Rich with eggplant, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes, spicy with Italian sausage, garlic and pepper, and fragrant with fresh herbs, this marinara sauce is ideal for pasta or Lasagna. There are two ways to make this marinara: with eggplant purée or sliced Italian eggplant. You could even use both for an extra helping of vegetables. I roasted the mushrooms to bring out their earthy flavor.
I took a tip from The Breakaway Cook Eric Gower, and added ground dried mushrooms for umami, (Japanese for savory deliciousness), which wonderfully expands and rounds out flavors.
Along with my homegrown herbs, I add a fresh bay leaf. I pick them when I get the chance to hike in the hills around Berkeley and Palo Alto. Their aroma brings me memories of my youth hiking and biking those hills. Just be careful about leaving them in too long – the fresh ones are very strong and can overpower the sauce, making it bitter. Just leave it in about 15 minutes.
Serves 8 (with pasta)
3 links turkey Italian sausage or vegetarian sausage
1 Tb olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 Tb salt (to taste)
½ tsp. red chili flakes
5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
3 Tb minced fresh oregano OR 3 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp. minced fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
several grinds black pepper
2 bell peppers and/or red bell peppers. (can substitute 3 cups frozen or 2 cups jarred roasted red peppers)
1 small (6 oz) can tomato paste
¼ cup red wine
2 lbs or 14 large soft Roma tomatoes (substitute 24 oz can of crushed tomatoes and 24 oz diced tomatoes
1 Tb sugar to taste
1 bay leaf
3 dried mushrooms
1 roasted globe eggplant and/or 4 Italian eggplants, cut in rounds and quartered
1 cup quartered mushrooms
1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered
I bunch (1/4 cup minced) fresh basil
Italian eggplant method: Roast or barbecue eggplant and peppers. Discarding ends, slice eggplant into rounds, then quarter the rounds.
Globe Eggplant Method: Pierce globe eggplant with a fork, and roast in a heavy oiled baking pan in 400’ oven for 1 hour until it collapses. Roast red peppers and mushrooms for the last ½ hour alongside the eggplant. You can roast the vegetables a day ahead of time.
You can also barbecue the eggplant peppers and mushrooms.
While eggplant is roasting and cooling, make the rest of the sauce.
Slice, quarter and brown sausages and drain the fat.
Sauté onion and salt in olive oil until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes Add sausage, chopped fresh or frozen bell peppers (if not roasting them), chili flakes, garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme and black pepper. Sauté another couple of minutes until herbs release their fragrance.
Add tomato paste, then fill tomato paste can with water then stir in the tomato paste that has stuck to the can.
Halve Roma tomatoes and scoop out seeds and fibrous ribs.
Pulse tomatoes in food processor until desired consistency is reached. I did mine on the chunky side. (If you are using canned tomatoes, add them instead.) Stir into tomato paste and herb mixture. Add sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.
If using chopped Italian eggplant, add it to sauce.
If using globe eggplant, scrape it out from the peel and mince it. Stir it into the sauce.
Quarter mushrooms and mix in sauce.
Grind the dried mushrooms until pulverized in a clean coffee grinder or spice grinder. Stir into sauce.
Add 1/4 cup wine and sip some on the side…
If using roasted bell peppers, stir them into the sauce.
Stir well and let simmer for an hour. You can make this in a crock pot and let it simmer for several hours.
Add quartered artichoke hearts and tarragon for last 10 minutes of cooking. Just before serving over pasta or making lasagna, stir in basil and cook a couple of minutes.