughly. Bundle each individual type of herb and tie each bundle together with a piece of twine. Tie each bundle along a clothes hanger and store the hanger in a cool, dry place. Allow 4-7 days for your herbs to properly dry out. Once dry, store the dried herb leaves in airtight Mason jars.
How to Cook Dry Pasta
In today’s markets, there are entire aisles shelved with various types of pasta. Whether you choose whole-wheat linguine, tagliatelle, or gluten-free penne, it’s important to know how to properly cook dried pasta. Pasta that is cooked al dente, or firm to the bite, is ideal. To achieve an al dente texture, don’t overcook your pasta.
Fill a large pot ¾ full with water and heat on the stove over high heat. Once the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon of sea salt and your desired amount of pasta.
Immediately stir the pasta with a long wooden spoon so that the individual pieces do not clump together.
Cook the pasta for 7-10 minutes, stirring it every 2 or 3 minutes.
At the 7-minute mark, remove a piece of the pasta to test its consistency. The pasta should be soft but should retain a firm bite.
Thick pasta shapes, such as farfalle and linguine, typically take longer to reach al dente consistency than do thin shapes such as angel hair and orecchiette.
Once the pasta is al dente, drain it in a large colander over the sink.
Return it to the pot that it was cooked in and coat with marinara or a touch of olive oil and grated Parmesan. ✜
Shelby Thompson practices yoga, plays ball with her black lab Cola, and cooks. Her blog thesunandthespoon.com provides nutritious, plant-based recipes for fellow food lovers.