Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce

When I was in my early 20's, I lived in a Philadelphia neighborhood slowly undergoing gentrification. My tiny one-bedroom apartment had a large window that overlooked a brick-enclosed back yard. The little green yard in the middle of the city always made me feel special. The Philadelphia Museum of Art was in walking distance, another bonus. There were a few trendy restaurants and bars nearby. A park known for prostitution and drug trafficking was just a few blocks away. 

At that time, I worked as a case manager helping foster children. My boss was a pervy, middle-aged man who hit on me, while telling me my skirts were too short. When I refused to go out with him, he became insulting and mean. My boyfriend was a slightly charming sociopath. He caused my father tremendous anxiety. He caused me a considerable amount of it too. Bad boys will do that. It comes with the territory.

Simultaneously fearless and naive, I took all kinds of risks that I'd never dream of doing now. I was fearless because of my naivete. On my way home from a restaurant one night, a woman called out to me from an upstairs window. In a thick Spanish accent, she urged me to hurry home and to be careful. She told me I shouldn't be walking alone near the dangerous park at night.  Of course she was right. But a certain amount of recklessness is part of being young. 

HBO's hit show, GIRLS, reminds me of that confusing time. The series portrays a bunch of lost and shockingly self-absorbed 20-somethings living in New York City. They have terrible boyfriends and bosses. They're deeply flawed creatures wandering around, attempting to find their way in the world. Critics of the show dislike that the characters are so flawed. But that's exactly what I love about them.

Like the show, my early 20's were laced with train-wreck situations from my impossible job to my anti-social boyfriend. Even now, I feel a common bond with the girls on GIRLS. But, we don't share everything in common. Back then, I was on a "mission impossible" to rescue all the the kids on my caseload from their sad, chaotic lives. This crusade led my supervisor to assign the most difficult cases to me. My beeper went off constantly, at all hours of the night. I managed to help a few of the kids, which was very rewarding. But I burned the candle at both ends, eventually fizzling out. I broke up with my boyfriend. I impulsively quit my job. I quit graduate school too. I took my hot-mess-of-a-self to a local flower shop and got a job. I hid out for a while, licking my wounds, spending lots of time reading books and playing with flowers.  

Eventually, I got my act together. I met and married a kindhearted, stable man. I found a job in the crisis field. Working with people in crisis allows me to be caring when someone needs it most. Lucky for me, there's an end to crisis work. This is good for a person with compassion crusader tendencies. When patients stabilize, they go to outpatient therapy or to other hospital units. Burnout is less of a problem for me now.

I survived the early train-wrecks, gaining insight into who I was and what I needed in my work and in my relationships. Because of those experiences, I'm able to feel deeper gratitude for the good things in my life now.  
There were highlights back then. One of them was going home to visit my father. The savory smell of  baking pasta would hit me as I walked through the front door. For a day or a weekend, I'd be cared for and well fed, feeling the stress of trying to make it on my own slowly fade away. Breathing  deeply, I'd plunge my fork into a plate of his bubbling, cheesy rigatoni with marinara and sausage. Pure comfort. No matter how it's prepared, pasta with sauce and cheese will always be among my favorite meals.

Here, a simple spaghetti with marinara sauce is served. But this is no ordinary marinara. It's luscious. It's possibly the best I've ever made next to using fresh garden tomatoes.

Featured on Honest Cooking and Healthy Aperture, it's good for you too!

Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce Recipe

Some Notes:

This bright, healthy marinara is made with one of best tomato products on the market. Pomi Tomatoes are pure 100 percent Italian tomatoes. The company sent me some samples to try. Since I've tried Pomi Tomatoes, I'm a total convert. If you can find them, grab them. I find them in my regular supermarket. They come in a box instead of a can,  keeping them extremely fresh tasting. The tomato flavor is full-on but not overly acidic.

Biting into tangles of spaghetti around my fork with the sweet, bright, tangy marinara sauce is good eating. Throw some sauteed shrimp in the sauce for a delectable shrimp marinara. The sauce is great with light turkey or chicken meatballs and in eggplant and chicken Parmesan. Add some sauteed ground beef or Italian sausage to the sauce for a light meat sauce. Stir in a pinch or two of cinnamon and sauteed ground beef for a Greek meat sauce.

For a protein packed vegetarian meal, add a can or two of rinsed and drained chickpeas to the simmering sauce and serve it over pasta for another classic Mediterranean dish. This sauce is very versatile. Use your imagination and enjoy!

Finish this sweet tangy marinara with an herb of your choice. Basil, Thai basil, rosemary and/or parsley are all wonderful choices. Grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of good, fruity extra virgin olive oil are also nice finishing choices.

When adding the dried herbs, rub them between your fingers to release their flavor. I love using oregano and marjoram in tomato sauce. Add your favorite herb or Italian seasoning blend.

Makes a pot full

You'll Need: 
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, diced. You pick the color. I used green. 
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1-3 garlic cloves, minced, depending on how much garlic you like. I used one clove, grated with a microplane zester directly in the sauce.  
  • 1 26.46 ounce box of Pomi Strained Tomatoes
  • 1 26.46 ounce box of Pomi Chopped Tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup of red wine. I used an open bottle of Pinot Noir we were already enjoying that day. Use what you would drink.
  • 1 teaspoon of dried marjoram, or herb of your choice
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, or herb of your choice
  • Drizzles of honey or pinches of sugar to balance the acid in the tomatoes  
  • 2 dried bay leaves. Remember to remove them before serving.
  • Sea salt or kosher salt to taste, fresh black pepper or red chili flakes to taste
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • 16 ounces of dry pasta of your choice, cooked according to the package directions. I used De Cecco spaghetti
  • Serving Suggestions: Parmesan cheese. drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil or herbs, Parmesan flat bread (recipe below the rundown) 

The Rundown:

In large pot over medium heat, saute the onions, celery, bell pepper and carrot in some olive oil with salt and pepper until soft. Add the tomatoes, garlic, wine, marjoram, oregano, bay leaves, honey and more salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Simmer, covered on low for about an hour. Remove the bay leaves. Add the fresh herb of your choice, adjust the salt and pepper and toss with spaghetti. Serve with any of the suggestions and enjoy!

Rosemary Parmesan Flat Bread Recipe

Preheat the oven to 400

Take a ball of refrigerated, store-bought pizza dough and roll into 12 inch round shape. I find it at Trader Joe's. Use a dusting of flour to help you roll it out. The shape doesn't have to be perfect. Place the 12 inch round dough onto a pizza pan or a baking pan. Brush some olive oil on it, sea salt, black pepper or red chili flakes and grated Parmesan cheese. Bake in a preheated oven for about 15 minutes. Serve sliced with a sprinkling of fresh rosemary.

Alternately, you can sprinkle some minced fresh garlic over it for a garlic Parmesan flat bread. Just mince 2 cloves of garlic very finely in a garlic press or with a microplane grater. Spread it evenly over the dough along with the olive oil.   Enjoy!


  1. After I made a delicious batch of Dulce De Leche sauce, I decided to blend it with organic strawberries in my Vitamix, and ” lo and behold , it pulled loud ” , that’s the Bajan definition for delicious. ! Vegan food recipes

    1. Sounds delish!! Your blog is beautiful! Thanks for popping by!

  2. Wow, you had quite a life! The way you write just drew me into the story. I came here for a marinara sauce :) but ended up reading about your life. Beautiful spaghetti by the way, pure deliciousness and comfort food!

    1. Hi Julia,Sometimes I like to mix it up a bit and share stories here. Lord knows, I have enough of them. Everything eventually goes back to food with me. lol! Thanks again!