I think every cook needs a quick and easy, pantry-friendly, go-to marinara sauce if only for those nights when grocery shopping just isn’t going to happen (and hasn’t happened for over a week). This simple five-ingredient, one-pot, five active and fifteen passive minutes version is mine, derived from one of those oh-shoot-what’s-for-dinner situations that occurs far more often than I’d like to admit.
Made with canned tomatoes, half an onion, a couple garlic cloves, and Italian sausage that I buy fresh and freeze into quarter-pound balls to defrost just for these occasions, this recipe is made up of ingredients I consistently have on hand. In fact, I often double the recipe, freezing a second batch for the next time I’m in an even lazier and more desperate dinner-planning bind.
However, this recipe is at least several taste bud tingling light years ahead of the sugared-up stuff they sell as marinara sauce in the grocery store, while costing about the same amount of cash (even with the meat!) and taking the same amount of time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta – you know, the things you already have to do to make simple pasta and sauce for dinner. But please don’t expect this to taste as complex as traditional Italian “Sunday Gravy” because I assure you that it won’t. After all, there is a reason why that particular labor of love takes the better part of a day and several animals to make.
Simple Meat Marinara Sauce
Makes 4 cups
28 oz. canned tomatoes (whole or chopped; you can puree them in the can with an immersion blender or in food processor if desired, which I did)
1/2 lb. Italian sausage (or 1/4 lb. ground beef and 1/4 lb. sausage)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil (no need to add if using ground beef combo)
salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste
In medium pot over medium heat, cook ground meat in olive oil (unless also using ground beef, which is fatty enough to brown without oil) until browned, breaking the meat into pieces with a spoon or spatula as it cooks.
Add onion, and cook a couple minutes until softened. Add garlic, and cook 30 seconds until fragrant. Add canned tomatoes, including all juices, and bring to a boil.
Lower heat, and simmer at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes for a thicker sauce, covering pot to prevent splattering and keep sauce from thickening too much. Add salt, pepper, and/or red pepper flakes to taste. Serve hot.
Do ahead: can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored in airtight container in refrigerator. Leftover sauce can be frozen up to 3 months.