McMan's Summer Marinara

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Pasta is my favorite food to prepare, and I’m never at a loss for different dishes and variations. My staple involves a tomato sauce commonly referred to as marinara. Marinara hints at matters nautical, but the name refers to Neapolitan sailors returning to the shore to partake of this sumptuous repast. In the winter, I go with a hearty meaty sauce with lots of ingredients. But this is summer, when I like to keep things light. Light texture, light taste. Let the tomatoes do most of the talking.

    McMan’s Summer Marinara

    Coat a hot (but not too hot) skillet with olive oil and add three cloves of chopped garlic. Allow about a minute for the garlic to infuse the oil with a rich flavor. Don’t overcook, as this will cause the garlic to go bitter.
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    Add about eight chopped Roma tomatoes and heat for several minutes. When the tomatoes start getting a bit soft after a few minutes, mash with a potato masher until you have a chunky sauce of inconsistent texture, thick but also watery. In theory, you can simmer the sauce for 20 to 30 minutes for a better consistency, but I tend to add a little bit of water and about two to three oz of tomato paste (from a six oz can). I also add some salt and pepper.

    Then I let the sauce lightly bubble away for about twenty minutes, occasionally stirring and checking for consistency. I usually find myself adding water as I go. This way, I control the thickness of the sauce.

    Once I have the sauce underway, I start up my pasta (a third of a box) and get cracking with my other ingredients.

    Fresh basil leaves are essential. Roll a small handful into a ball and slice into thin shreds. The process takes only a few seconds. To keep the rest of your basil fresh, store dry in a sealed plastic bag with a slightly damp paper towel and pop in the fridge for use for another day.

    The basil will go in the sauce after it is finished. The other ingredients, should you decide to use one or more, fall into the technical category of toppings.

    The Toppings

    Fresh shredded Parmesan is my other essential ingredient. I prefer shredded to grated, but this is a matter of taste.

    You will have a very nice sauce with just the basil and the Parm. On some hot summer nights, there is nothing like the fresh uncluttered taste of pure simplicity. Other times, you will want to jazz up your dish.

    Italian sausage, sweet or hot, is the most obvious jazzer-upper. Since we’re talking high-fat here, limit yourself to one link. Slice off the skin and cut into about eight pieces, and fry for a few minutes.

    Goat cheese is another high fat delight. A few pieces go a long way. If going with goat cheese, I tend to skip the Parm.

    Avocado chunks with goat cheese are a gourmet’s delight. Avocado is high in fat, but health food advocates (and the avocado industry) insist this is “good” fat.

    Caramelized onions are my new secret weapon. Chop up one small or medium-sized onion or a half a large one, and slowly fry in olive oil for about 15 minutes until sinfully sweet and the pieces are just starting to crisp up, with some blackened bits. This will go ON TOP of the sauce rather than IN the sauce. Put this tasty delight on your pasta and you will forget about the sausage and goat cheese.

  • Assembling Your Masterpiece
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    Toss the shredded basil leaves into your sauce, stir, and take off the heat. Season to taste.

    Drain your pasta (with a summer sauce I prefer regular spaghetti) and stick back on the burner. Add a bit of olive oil and stir.

    Add half of the sauce to the pasta, so the pasta soaks up the sauce. Then dish out the pasta onto two plates. Ladle the rest of the sauce over the top of the pasta.

    If you aren’t adding any toppings, simply scatter the shredded Parm over the top of the sauce and serve. Otherwise, pile on your other ingredients, then add the Parm.

    Serve with salad, Italian bread or focaccia, and the Three Tenors. Serves two. Buono appetito.

Published On: August 29, 2006