Sweet Basil Marinara Sauce

I love this sauce.  It’s easy, incredible, bursting with flavor, fast and versatile.  It works with pasta, pizza,

shellfish, and so on.  You may in fact be surprised at how easy this sauce is, and how impressive the results are.  This is my version of a basic red spaghetti sauce (differing from ‘gravy’ or traditional red sauce, which cooks over night with all kinds of meats).

Marinara sauce is of course originally a southern Italian dish, pulling from the incredible flavors of the sun drenched vine ripe tomatoes, wonderful wines and olive oils that grow in that region.  It should be simple.  Why complicate it?  The trick is to focus and intensify the natural flavors, which isn’t always easy.  Especially when your supermarket is only carrying mediocre and basic ingredients.  So, breaking it down ingredient by ingredient, please consider the following:

The flavor of basil is strong and sweet.  By itself, it can become abrasive and ‘herby’, and has the potential to destroy your meal.  Used properly, with the proper ingredients, it’s perfect.  Tomato (ESPECIALLY san marzano) and sweet basil with good quality olive oil is a match made in heaven, so why not capitalize?   Those are the simple flavors we need.  Pared together, they speak for themselves.  Otherwise, I don’t have too much else to say about the recipe.  Marinara sauce is what it is, and this is my favorite recipe.  It’s sweet, full of flavor, and serves its purpose.


1 tbsp dry oregano
1 tbsp dry basil
1/2 yellow onion, rough chop
3 cloves garlic, rough chop
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cups (1 large can) crushed san marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup chicken stock, or 1/2 cup water with 1 tbsp chicken base dissolved
1/2 cup sweet white wine
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 rib celery, rough chop
1/2 bunch fresh basil, leaves only
1 small carrot, small chop
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
kosher salt
ground black pepper


In a medium sized heavy bottom sauce pot, begin heating 1 tbsp olive oil.  Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until translucent and very fragrant.  Add the garlic, pepper flakes and a little salt and pepper.  Continue cooking until you can smell the garlic (it should smell sweet).  Add the white wine and tomatoes at the same time.  Add the dry basil, oregano, sugar and cinnamon.  Re-season with a small pinch of salt.  Bring to a simmer and stir to ensure everything is well combines.  Add the rest of the olive oil, basil and chicken stock.  Simmer slowly for about 10 minutes.  Check the seasoning and make sure you’re happy with it.  Transfer the sauce to a bar blender and run until very smooth.  Your sauce is now ready.

Use right away, or ‘customize’ it for whatever you’re preparing.  For shellfish, maybe add a little caramelized fennel and additional pepper flakes.  You may want to simmer it with meatballs for incredible spaghetti and meatballs.  Whatever you choose to do, your foundation sauce will be excellent.


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