by: Chef Jim Berman
Mar- latin, sea, pool. "Marinara (noun): sauce for pasta; contains tomatoes, garlic and herbs (http://define.com/marinara)."
So, where does the sea fit into the picture? In discovering the land of tomato sauce invention, marinara takes us to Naples, on the west coast of Italy. Coast. Sea. Tomatoes do not grow in the sea. Rather, the fishermen whom were fed pasta with marinara made their living on the sea. Marinaro, sailor. Or so goes the tale. Makes sense, though. Sure, tomatoes were a South American, specifically Peruvian, import, but that is ancient history. Really. Today, tomatoes thrive in and around Naples. So, it fits that the glorious pasta dressing comes from Naples.
As most foods with ancestral lineage have distorted, morphed, become regional, neglected and even bastardized, Marinara may be a lone, flickering survivor in the dimly lit kitchen of purity. Maybe. By definition, marinara should be vegetarian. It should be tomato based. It should contain little more than those tomatoes, garlic and herbs. If there is a chunk of prosciutto simmering with the tomatoes, it is not (or should not be referred to as) marinara. If there are capers and olives in with the pomidori then, that too, is not Marinara. Vegetable in origin, yes. But, unadulterated is the classic preparation.
This recipe yields a gallon, or perhaps a bit more. Get good ingredients (*see note below).
10 lbs plum tomato concassé (do not throw away the juice… we may need it)
8oz Olive oil
½ cup, chopped garlic
5oz Fresh basil, rough chopped
2oz Fresh parsley, chopped
Rinse the tomatoes. Bring 1 gallon of water to boil. In a large bowl, place 5 cups of ice and 1 qt of water. Set aside. Remove and discard the cores from the tomatoes.
Make a small ‘x' on the bottom of each tomato.
Place 3-4 tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds.
Remove to the ice water mixture.
Repeat with the remaining tomatoes. Once all the tomatoes have been adequately chilled, remove to a towel. Remove and discard the tomato skins by peeling from top to bottom of the tomato.
Once all the skins have been removed, split the tomatoes in half through their equators (not north to south.)
Remove the seeds and ‘guts.' Pass the gut mixture through a colander to capture the tomato juice. Discard the seed/gut mixture.
Roughly dice the tomatoes and set aside.
In an 8-quart pot, heat the olive and garlic over a low flame. The goal is to cook the garlic to release the flavor while avoiding the bitter tannin of burnt garlic. The process of softening the garlic should take no more than 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and reserved juice. The tomato mixture will start to thicken as the juice cooks away. At this point, add the basil and parsley and allow to cook an additional minute. Season.
Serve warm with pasta or chill and save for later use. Garnish the sauce with fresh grated Parmesan or Romano.*A note on ingredients
The more we know about the origins of a dish or a particular ingredient, the better equipped we are to prepare it. If we know that, say, the piece of beef on the cutting board is from the store, there is little in the tool chest of knowledge that is going to assist in making that dish that much more of a success. However, if we know that the steak is from, say, a hearty primal cut, like that off of the short loin, like a porterhouse, we are that much more prepared. Further, if we know that the porter is from a decent steer that was grass-fed and not terribly overworked, we know that the preparation will vary that much more. And, perhaps, we know that the steak was aged, that is even more that goes into making the preparation that better suited to the ingredient. In other words, the ingredients drive the dish, not the other way around. The selection of the menu is driven by the ingredients, by the market, by what is available. Here comes the hard sell; buy local, buy seasonal. The catch-phrase of "buying local" may be new, but it really is not a new concept. It really is ancient. Crops were always planted close-by and if it was not growing in the field, then it was not put upon the table. Necessity really was the dictator of the menu. But, yeah, that diatribe is for another day. But, do know this - getting seasonal stuff is buying with an advantage; the product can only be made worse by your influence rather than made better by good luck in the kitchen. There is no question: garbage in, garbage out. Buy good ingredients.