By Kate Salter
I wouldn't call myself an Olive Garden addict by any means, but their menu boasts a couple of dishes I enjoy enough that I almost wish Starkville had a franchise.
One of these items is their marinara sauce. It features big chunks of tomato, a lot of flavor and a beautiful color, but what I enjoy most of all is how light and fresh it tastes. My parents gave me a sack of locally grown tomatoes over the July 4 holiday, and after a botched, over-salted attempt at a tomato pie, I decided to redeem myself this past Sunday by making some homemade marinara sauce. I found this recipe online, and it produced exactly the kind of Olive Garden-style sauce I like. It has much less sugar, salt and fat than store-bought spaghetti or pizza sauce like Prego or Ragu, so that the taste at front and center really comes from the fresh tomatoes, which I love. Plus, it provides a much cheaper alternative to store-bought, and the recipe can easily be doubled and tripled.
I ate mine over a little bit of whole wheat spaghetti, but I think it would be delicious served on a margherita-style pizza. I also feel sure that, when winter rolls around and our fresh tomatoes are not as fresh and from somewhere extremely south of the Equator, you could always substitute a regular 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes. In fact, for more of the Italian spice flavor, you could use the Italian-style version.
I made the recipe as is, but another substitute that might be worth considering is fresh basil or oregano for the dried. Adding either or both of those would add some color and dimension to the sauce. Also, instead of simply blending the sauce as the recipe directs, you could cook it in a flat saucepan. Heat 1 T. of olive in the pan first, then stir everything in until it thickens a bit. Doing so would make the tomato flavor richer and less fresh.
Finally, I used garlic from a bottle for this recipe. I hardly ever mince my own garlic because it's a messy, sticky process that I could very happily live the rest of my life without. But if you minced your own, I think 1 clove would suffice.
Homemade Marinara Sauce
1 large or two medium tomatoes, peeled and diced finely
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. minced garlic
Kate Salter is a lecturer at Mississippi State University. Email her at email@example.com .