Bold and Spicy Tomato Sauce

Ellen Silverman


For the good and versatile marinara sauce

  • 1/2 Cup  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Cup  finely chopped yellow onions
  • 1/2 Cup  coarsely grated carrot
  • 1/4 Cup  coarsely grated celery
  •   Kosher salt, to taste
  • large clove garlic, minced
  • 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes*
  • 1/4 Cup  thinly sliced basil leaves, or chopped flat-leaf parsley, or a mixture of the two
  • 1/4 Teaspoon  hot sauce, such as Sriracha
  • 1 Teaspoon  lemon juice, plus more if needed
  •  Pinch of  granulated sugar, if needed

For the bold and spicy tomato sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10  olive oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained
  • 1 Teaspoon  lightly packed, finely minced Calabrian or other hot chile in oil
  • 6 Cups  good and versatile marinara sauce
  • 1 1/2 Cup  chopped, pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 Cup  coarsely chopped, drained capers
  • 1/2 Cup  coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 Teaspoon  lightly packed, finely grated lemon zest
  •   Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

This recipe is inspired by puttanesca sauce, which, according to many sources, was a dish that Neapolitan prostitutes in the mid-20thcentury served to their customers. Is that true or just legend? I have no idea, but I know it’s not that backstory that would tempt me to make the sauce. I prefer to emphasize all of its zesty, bold, and briny elements. Serve the sauce with pasta; spoon some sauce into a baking dish, nestle cod or halibut fillets in it, and bake; or grill pita or other flat bread and top it with the sauce.

You can customize the sauce as you like. I can’t handle more than a modicum of chile heat, so I’ve been cautious here. But if you can stand the fire, add more chile than the recipe calls for. If you like tangy flavors, add more olives, and for more salt and umami, increase the amount of anchovies. About those anchovies: Please don’t skip them unless you’re a vegetarian. They add so much to this — and any — dish.

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For the good and versatile marinara sauce

In a large, wide, heavy saucepan or large, deep sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrot, celery, and ½ teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, fragrant, and lightly golden, 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so (don’t let it brown). Add the tomatoes and herbs and bring the tomatoes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer and cook uncovered, stirring every once in a while, until the sauce is reduced, glistening with oil, and concentrated in flavor. Taste as you go. It should take between 30 and 40 minutes. Add the hot-pepper sauce, then taste and adjust the flavor balance, if needed, with sugar and with more salt and lemon juice.

For the bold and spicy tomato sauce

In a large, wide, heavy saucepan or a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the anchovies and chiles and cook, stirring once or twice, until slightly sizzling, about 30 seconds. Add the marinara sauce, olives, and capers and cook, stirring often, until heated through and the flavors have blended, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and lemon zest. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and/or pepper (you probably won’t need either). 



  • Use basil instead of parsley.
  • Add a few chopped leaves of mint and/or oregano with the parsley.
  • Add chopped, cooked guanciale or pancetta with the marinara sauce.
  • Use peperoncino instead of, or in addition to, the hot chile in oil.
  • Add one or two 6-ounce cans good-quality olive oil–packed tuna, drained and flaked, with the marinara sauce.



* Read this to see which canned tomatoes you should buy

Storage: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze in one or more Ziploc plastic freezer bags for up to 3 months.

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