Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Crocktober: Marinara Sauce from the Crock Pot

Even though this is only the second recipe of Crocktober, I'm gonna go ahead and declare this the absolute easiest crock pot recipe on the planet. Okay, there is that extra thing where you have to boil pasta, but you can make a very yummy home-made sauce while you're not even at home. I think that's pretty cool.

Sometime last winter, I called my (Italian-American) Dad to brag about having made my very first meat sauce. He was mildly impressed, but I was super impressed, because to me pasta sauce is a basic necessity vital for the survival of the human race. Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration, but I defy you to find a person who does not, or has never enjoyed spaghetti in a red sauce. You can't. They don't exist.

I used fresh parsley and basil with dried oregano, but you could use all dried herbs or all fresh. With the fresh herbs, add them just before serving. Subject them to all-day cooking and they will lose their oomph, and possibly disintegrate. Also, if you're anything like me, it might seem like a good idea to chop the herbs ahead of time so you can just toss them in the crock when you get home, but resist the urge. The flavor will be much more fresh if you wait, and premature chopping generally leads to browned leaves, which is just sad.

This recipe makes about 3-4 servings. (I'm a hungry person, generally, so I never know for sure what other people consider a serving to be).

1 1-lb., 12 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves (lightly packed), chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves (lightly packed), chopped
1 tsp dried Italian herbs (using the fresh ones above, this is optional but recommended)
1/2 cup vegetable broth or stock
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, smashed 
1 cup onion, diced
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese for serving (optional)

1. Combine all ingredients except for the fresh herbs and cheese in a 2-5 qt crock pot. Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours or high for 4-6 hours.
2. Add the fresh basil and parsley.
3. Serve (generously) over fresh, hot pasta (avoiding the garlic) and sprinkle with Parmesan or grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
4. Gleefully slurp your spaghetti.

My lens got a little steamy there on the left
This recipe is a good base for an arrabbiata sauce. Just add red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, a whole dried chile, Sriracha or whatever you like to use to heat things up. 

While I don't know the "rules" of marinara, I do know that you could add celery, carrots, or mushrooms to this sauce if you felt compelled. Celery and carrots are hearty enough to withstand all-day cooking, so it's one-step and you'll get lots of delicious flavor mingling. (Mushrooms are a little more delicate and should probably only cook about half that long). The only rule I do know is that since marinara is relatively thin in texture (compared to, say, a lamb ragu) it should be enjoyed with spaghetti, so save the tube-and-trumped-shaped pasta for the trapping of thick sauce, meat and veggies.

 P.s. If you're in a pinch and don't have the time to make your sauce, Bon Appetit recently did a blind taste test of store-bought tomato sauces, and Barilla Traditional Marinara came out on top.

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