Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tuesday Night Vegetable Marinara

A little touch of sugar neutralizes the acidity in the tomatoes
     In the spirit of inexpensive, weekday easy meals, today’s blog is dedicated to simple red sauce and pasta. There are so many variations on marinara, some much more complicated, requiring a nice long afternoon and a whole variety of simmered ingredients, but all others I’ll leave for another time. This sauce is basic, but trust me, much more delicious than jarred sauces like Prego, Ragu or even the gourmet versions. And in place of those premade, mass manufactured sauces is where this sauce should fit into your kitchen repertoire. It’s an easy, quick, work-week kind of sauce, perfect for, but not limited to, a Tuesday night.

Tuesday Night Vegetable Marinara:

Difficulty:Ant Icon 32x32px
Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Makes: 6-8 servings


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 cups zucchini and/or eggplant (if using eggplant, be sure to prepare it before adding to sauce, has good instructions, but I like the skin on), sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 large cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes (if San Marzanos are unavailable, Romas or other will suffice)
½ teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste


     Heat olive oil in a large pot on medium. Add onion, mushrooms and zucchini or eggplant. I usually add ingredients in that order, as the onions take a little bit longer than the mushrooms to caramelize, the mushrooms take a little longer than the zucchini and eggplant to soften. Sauté until onions begin to caramelize. Add garlic and balsamic vinegar and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally until onions are fully caramelized and garlic warms and becomes aromatic (should be about 3 minutes).

Mmm, fresh basil
     Turn heat up to medium high and add tomatoes. Simmer (should be lightly bubbling) for around twenty minutes, enough time for the flavors to come together. Add sugar, basil and salt and pepper. Simmer another 5-10 minutes and you’re done. Sauce should be thick and chunky with robust flavor, a little sweetness and an underlying earthiness from the mushrooms.

     The very best thing about this sauce is the balsamic vinegar. It caramelizes when you sauté the vegetables in it and that sweetness cooks through the whole pot of sauce. It adds richness and depth usually only achieved by simmering for hours or adding cream or cheese. It’s a subtle flavor, but it goes a long way.

     Serve with pasta of any kind (I prefer whole wheat spaghetti), salad and this time, I added seared spicy Italian sausages for protein, but I sometimes substitute cheese and sunflower seeds instead.

Steaming hot and ready to eat
     Near the beginning of simmering the sauce, just after adding the tomatoes, I usually start my water boiling for pasta. A large pot of water takes maybe 10-20 minutes to heat up. Dry pasta will take 5-10 minutes to fully cook, whereas fresh pasta will only take two-three minutes. Keep these times, and the instructions on the package in mind to ensure your pasta finishes with your sauce.

     Also, be aware that you need time to sear your sausages, should you choose to make the carnivore friendly version of this recipe. I simply threw mine into a frying pan with a little oil, three minutes per side.

     This recipe makes a lot of sauce. You can store it in the fridge for other meals, then all have to do is cook pasta or even make crust for pizza. Or you can add it to pasta to take for lunch. Just microwave and it’s ready. Sometimes I’ll freeze the extra, have it available the next time I need it. It’s nice to have options. However, it’s also easy to just cut the recipe in half.
Pappardelle with eggplant, sundried tomatoes and garlic at Ferdinando's
     In the same vein, I had an amazing meal at my new favorite place, Ferdinando’s on Union in Brooklyn. They serve really delicious Sicilian food that is simple and classic, and they do this with no pretense. Delightful restaurant. I plan to spend a great deal of time there in the future. To read details of my experience, check out my review at

Although they don't serve tea, our server was kind enough to offer me a cup of hers, and it came in flowered china!

Not a lot of fancy decorations comes with wonderful lack of pretense in Ferdinando's


  1. Yum . . . I'm going to try the eggplant . . . I liked the mention of putting the water on after the sauce starts simmering. . . my mother always added sugar to her tomato sauces, said she got that from her Italian sister-in-law, Angela. . . you added balsamic vinegar . . . explain.

  2. Another delightful and mouth-watering post from EDoT!!! Love the photos, too!