Friday, January 13, 2017

Slow Cooker Marinara

Last Year's Post: Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Two Years Ago:   Chicken Pho

Marinara is a very versatile tomato-based sauce typically used with spaghetti, lasagna, eggplant parmesan, baked pasta, and any one of a number of other dishes.  I've been making my favorite marinara recipe on the stovetop for years, but it takes several hours of attention and stirring so it doesn't burn.  It only recently occurred to me that marinara is perfectly suited to the low-and-slow approach of a slow cooker, so I immediately made a big batch and was happy that I didn't have to hang around and keep stirring.

There are a couple of advantages to making your own sauce:  you can customize it to your liking, you control the sodium and fat levels, and it can potentially be much less expensive than buying jarred sauce.  I say potentially less expensive because it all depends on the ingredients you add to your sauce, and the type/brand of sauce you would otherwise buy.  If you normally buy the least expensive private label pasta sauce in the store, you may not save much.  But if you buy a more expensive brand, you might.  And again, I chose to add organic fire-roasted tomatoes to my sauce for texture and flavor, which increased the price.  If you use store private label tomatoes, you'll save money.

Besides chopping and sauteing some onions and garlic, this is basically a dump-everything-in approach.  You could even forego the saute step for the onions, but then I would probably cut down on the amount of onions in the sauce.

Start checking the consistency of the sauce around 6 hours and cook until you're happy with its thickness and color.  I like to add some chopped parsley at the very end for little flecks of freshness and color.

Cool the marinara completely and place in glass jars or heavy zip-top bags, then freeze for up to several months.

This is a great weekend project for cold winter months.

Slow Cooker Marinara
Makes 9 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 cups chopped onion (about 3 medium)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt*
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
6 medium garlic cloves, grated
2 (28-oz) cans crushed tomatoes, undrained
2 (14.5-oz) cans diced tomatoes, undrained (use fire-roasted, if desired)
2 (6-oz) cans no-salt-added tomato paste
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add onion and sugar and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Place in slow cooker and add remaining ingredients (including the remaining tablespoon of olive oil) except the parsley; stir well paying particular attention to breaking up any lumps of tomato paste.

Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours, depending on how cooked down you prefer your sauce.  Check after 6 hours and continue cooking until desired consistency is reached.  Taste and adjust salt to your preference.  Stir in the parsley before serving.

To store:  cool completely and place in glass storage jars or resealable plastic bags.  Freeze for up to several months.

* Salt levels vary widely according to the brand of tomatoes and especially tomato paste that you use.  I recommend using no-salt-added tomato paste because regular tomato paste is very high in sodium.  If you use low-salt brands, you will likely need to add salt at the end or on the table, but it’s better to start low and add more later.

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