I like to think I’m pretty relaxed on the food snob spectrum. I am definitely not above craving fast food, some of my favorite wines are priced in the single digits, and yes, there are times when Velveeta really is just going to taste the best. But I firmly believe pasta sauce should always be homemade, because it is completely different than jarred puree and it takes so little effort to make.
This Caramelized Marinara isn’t the quickest version you can make, but if you have some time to simmer on the stove it’s absolutely worth it. Caramelizing the onions first gives the sauce a wonderful deep sweetness that melds with the tomatoes instead of being sugary.
The secret to out-of-this-world caramelization? Whiskey. Or bourbon, we’re not picky here. Adding about a full shotglass halfway through the process brings out a wonderful depth. The best onion flavor comes from Jack Daniels, but I also keep some cheaper whiskey on hand for caramelizing and it does just fine.
The base of the sauce stays the same but I’ll often throw in meat or mushrooms to really round it out into a hearty meal. Vegetarians and mushroom-haters, I don’t understand you, but I got you – this is just as good without if that’s not your thing.
I usually double or even triple this recipe because it freezes beautifully. You can have it defrosted and ready to go in the same time as it takes to heat up a jar of sauce on the stove or in the microwave.
Caramelized Marinara Sauce
- 1 lb. ground turkey (optional)
- 2 onions diced
- 2 oz. whiskey or bourbon
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 6 oz. tomato paste
- 28 oz. crushed tomatoes
- 4 oz. mushrooms sliced (optional)
- Italian herbs parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme
- salt to taste
- crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- [Meat] Brown the ground turkey in a large stockpot. Set the meat aside.
- In a large stockpot, caramelize the onions. Begin by sautéing over medium heat until translucent. When they are just starting to turn golden on their own, add the whiskey or bourbon. The alcohol will cook out almost immediately and the onions take on the color and aroma of the whiskey. Sauté for another 10-20 minutes until deep golden brown.
- Add the garlic and sauté 3 minutes or so until the raw aroma is gone.
- Stir in the tomato paste and let cook for a few minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes.
- [Mushrooms] Add mushrooms with the crushed tomatoes.
- When tomatoes are starting to break down and mushrooms are cooked through (if added), season with fresh herbs or dry Italian seasoning, salt to taste, and crushed red pepper flakes for a kick.
- Return the meat to the pot (if using) and finish simmering for another 5 minutes.