“Never, Ever, Ever…” Vol. III

It’s time again for a little Southern Catholic guilt to encourage (shame) you away from the pre-made and towards something homemade, healthier… and better! It’s Volume III of ‘Never, Ever, Ever…!”

Just what you have been waiting for, I am sure.

As a reminder, Vol. I involved vinaigrette. Vol. II was broth. Today I give you Vol. III…tomato sauce!

It must be evident by now that along with my chicken obsession (here and here), I am also obsessed with tomatoes and tomato sauce. I’ve already had two posts about red sauce. The first detailed my friend David Hendren’s amazing tomato recipes, his homemade tomato sauce and his Habenero Salsa. That post was followed by “A Tale Of Two Spaghettis‘, concerning the ‘dueling sauces’ made by my mom and her dear friend Barbara Doyle.

All three sauces are terrific and I encourage you to try each! Often, however, we need to cook fast, which causes people to reach for something like this:


Don’t reach for the jar, though! Instead, you want to reach for this:

san M

In the time it takes you to boil water and pasta, you can have a wonderful homemade marinara, tastier and healthier than anything from a jar. It’s a breeze, particularly if you have your pantry stocked with a few simple ingredients. The recipe also has many variations, depending on your mood.

Click here to continue and find out how!

All you need is a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano which are the best canned tomatoes available. (You can start with a can of whole tomatoes but for ease get crushed so the sauce cooks even faster.) With an onion, some garlic, olive oil and herbs, you can transform this can of tomatoes into a lovely, luscious tomato sauce ready for the best pasta in the world. It also makes terrific pizza sauce or dipping sauce as well.

ingredients for quick tomato sauce

Here’s what you do: 

1) Finely dice one medium onion.

Note: If you are an onion lover and don’t mind a little crunch, chopping the onion into larger dice works, though it will take a little longer to cook.)

2) Saute’ the onion on medium heat in a glug or two of olive oil.

3) After about 8-10 minutes, add 3-5 cloves of garlic: you can mince the garlic, though recently I like to sliver the garlic into thin strips. Either way, add the garlic and let it sauté with the onion a few more minutes, making sure the garlic gets soft and golden but not brown.

Note: I like to add my herbs with the garlic (thyme shown below, rosemary is also terrific) but you can wait until adding the tomatoes to add the herbs. Just throw them in whenever. If you use basil, always an excellent addition, add it at the end.

Step 1

4) Now add your can of tomatoes along with a lot of salt and pepper. A shake or three of cracked red pepper is wonderful if you like your marinara to have a bit of a spicy kick. Stir well and let simmer on medium low, stirring occasionally, until your pasta is ready.

Note: About five minutes before your pasta is ready, add to the sauce a tablespoon of butter. While optional, this is a very welcome addition and will make the sauce even silkier. 


5) When your pasta is ready (both spaghetti and penne work beautifully here), drain it then toss it into your pot with the marinara. Stir and cook for a minute or two longer so the pasta absorbs a little of the sauce. While people often skip this step and just combine the sauce with the pasta in a bowl, I like to cook them together for a minute or two. It finishes the dish perfectly.

Note: This is a perfect time for basil. Chopped Italian parsley is always a plus. 


This recipe doubles beautifully. I always double it so I have some to freeze. I also eat this sauce with a spoon from a bowl with no pasta. It’s that good.

Of course, the longer you cook the sauce, the more the sauce will thicken. So if you like a thicker tomato sauce and have the time, let it cook down at least 20 minutes or more. Trust me, though, if you need to move fast, start the entire process when you put your water on to boil and by the time your pasta is ready, you will have a wonderful, tasty sauce that is quick and easy and much better than any sauce you can get from a jar.


Mushroom: If you like a mushroom sauce, add sliced white and or brown mushrooms with the onions, right at the beginning. A little white or red wine added with the garlic is great in a mushroom sauce. Cook it down until most of the liquid is evaporated, then add your tomatoes and continue accordingly.

Classic Italian: Add chopped carrots and celery (and the leaves) with the onion.

Meat: Add some ground beef with the onion and you can create a simple, fresh meat sauce. This works particularly well with the classic Italian start.

Sausage: Add either sliced sausage or ground italian sausage with the onion.

Cream: Add a glug of cream along with the butter. This is really good.

Herbs: Go crazy with herbs! I love to do it this way. Both cook herbs down in the onions as noted above, then add a lot of fresh chopped herbs when you combine the sauce and the pasta.

Go make you some red sauce! As always, thanks for reading. If you have your own version or variation, let us know in the comments section below!

11 thoughts on ““Never, Ever, Ever…” Vol. III

  1. Love this. Question. Do you ever add cinnamon? A former haircutter of mine is Greek and did that. And it turns out my Dad does as well. So I do it. And chili powder at times.

    1. Cinnamon! Wow, never tried that. I will have to do that next time. Chili Powder sounds good, too. The Dal Rae has one of the most amazing marinaras I have ever had, served with their calamari. I talked them into giving me the recipe last Christmas Eve (this took some cajoling) and it actually has, among other things, horseradish and worcestershire sauce in it! Wow, was it good.

  2. My Italian friends (literally from Italy) adamantly state that Italians don’t use both garlic and onion together in Marina, as well as other things. Here is Lidia Bastianich’s recipe: http://www.nytimes.com/recipes/1015987/marinara-sauce.html

    Maybe garlic/onion is an Italian-American “thing,” which I did most of my life. However, since my friends’ exhortation, I go with garlic alone and I actually do like it much more. It seems in such a simple sauce, garlic and onion “combat,” creating a rather undesirable complexity.

    Plus, I LOVE the simple combination of garlic and oregano.

    But again, I do like Italian-American cooking, which my friends, as you can imagine, mock as NOTHING like Italian fare…

    1. Fascinating! Because the grande dame, Marzella Hazen, has onion in her famous sauce (though not chopped)


      I also love Alice Waters’ very simple Bacon, Onion and Tomato Sauce:


      I used to like the chunky onion, but now I like it diced fine so you just get the flavor, not the crunch. I’ve even pureed this sauce with an immersion blender to make it very smooth.

      I wonder what your friends would say about the classic carrot and celery that is in many Italian recipes?

      Thanks, Chris!

  3. I tend to be more a garlic-rather-than-onion gal too. My Italian mum and dad (from a city near Venice) added only a little onion to their tomato sauce, preferring garlic as they thought it made it too sweet. Oh well, every region in Italy has its own way of making tomato sauce! I wrote a blog post about a brand of tinned tomatoes we have here in Australia, and its origins. You might enjoy it: http://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/as-the-tomato-said-to-the-actress/

  4. Never knew about that brand of tomatoes. Thanks for the tips, Tom! We usually doctor up a jar of something, but not anymore.

  5. Kathy just made this for us tonight and I was in culinary heaven, man! Thanks again for publishing this amazing recipe!

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