Spaghetti Marinara 2.0

This is take two on one of my favorite comfort foods, spaghetti marinara. Both this and the last recipe hinge on getting the flavor of aromatic vegetables into the sauce while keeping their textures out, but I think this one does a better job of it. The sauce is complex tasting but looks simple, like crushed tomatoes and herbs. Also, it's even easier than the last recipe, and if you have a pressure cooker, cooks up quicker as well. 

In my first marinara recipe, I used a stick blender to get rid of vegetable chunks, and while the result was delicious, I didn't like how blending always turned the sauce from red to orange. It also thickened it up in a way that I wasn't thrilled with. Then I remembered this simple onion and butter marinara recipe. I love how it treats the tomatoes like a stock, infusing the flavor of the onion and discarding it when it's spent. I used that concept as my starting point, adding more aromatics to the mix and using a pressure cooker to reduce the cooking time from 45 to 15 minutes (making this my go-to late night pasta sauce). While I'm never opposed to a half stick of butter in anything, I opted for olive oil as the main fat here, and decided to infuse it with the flavor of garlic while the pressure cooker was doing its thing. 

The result is my favorite marinara sauce to date. Bright tomato flavors supported by an invisible cast of aromatics, while a healthy dose of garlic infused olive oil adds body and richness. 

On pressure cookers: If you don't have a pressure cooker you can still make this recipe, simply simmer the vegetables and sauce for 3 times as long. It'll taste great. BUT, I really can't recommend a pressure cooker enough. They're incredibly useful, allowing you to make delicious stock in under an hour, dried beans in 20 minutes, and carnitas in a half hour. I use mine all the time. Like right now. As I'm typing this. As for brands, the Kuhn Rikon is the standard bearer, producing the best tasting stock. I bought a Fagor because I needed to use a Williams Sonoma gift card and that's what they had. I've been quite happy with it.

The things you'll need:

  • One 28oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 celery stalk, cut in thirds or whatever
  • 1 carrot, also cut in a number of largish chunks
  • 1 onion, or the scraps of most of an onion that you have in your fridge, quartered
  • A good clump of fresh thyme and oregano (dried will work too)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
  • A quarter to a third cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 10oz of dried pasta (preferably bronze cut, to see why, watch this at 23:20)
  • Dried chili flakes

A note about timing pasta cooking: You're probably going to want to drop the pasta in the water about the time you take the pressure cooker from the heat. This will give you plenty of time to remove veg from the sauce and add the oil before the pasta is done.

Under pressure

Add the first five ingredients to the pressure cooker. Cook at full pressure (15psi) for 15 minutes. Allow it to depressurize naturally. Or don't if you're in a hurry.

Pick everything out of the tomatoes that isn't, well, tomatoes, and throw them away. There will be random bits of oregano and thyme leaves left behind. That's great. Season to taste with salt.

Meanwhile: garlic Infused olive oil

While all that's happening make garlic olive oil. The only real trick with garlic olive oil is to keep the temperature low and the garlic submerged, the latter of which can be a bit tricky when using such a small amount of oil. The technique I use is to nestle a small pan into my stove so it sits at an angle like this...

This is one of those methods that is as effective as it is unsafe. I'd say use your discretion here. If you have grabby little kids, mischievous pets, or have had more than two drinks, maybe go with another option (such as making oven baked mojo de ajo but then stopping before the lime). You can also just cook a much bigger batch and then save leftovers in the fridge for a few months.

Cook the garlic on the lowest setting possible. There should be the occasional, lazy bubbles, and the garlic itself should stay white or pale brown. Discard the garlic before adding to the sauce. If you like things spicy, now's a good time to add a pinch of dried chili flakes to the oil.

And just like that, it's over

Add all of the oil to the tomatoes and bring to a boil briefly, stirring occasionally. This will help to emulsify the oil into the sauce. 

Just before the pasta is perfectly done, use a set of tongs to add it directly to the sauce. Over medium heat, stir and toss for a few minutes. The pasta will absorb the more liquid parts of the sauce as it finishes cooking, while its starch will thicken the sauce and help it to better bind to the noodles. 

There's a bunch of oil already in this sauce, but if you were to remove the pan from the heat at this point and stir in a knob of butter, no one's taste buds would complain. Stir in some freshly grated parmesan reggiano or grana pardano (never buy pre-grated cheese). 

Top with some more cheese and enjoy. 

Oh, and obviously this would be delicious with fresh pasta as well. Luckily, I figured out a fail-safe ratio for how to make great pasta at home. Check that out here