I was expecting to like the 30-minute or 48-hour sauce best, but they were both disappointing.
The 5-minute sauce came together so quickly and easily, and it tasted great.
Marinara sauce is one of those things I usually just buy at the store. But I don't mind putting in a little extra effort every now and then for a delicious bowl of pasta.
I decided to test three popular recipes, each requiring varying prep and cook times.
From a zesty five-minute marinara to a standard 30-minute recipe to a whopping 48-hour sauce, here's how the recipes stacked up.
The 5-minute sauce included a surprising ingredient
The five-minute marinara-sauce recipe I found from Barefeet in the Kitchen sounded a little too good to be true.
Most of the ingredients were pretty standard: olive oil, garlic, sea salt, red-pepper flakes, and crushed tomatoes.
The only thing that surprised me was the addition of lemon zest.
When the recipe says 5 minutes, it really means it
I thought that the recipe would take closer to 10 or 15 minutes, but it really was quick.
I used a small metal tool to mince my garlic in a flash; added it to a hot pan with oil, salt, and about 3/4 of a teaspoon of red-pepper flakes; and stirred it all together for about a minute.
Then I added the tomatoes and let everything simmer for a few minutes before sprinkling in some lemon zest.
My only complaint is that my pasta takes about 13 minutes to cook, plus time to boil.
I'd rather start my sauce first and give it time to simmer and develop a deeper flavor than fussing with the marinara just before the pasta is done.
But that's an easy problem to solve. Next time, I'll just let it simmer for a little longer.
In the future, I'd swap lemon zest for fresh herbs
I really enjoyed the flavor and texture of this sauce.
The garlic was strong but not overwhelming, and the red-pepper flakes gave it just the right amount of heat.
The oil also gave it a smoother mouthfeel without being too greasy.
Aside from simmering it for a little bit longer, I'd also swap out the lemon zest for fresh herbs. I didn't love the taste of lemon and would much prefer some basil and/or parsley.
The 30-minute marinara was easy and required just 6 ingredients
When I think of homemade marinara, I expect something that takes closer to 30 or 60 minutes, so I had high expectations for NYT Cooking's recipe.
It specifically called for San Marzano tomatoes, a type of plum tomato with fewer seeds and thicker flesh than other varieties.
Either way, my canned, whole tomatoes seemed good enough to me. I'd be combining them with extra-virgin olive oil, slivered garlic cloves, red-pepper flakes, kosher salt, and a sprig of fresh basil.
It actually took less than 30 minutes, including the time I spent carefully slicing garlic
To start, I had to crush the whole, peeled tomatoes by hand.
Then I removed the skin of several garlic cloves and cut them into thin slivers. These slivers went into a pan of hot olive oil before I poured in my hand-crushed tomatoes.
The recipe also said to add a cup of water to the empty tomato can and swirl it around to get any leftover tomato bits. That cup of water went in the pot with the remaining ingredients.
Once the ingredients were combined, I set the basil on top and let it wilt before stirring it into the sauce.
It only took about 15 minutes to simmer — just enough time to cook my noodles.
The sauce was a little too watery and oily for me
When the noodles and sauce were both done, I noticed the oil had pooled around the top of the marinara.
As far as taste goes, it was fine. I liked that it was a little sweet and a little spicy. But the extra cup of water diluted the flavor and made the sauce far too thin. It was also way too oily.
Unfortunately, the fresh sprig of basil didn't add much flavor, and I didn't like the texture of the slivered garlic — I prefer minced.
The 48-hour marinara required a lot of tomatoes
I had lofty expectations for Kitchn's 48-hour marinara, even if the actual cook time is only 16 hours.
It called for whole peeled tomatoes, tomato paste, strained tomatoes, and diced tomatoes. I, unfortunately, misread the ingredient list and accidentally bought crushed tomatoes insisted of diced. But in the end, I think it was actually for the best.
Aside from the tomatoes, the sauce also required dry white wine, broth, minced garlic, dried herbs (I used basil, oregano, marjoram, and sage but left out thyme because I don't like it), salt, pepper, optional fennel and red-pepper flakes (I only used red-pepper flakes), sugar, and a final dash of olive oil.
I didn't spend 48 hours cooking, but it was still a long process
Right away, I ran into some hiccups.
I started by grabbing a large, enamel-coated pot, but it was too small for all those tomatoes, so I brought out my hefty Dutch oven. Even after cutting the recipe in half, there were still too many ingredients, so I had to upgrade yet again to a large stockpot.
I started by adding in the whole and crushed tomatoes, followed by the tomato paste and strained tomatoes. The recipe said to swirl the wine around the empty cans before adding it to the pot and stirring.
I added low-sodium vegetable broth and brought the sauce to a boil before adding in about a third of the dried herbs, rubbing them with my fingers in order to "release their essential oils," as instructed.
Then I got to take a nice eight-hour break while the sauce simmered. I stopped by about once or twice an hour to stir it.
At the end of its first day, I added another third of the herbs, stirred the sauce, let it cool slightly, and placed it in the fridge overnight.
After the sauce had about 12 hours to chill, I got it started on the stove again. This time, it simmered for four hours, and I stirred it hourly.
I added the last of the herbs, along with the sugar and some more salt, and let it simmer for another four hours.
I finished the sauce with some olive oil and prepared to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
The long-awaited sauce was a major disappointment
After I went to all the effort of rubbing the herbs into the sauce, I couldn't really taste them. Instead, the sauce tasted acrid and acidic.
I stirred it enough to keep the sauce from burning at the bottom of the pan — a common complaint with the recipe's reviewers — so it didn't stick much for me. But it certainly tasted burnt.
After 16 hours of cooking and an overnight stint in the fridge, the sauce really just left a bad taste in my mouth.
I expected to prefer the longer recipes, but my favorite took just minutes
I honestly expected to find the 30-minute or 48-hour recipe to be the best. But my favorite was the five-minute marinara, which was easy to make and required simple ingredients that I typically keep on hand.
I plan to make this again in the future, with a couple of minor changes, like letting it cook longer and swapping the powerful lemon zest for flavorful, fresh herbs.
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