Weeknight Dinner File: Spaghetti Marinara

by Elissa

In order for a meal to enter the weeknight dinner rotation at our house, it has to clear a couple of challenging hurdles: 1) it cannot take more than 40 minutes to prepare, from start to finish, and 2) it has to be something that all four members of our family will at least contemplate eating (bonus points if everyone is enthusiastic). I also try to fix meals that are reasonably healthy. I thought I'd try to highlight one of our standbys, in case any of you face similar challenges.

Earlier this year, the New York Times ran a recipe for classic marinara sauce (adapted from Lidia Bastianich). The total time for this recipe was 25 minutes, so it met our time limit. It's a very simple tomato sauce, but it hits all the right notes. Josh and I love it, and the kids will sometimes try it (don't get me started about how much they loved tomato sauce as babies and toddlers and how they refuse to eat it now!)

Because this recipe is so simple, the quality of the ingredients really matters.

 I'm partial to these San Marzano crushed tomatoes, and Bionaturae's whole wheat spaghetti is my new favorite whole grain pasta.

 I'm partial to these San Marzano crushed tomatoes, and Bionaturae's whole wheat spaghetti is my new favorite whole grain pasta.

I also try to buy California olive oil, either this type from Trader Joe's or the California Olive Ranch Everyday Olive Oil (sometimes our local Safeway has it on sale for a great price). 

I also try to buy California olive oil, either this type from Trader Joe's or the California Olive Ranch Everyday Olive Oil (sometimes our local Safeway has it on sale for a great price). 

The recipe has you slice the garlic cloves, rather than crushing them.  The accompanying article claims that this makes for a less overpowering garlic flavor. 

Sliced garlic cozying up with plenty of extra virgin olive oil

Sliced garlic cozying up with plenty of extra virgin olive oil

Then it's just a matter of adding a 28-ounce can of tomatoes, along with a little water and a pinch of red pepper flakes. After about 20 minutes of simmering, you've got some excellent homemade marinara. I use that simmering time to throw together a salad. Add some al dente spaghetti, some parmesan cheese, and a glass of Chianti and you've got dinner!

Weeknight Marinara (adapted from the New York Times and Lidia Bastianich)

1/4 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 28-ounce can tomatoes (I like the San Marzano crushed tomatoes)

pinch of red pepper flakes

sprig of fresh basil (optional)

salt to taste

Slice the garlic while you put a large skillet on medium heat. Add the olive oil and the garlic and cook for just a minute or two, before the garlic browns. Pour the tomatoes into the pan, and pour about a cup of water into the empty can. Use the water to rinse out the can and pour into the pan. Add the red pepper and a pinch of salt, put the basil (if using) on top of the sauce.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened. Remove basil, taste for salt and serve on top of spaghetti or other pasta.