Most of us aren’t too well-versed in the canon of tomato-based sauces, but there’s one that just about everyone recognizes: marinara sauce. It’s the most common Italian tomato-based sauce, and it’s so popular, in fact, that a lot of the time it’s referred to as simply “tomato sauce.” But you can’t just mash up tomatoes and add some salt and pepper and call it marinara sauce. Marinara sauce, like hollandaise, Buffalo sauce, and chimichurri, is an actual sauce, with characteristics that set it apart from all other tomato-based sauces.
Marinara (“mariner’s”) sauce originated in Naples; nobody’s sure how it got its name but one theory is that it was invented by mariners returning from the Americas with a newly discovered fruit, the tomato, in the 1700s. The most classic marinara sauce recipe calls for crushed San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, a pinch of chile flakes, salt, and basil. You can experiment and customize it to your liking or use it as a springboard for other tomato-cased sauces. We’re partial to amatriciana sauce, which is similar but also contains onion, Pecorino Romano, and either guanciale (cured pork jowl), pancetta, or bacon.