To kick off our wine pairing cooking series, we’ll start with a kitchen staple: basic marinara sauce by Denise of Castello di Sinio.
For more on Denise, read our Pantry Essentials post with her background and a list of all the goodies your kitchen needs to cook and wine pair with ease.
Ready, set, cook!
My first virtual cooking lesson with Denise went down in early April. I wanted to make eggplant parmesan, so, Denise set to work preparing our lesson. We started with this simple, basic marinara sauce to serve as the base for the eggplant parmesan.
This basic marinara sauce will also be key when we finally make pizza – something I’ve been promising il ragazzino for weeks, but have been unable to due to a yeast shortage in Alba. But, this week, I had supreme success on my grocery pilgrimage. So, a pizza and pizza dough recipe is coming!
Our basic marinara sauce was for the eggplant parmesan, as noted. And, with leftover sauce, I did some pancetta, pasta, and I had a very happy little man. In just a few weeks, this recipe has done me wonders. And, it’s so good.
Highlights from my lesson in how to make basic marinara sauce with Denise:
- Cut the veggies for the sauce uber fine so that they essentially disappear after the sauce simmers for about 1.5 hours.
- Celery is key (this is one where I expect all you legit cooks to roll your eyes at my naiveté)! When we started our lesson, I think Denise was a bit horrified that I didn’t have celery on hand. I didn’t know! She told me that celery adds a saltiness. I have since made the sauce with celery, which now has a permanent place in my shopping cart. Yep, what a difference a stalk makes.
- It’s important to sweat the vegetables down. This means cooking them slowly – no browning. Denise explains that this step is absolutely essential as it creates the foundation for building the layers of flavor. Expect them to take about 15 to 20 minutes.
- When sweating, listen for the sizzle in the pan to tell you the temperature is right.
- It’s not just about the long simmer to get the best flavor in a basic marinara sauce. You also need to let the sauce cool properly – for a couple of hours. It allows the flavors to really marry. Do this before reheating and serving, even with pasta.
Basic Marinara Sauce
- 1 small yellow onion (or 1/2 a medium / large onion)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 large celery stalk
- 1 tsp dried oregano and basil (basil optional)
- 1/3 cup white or red wine
- 1 tbsp tomato paste (optional; thickens sauce)
- 2 containers Pomi tomato sauce (or 1 large jar Italian tomato sauce)
- 1 container Pomi crushed tomatoes
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- small bunch flat-leaf parsley (minced)
- Finely chop the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery. Peel the carrots and wash the celery, then cut them into 2-inch pieces, place in processor and, pulse until quite fine, but still in distinct pieces. Do the same with the onions and garlic, being careful not to lose the liquid. They should be fine enough to disappear in the sauce after it simmers.
- If using a Cuisineart, process carrots and celery separately from the onion and garlic as they process at different rates and the onion liquifies before the carrots and celery are fine enough.
- In a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed, low and straight-sided pot, add 2 tbsp olive oil to an already heated pot.
- Add all vegetables and sweat over medium-low heat, stirring often about 15 minutes. Add the dried herbs. Do not let the vegetables brown.
- When vegetables are well sweated, turn up the heat and then add the wine. Let it reduce down by half so the alcohol burns off.
- Add crushed tomato and tomato paste with equal parts water, incorporate completely. Add tomato sauce and equal amount of water. Bring to boil, then turn down to a low simmer, and reduce for about an hour.
- Add the fresh rosemary for a few minutes before the sauce is done. Do not let the rosemary stay in long enough for the leaves to fall off. Discard the used sprig.
- When the sauce reduces to a thick consistency, taste. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed. If adding the finely minced parsley, do it now.
- Allow to cool off heat for a couple of hours to marry flavors well before reheating for use. Alternatively, transfer the sauce to a sealed container and store in the refrigerator. Will keep for three to four days and freezes well.
- The sauce is super versatile. Serve with a very thin egg pasta or a short pasta. Use for eggplant parmesan, lasagna, pizza sauce, and more.
- For pasta, heat about ½ cup per portion in a large sauté pan that leaves you room to mix cooked pasta and sauce. Add a pat of butter per person if you like, as many northern Italians do.
- After adding cooked pasta to sauce and mixing for a moment, add a little olive oil for some shine and a small ladle of pasta water to loosen up the mixture as it bubbles on the heat for a minute or two.
Wine Pairing with a basic marinara sauce
For your best pairings, you need context. So, the recipes we explore in that shoot from this will adjust the flavors, textures, etc., offering different options.
But, in general, a red with good acidity will do you right for pasta with basic marinara sauce.
- I love a good Barbera, especially a younger, fresher one that doesn’t see oak.
- A youthful Langhe Nebbiolo, again solo acciaio (only steel aging) will bring out the fresh fruits and acidity.
- Heading more to central Italy, sangiovese is a great pair – particularly Chianti.
Recipe Ideas with yummy basic marinara:
Eggplant Parmesan StacksI prefer an eggplant parmesan that is not done as a casserole. It is easier, faster, more convenient to serve, and looks better on the plate. In theory, it should keep you from over-eating, but these versions are all so delicious I can’t guarantee that you won’t overdo it! I also don’t bread and / or fry so it is lighter, fresher, and cleaner.
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