Do It Yourself: Red Wine Marinara Sauce w/ Mushrooms

There's an evil bird on my plate, trying to peck the pasta.

Hey hey hey!

So, as you might have guessed from my obsession with ketchup, I really love tomato sauce. (And I never eat cream-based sauce. Facts about me.) My go-to sauces lately are Barilla’s Mushroom & Garlic Sauce and Paul Newman’s (RIP) Sockarooni. And my sauce-to-pasta ratio is high (pasta is one of the few things I “cook”), so I always have a few back-up jars in the pantry.

The other day I was driving home from work and happened to be listening to an interview with John Mariani. He talked about how simple it is to make marinara sauce. (His name is really similar to marinara… it’s some sort of conspiracy.)

The weird thing is, I typically don’t like store-bought marinara sauce. I’ve tried various brands, and have always found them to be too watery. But I really love tomato sauce and marinara seemed like a good place to start, on a sauce-making journey.

The other weird thing is, I typically regard making things from scratch as kinda stupid. Like, why make cookie dough when Slice ‘n Bake exists? But… I don’t know. Maybe this is what growing up feels like. (Eh… probably not.)

This itch to make my own sauce coincided with a bit of free time. I googled around and found a recipe I liked at allrecipes.com (I’ll let you go there to see it– I’ll talk us through it here). I liked that it included red wine, because… I don’t know, I just did. And I decided that I would add mushrooms, because that’s how I roll.

So I assembled the necessary ingredients:

Ready to go.

I went with Cabernet Sauvignon on Mr. Tea’s recommendation (he was not present at the time of cooking, though– this was all me!), and Barefoot because it’s always good (… and costs five dollars). And because a sticker on the bottle said it won an award.

For the mushrooms, I went with the Baby Bella variety because Mr. Tea said that they last longer in the fridge. The name makes me think of Twilight. Baby Bella, I love you so much– but I also want to eat you! (That’s my Edward impression?)

The first step was to saute three cloves of garlic in three tablespoons of extra virgin (Bella!) olive oil for about two minutes, removing the pan from the heat just as the garlic begins to brown.

Can I just say, I’m glad I called my mom and figured out the difference between a garlic bulb and a garlic clove. Can you imagine if I sauteed three bulbs instead of three cloves? Yowza.

The garlic bulb and its amputated cloves.

Once I separated the cloves and peeled off the skin (whatever it’s called), they were so soft and waxy and butter-looking.

Like BUTTAH.

So I sliced those up and threw them into the oil (murderer!) with about a half cup of the mushrooms (which came sliced). I debated adding more oil to help cook the mushrooms, and then I remembered that they were going to be stewing for a while after that. So I didn’t.

Before I even started slicing the garlic, I started a pot of water boiling for the pasta. I was walking around the grocery store feeling so excited about my one-pot recipe– until I remembered that I also needed a pot for pasta. Luckily I managed to find a big-ass pot in our kitchen that I didn’t even know existed, so it was all good.

Even though I had pasta at home, I recently read an article in one of my mom’s lady-mags about how shell pastas are good for catching sauce. I figured I might as well do it up, and bought the conchiglioni as a tribute to the Conch episode of “Top Chef All-Stars.” (It really did sound SUPER DIRTY, the way they pronounced it. Like various bad words combined.)

On “Top Chef All-Stars” they had to dive for conch. (HA! See??) In my kitchen, I just watched it sit at the stainless steel bottom of the sea.

A boiling we shall go.

Usually when pasta cooks it expands a lot, but weirdly enough this one didn’t seem to get much bigger. Also the pot was so big that I couldn’t hold the strainer in one hand and dump the pasta into it with the other. That was the one helping hand I got– roomie Hayley held the sieve… oh, and helped uncork the wine. Thanks!

Roomie Hayley had DVR’d a BBC mini-series called “Lost in Austen,” about a modern-day girl who gets transported into the world of “Pride & Prejudice.” It was 200% cheeseball and 300% awesome. I’d never even heard of it, but now I highly recommend it– especially on a sick day. Or a girly girls’ night. Or when you’re cooking something that includes a lot of downtime. (And then while you’re eating what you cooked, because the show is several hours long.)

Back to the sauce. Once my sauteed garlic & mushrooms have cooled, I toss in the rest of the stuff (except the basil, which goes in at the end): 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup red wine, 1/2 cup water, 1 can tomatoes.

Sauce soup.

A word about the tomatoes. At my local Vons, I could only find two options: diced and whole. The recipe called for crushed. I wasn’t sure if it meant I was supposed to crush them or what, so I went with whole because I could crush them as they cooked. The recipe ALSO called for 16 oz of tomatoes, but all the cans I’ve found seem to be of the 12 oz variety.

I think this is why– later on– the sauce was a little more watery than I expected. The juice from the whole tomatoes + the potentially-not-enough-tomato factor. (Whatever– you just simmer it longer. As I figured out.)

Later, when I went to Ralph’s/Albertsons, they each had a HUGE display of every kind of canned tomato you can imagine.

The tomato section at Ralph's.

Yesterday I bought a (12 oz) can of crushed tomatoes. Tomorrow I’m going to try the recipe using THAT, since I still have all the other ingredients handy. (I wonder if it would be too bland using non-canned tomatoes? It would probably require more salt…) (Maybe I’m getting TOO Scratchy-from-Scratchville here. Before you know it I’ll be growing foodstuffs in pots on my balcony.)

So all that stuff that I threw into the pot is supposed to come to a boil. At first– I don’t know if the oil was rising to the top or what– it got REALLY shiny. Like, golden.

Don't look into the light!

But after a few minutes it chillaxed. (The rest of the pictures just look a bit shiny because of my camera phone’s flash.)

Did I mentioned that it smelled amazing? It smelled AMAZING. The wine was the real clincher. You should probably make this just so you can smell it while it’s cooking.

Meanwhile, I kept crushing the tomatoes with my spoon. (DIRTY.)

When the sauce boiled, the instructions said to cover it and simmer on “low” for about 20 minutes. I have a gas stove with no marked heat settings, and I think I put it TOO low… like, almost off. Just the tiniest glow of blue heat. I think if I’d just left it on a normal heat, that probably would have been fine.

During the 20 minutes, I washed the basil. And drank some wine, which was a pretty bad idea because I was more or less empty-stomached and already had a bit of a dehydration headache. I also cleaned up whatever mess I’d made previously, which was a much better idea.

Good to go!

That was the only clean drinking utensil I could find in the house. (I was running the dishwasher, so everything else was trapped in there.) (Not that we have wine glasses, anyway.)

After 20 minutes I was expecting that everything would be good to go, so I whipped the cover off the pot and threw my 6 ripped-up basil leaves into the sauce.

But then I realized… uh hey, it didn’t really reduce as much as I would have expected…

Whoops I did it again...

So I was kinda freaked that the basil would get too basil-y and ruin it, and that blah blah all sorts of worries. I ended up raising the heat and boiling/simmering it for another 20 minutes or so, with and without lid. (At least 10 minutes were with-lid.) In the end it was still a bit thinner than I’d expected, but for all I know that’s how it was supposed to look. I scooped out the hearty stuff and left the waterier bits in the pot.

(See photo at top.)

And it tasted GREAT.

It was the first dinner I’ve made in a LONG while… maybe EVER… that didn’t require a microwave.

I stored the sauce in the fridge, and the next day it seemed a little thicker. I used a bit of sauce, plus extra mushrooms and some fresh basil, to make an awesome egg white scramble for breakfast. (That’s sweet Hawaiian bread toast, in triangles of course.)

I have many adorable Target plates. (Plastic!)

(Of course I eat ketchup on my eggs.)

It was probably one of my favorite breakfast moments ever. The sun was shining in (I blocked it to take the picture), I had some indie music playing, and I was enjoying the fruits of my own cooking labors. (And I think I’ve discovered that garlic and basil make everything amazing.) (Maybe I can start weaning myself off of ketchup… it’s kind of a crutch.) (The most delicious crutch.)

Last night I made super-easy meatballs to add to pasta/sauce, but I might as well give them their own (much shorter) post.

What do you think? Are you hankering to make some marinara now? I think you can throw in any veggie during that initial saute. (And there are a million other recipes out there, if you don’t like red wine, garlic, etc.)

I’m proud of myself, and hopefully this is the beginning of the road to my kitchen prowess. (Rawr!)

xoxo…

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