For each person, have:
- ½ onion (I prefer red onion in the sauce)
- (optional) 2 stalks of celery
- ¼ head of garlic
- 1 medium large tomato
- ¼ c. packed of fresh basil leaves
- (optional) 1 T. fresh oregano
- (optional) 1 T. fresh thyme (my usual rule of thumb when using all three spices is 3 parts basil, 1 part oregano, 1 part thyme)
(Option: for an earthier flavor, heat the oil up a bit higher and sear the oregano and thyme before adding the onions. Be careful that these spices don’t burn before the tomatoes are added.)
Roughly chop the onion (and optional celery, cross cut so that the strings are short) & add to the pan. While performing other tasks, stir occasionally to keep any onion from sticking or burning.
Roughly chop the garlic. When the onions have almost clarified, add to the pan. Continue stirring occasionally until the onions have clarified and are on the verge of starting to brown.
Roughly cut the tomatoes. When the onion/garlic mixture is ready, add the tomatoes. Stir occasionally. Cover the pan between stirrings.
Roughly chop & add the basil (& oregano & thyme if you want them and haven’t already seared them). Guess what you should do from time to time.
That’s right. Stir occasionally until the tomatoes are completely tender. (N.b. that I use the whole tomato, including peel & seeds. Some people prefer to seed and or peel the tomatoes, but I have no problem with either.)
When the tomatoes are limp & tender, use an immersion blender to purée the sauce. Simmer down to desired consistency, with the lid askew.
When you start to simmer, this is the time to add anything you want in the sauce. Try to vary the textures for interest’s sake. A decent meal should include tactile pleasures as well as those of taste, smell, and sight.
A few recent variations:
The best sauce I have done recently (and I’ve done it a few times) has been a puttanesca arabiata (minus the anchovies, which SWMBO can not digest). Add pitted & halved kalamata olives, rinsed capers, and a healthy dose of red pepper flakes. Yummers.
Just last night, on a whim, I did the sauce with sundried tomatoes (julienne cut) and capers. It was a hit. I may go warm up the leftovers now.
I frequently use baby portabellas. When I do, I like to pull ut the stems and add them to the marinara with the garlic before I purée it, and then cut the caps into half-bite-sized pieces to add afterwards.
A lovely and simple sauce I had in Rome not long back was an arabiata with bacon. In fact, over Winterim 2011, I ran into this sauce twice. Tasty!
The point is, use the basic sauce as a starting point and play. It takes no time at all and is SO much tastier than anything from a jar.