The Origin of Marinara Sauce
Of all of Italy’s famed flavors, marinara sauce stands out in the crowd as the original tasty tomato-based sauce that we all know and love. From serving as a dip for mozzarella sticks to a sauce over fresh homemade pasta, pretty much nothing beats the depth of flavor provided by a from-scratch homemade marinara. But where did this sauce come from? Keep reading to find out the origins of this Italian staple.
What is Marinara?
Most of us probably know marinara sauce as a basic red sauce, mostly tomatoes. But there are a few other ingredients that lend that special flavor to marinara. First, garlic is sautéed in plenty of extra virgin olive oil. Then, freshly diced ripe tomatoes are added, along with a bit of water and some herbs. Basil and oregano are most common, though some people add thyme as well. For a spicy variety, the addition of red pepper flakes turns marinara into arrabbiata. To make a puttanesca, throw in a few anchovies as well as the pepper. Because marinara is such a flavorful yet simple sauce, it provides a great foundation for adding pretty much anything – sausage, seafood, mushrooms, cheese, and even wine. OF course, it is delicious all on its own with fresh pasta.
It is a bit of a mystery where this sauce comes from, but it is widely accepted that it was created in either Naples or Sicily. It was invented after the 16th century for sure since tomatoes were only introduced to Europe around that time. The earliest citation of the presence of tomato sauce is from a 1692 Italian cookbook.
It is suggested that marinara is named for Italian sailors, or marinai. They sailed the ships that participated in the sea trade that brought goods from all around the world to Italy. As the sailors were stuck on ships for months at a time, they needed food that was simple to prepare, as well as filling and healthy. The primary ingredients of a basic marinara – tomatoes, oil, garlic, and dried herbs – were also resistant to spoiling and stayed fresh enough for sailors to use while on the ship.
Another common, but unlikely, story of the sauce’s origins is that it was a meal that sailor’s wives would prepare when the sailors returned to land. Upon seeing the arriving ships, the wives had just enough time to boil pasta and simmer a healthy, fresh sauce for their returning husbands.
In any case, Italian immigrants brought over the staple in the early 20th century, cementing it in American cuisine as a must-have condiment.
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