Marinara has a multitude of uses. Depending on how you dress it up, you can make spaghetti sauce, chicken parmesan, lasagna, pizza -- pretty much anything you might want a vibrant tomato sauce on.
My marinara sauce comes together super fast and develops more flavor the longer you cook it. It keeps very well in the refrigerator and can be frozen as well.
A quick word about the main ingredient: tomatoes. I generally use crushed tomatoes from a can but occasionally, when I get really good farm fresh tomatoes, I make it from scratch. This is not as quick a process, as you can imagine, and I am not going to detail it here. I find my supermarket's fresh tomatoes just aren't as flavorful as canned tomatoes which have been left to grow on the vine until peak flavor then quickly processed to seal in the yum. Try several different brands - you'll discover which ones you prefer and which you don't. I also boost the tomato flavor with a good quality tomato paste. I'm particularly fond of the concentrated kind in the tube because I can just squirt out a tablespoon or two and keep the tube in the fridge.
Let's gather our ingredients. A large can of crushed tomatoes. Tomato paste (2 tablespoons). Some minced sweet onion (about 1/2 cup). Some minced garlic (2 cloves or more, you decide). Kosher salt. Cracked black pepper. Sugar (1 teaspoon). Olive oil. That's the basics. From here I change it up each time I make it depending on the use and the available fresh herbs. I often add dried or fresh oregano. Also fresh basil (at the very end). And occasionally a splash of red wine. OK, maybe more than occasionally.
Let's begin. Mince the onion and the garlic. And chiffonade (cut into thin strips) the basil. In this photo there is some fresh basil (bright green) and some fresh but frozen basil (in container). My plant was not prolific enough to yield an adequate amount of fresh so I dove into the freezer for some I had flash frozen a few weeks ago when I had a surplus. Frozen like this it still has the flavor, but not the prettiness. It works just fine in a cooked sauce.
Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and sauté your onion. At first it will be white, then it will turn translucent, and then it will start to look golden. Add the garlic and sauté another minute.
I like to season my onions as they cook with a little black pepper and some kosher salt. After you let your garlic cook about a minute, add some tomato paste to the pan and smear it around to let the sugars in it caramelize slightly. It will go from bright red to a brownish red color. If you'd like, you can deglaze the pan with a splash of red wine. Take your pan off the heat and add the crushed tomatoes and a little sugar. Return to a low heat and let simmer. If you are adding dried oregano, do that now. Sample and adjust your salt and pepper to taste. Ta Da! You've just made marinara. To finish it off you can stir in the fresh basil just before serving. If you want a meat sauce to toss over pasta or use in lasagna, stir in a pound of browned, drained Italian sausage or ground chuck.