This time of year, we often find ourselves looking for recipes that use a lot of tomatoes. While the garden is rapidly roasting, we still have a counter full of red gold just waiting their turn to tantalize our taste buds. It was in this context a few years back that I began developing this month’s recipe.
In the world of tomato-based sauces for pasta, most of us would generally recognize two, marinara and pomodoro. Marinara is a light sauce made from fresh tomatoes, olive oil, herbs and onions, with many variations in ingredients including olives, capers and wine. The historical origin of this sauce is uncertain. Some say that cooks aboard Neapolitan ships returning from the Americas invented marinara sauce in the mid-16th century after Spaniards introduced the tomato to Europe. Another version states this was a sauce prepared by the wives of Neapolitan sailors upon their return from the sea. Marinara is Italian for sailor style. In Italy, marinara as indicated by the name might include shell fish or salted anchovies. Here in the States, Marinara is typically more chunky with larger pieces of tomato and retains more liquid than pomodoro sauce. Adding meat to a Marinara makes what most Americans would call a spaghetti sauce.
Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. Its sauce typically contains fresh tomatoes, olive oil, basil and various other fresh ingredients. It is thicker than Marinara as it is cooked down from minced tomatoes. This smooth rich sauce is often served in Italy as a light lunch on pasta such as spaghetti or orecchiette (little ear pasta). Incidentally, tomato-based sauces are lower in calories than other sauces that are fat-based such as cream sauce, butter sauce or here in East Texas, brown gravy. Most sauces add a lot of flavor and calories but tomato-based sauces give us all the flavor without the fat and calories.
With so many ready-made pasta sauces in a jar, why would I want to make one from scratch? The simple answer is flavor. Fresh tomatoes cooked together with onion, garlic, basil and seasonings is just not the same as a pre-made sauce. It’s like the difference between home grown tomatoes in June and what we buy in the store the rest of the year. Even if you didn’t have a counter full of fresh tomatoes, this sauce is worth a trip to the farmers market to buy fresh tomatoes. You can still use the jar stuff in the winter. That is unless you had the forethought to make an extra batch. This sauce freezes well.
Pomodoro sauce is wonderful on spaghetti but I prefer linguini. The thin flat noodles tend to hold the sauce better. This recipe is vegetarian. However, if you want to increase the heartiness of the meal, add a pound of lean ground beef (at least 90/10 lean/fat) browned and seasoned with the same seasonings, oregano, basil, onion and garlic. Add the prepared sauce to the meat to capture the flavor in your pan. Another variation is to add lean pork. Dice about 1 pound of pork loin into bite size pieces. Sauté them in olive oil on high heat just to brown the outsides. Add garlic powder, salt and pepper. Then before they are fully cooked, add your prepared sauce to the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until the pork is done. Serve with toasted garlic bread and a fresh salad and your diners will be under your spell. A bottle of Italian wine, Barolo or Chianti can turn the evening into a special occasion. And all of this happened because you took time to prepare a sauce using tomatoes that needed to be cooked! Ce Magnifico!!
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with years’ experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He is a Nacogdoches resident and he helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable channel 2 in Nacogdoches.