Recipe: Dave’s Marinara

I have to admit it – I love pasta.  Real pasta made from durham wheat semolina. I try that whole wheat pasta every now and again, but it just doesn’t taste good.  I’m sorry, guys, but I’m about taste.  Brown rice tastes good.  Whole wheat bread tastes good. Whole wheat pasta? Fuggeddaboutit.

This recipe will go with your favorite meat / seafood accompaniment. Ordinarily, I’ll use Italian sausage, but on occasion, will substitute shrimp or some other ocean critter. Last night, said critter was mollusks.
My preferred way to make a marinara is to use fresh Roma tomatoes. Sure, you can use a 28 oz can of stewed Italian tomatoes, but if you have time, the real deal is the best.
About the wine – I usually use wine from the bottle that I’ll be serving with dinner.  If you’re not cracking a bottle on this occasion, a cooking wine is fine. I prefer Marsala for cooking, it has a very nice flavor. If you do the Marsala thing – go buy a bottle at your local discount liquor store, rather than spending $5 on 1/4 of a bottle of  cooking wine at the grocery store. In the liquor store, it will be over near the sherries and ports, and you can buy the cheapest bottle for $6 or $7.
  • 2 pounds ripe Roma tomatoes (about 12 medium sized)
  • 6 medium to large cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp oregano (or some fresh stuff if you can find it)
  • 4 sprigs fresh basil (at least 20 leaves) or  2 tbsp dried (yuck)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • olive oil
  • (optional) mushrooms
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 6 oz. can of tomato paste
  • meat or seafood of choice
Get a big saucepan of water boiling – this can be the same one you’ll cook the pasta in.  Once the water is at a full boil, add the tomatoes. Let the water return to a boil, and then let those tomatoes roll around for a good five minutes or so. You should see a few of them splitting before you remove them from the heat.  
Drain these bad boys in a colander, and cover with ice.  The ice causes the skins to split on all of these, and it lowers the temperature enough to where you can handle the tomatoes with your bare hands.  Once the tomatoes have cooled enough, peel off the skins, and move them to the cutting board.  If required, cut out the stem area of the tomato with a paring knife.  
(We’re multitasking now)  While all of this is going on, get some olive oil going for sauteing the garlic.  If you’re going to use mushrooms, you’ll need at least two tbsp olive oil.  If not, 1 is about right. Hell, I don’t know, I just pour that stuff in the pan until it looks right.
Anyway, in a medium skillet, heat up olive oil to medium-low.  I prefer to crush unpeeled garlic cloves with the flat blade of a large knife.  This makes it easy to remove the skin, and releases a lot of oil.  I mash it enough to break it into a few pieces, and then I chop.  I used to mince garlic in a garlic press, but if you mash it enough prior to chopping, the effect is about the same, and it’s one less tool to put in the dishwasher.  Add the garlic to the heated olive oil, and saute until translucent.  If you’re doing mushrooms, add them within a minute or two of the garlic (prior to achieving translucence) and get the whole batch going together at the same time.
Once the garlic is translucent or the ‘shrooms are done, add the wine.  let that bubble and reduce to about 50%.  Note – if you’re doing Italian sausage, you’ll need to have this cooked by now.  One method is to bake for 30 minutes on 400 (poke with fork prior), or just strip off the skin and brown like ground beef.
While all of this is going on, chop the aforementioned tomatoes and dump into a medium saucepan.  Purists may want to remove the seeds at this point,  but that’s kind of a pain in the ass.  Add the bay leaf, red pepper flakes (to taste), salt, oregano, and tomato paste.  Combine with the sauteed garlic, and bring to a nice simmer.  If you have fresh basil, chop that up and add it now.  
In the meantime (you have to stay on your toes), you should have the water for the pasta boiling.  A good linguini takes about 7-8 minutes to boil, so add the linguini to the water once you have the sauce on a low simmer.  If you’re doing mussels, add them directly to the sauce now.  Let the sauce simmer until the pasta is done; the mussels should have opened up by now. Serve with parmesan (fresh grated Reggiano is the best, but I guess some Kraft out of the can is ok – it beats sawdust, at least).
Garlic bread and a salad will fill out this meal.  When I’m baking, I use ciabatta for garlic bread – it’s the best.   When I was a kid I was always confused why my folks bought French bread to make garlic bread for an Italian meal.  I don’t know – it was just some cognitive dissonance that I had to get over.

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