This recipe is from Giada De Laurentiis' cookbook Everyday Italian. I make loads of her regular marinara sauce at a time, usually on the weekends, and then freeze it into Gladware so that I can pull one out to thaw for an easy pasta dinner during the week. It's a great basic recipe: tons of flavor but yet nothing is overpowering (Hubs makes a marinara with lots of red wine and basil; very good but also quite strong). The carrots add a tinge of sweetness to the acidy-tomato base, and I love the chunky texture.
This sauce makes a great "starter" to make other pasta sauces. When I thaw out a container of sauce, I'll stir in vodka/cream/parm for a vodka sauce, or will add any multitude of things to keep it interesting (sauted mushrooms, meatballs, mixed olives, you get the picture). I am giving the basic marinara sauce recipe below, as well as my favorite variation on it: Tuna and tomato sauce. It is SOOOO good.
Basic Marinara Sauce
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 (32-oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper. Cook until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Taste, and adjust seasonings.
If making ahead, cool, then cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Or transfer the cooled sauce to freezer bags and freeze for up to 3 months.
Tuna and Tomato Sauce
This is so good. The lemon zest wakes up all the flavors and perfumes the dish, but doesn't overpower anything. It's a from-the-pantry version that comes together really quickly with the pre-made marinara.
3 c. Marinara sauce
2 (6-oz) cans tuna packed in oil, drained (get the good stuff if you can find it on sale)
1 Tbsp. drained capers
1 tsp. grated lemon zest (about half a lemon)
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper, plus more to taste
1 lb. pasta of choice (rigatoni or large shells work well)
Freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite.
Meanwhile, combine the tomato sauce, tuna, capers, and lemon zest in a heavy large skillet. Using a fork, break the tuna into chunks. Simmer to blend the flavors, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Toss the pasta with enough reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Stir in the parsley and serve. If you're in the mood, dust with some parmesan.