Rich with eggplant, mushrooms and tomatoes, spicy with Italian sausage, garlic and pepper, and fragrant with Italian herbs, this marinara sauce is ideal for pasta or Lasagna. It’s got 1/2 teaspoon red pepper for a nice heat but if you are sensitive to spiciness, just put in 1/4 teaspoon. There are two ways to make this marinara: with chopped oven-roasted globe eggplant, 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. You can substitute 2 dried bay leaves and leave them cooking in the sauce until ready to use.
Serves 8 (with pasta)
3 links turkey Italian sausage or vegetarian sausage. (optional)
1 Tb olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 Tb salt (to taste)
½ tsp. red chili flakes. Less if you don’t want it spicy
5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
3 Tb minced fresh oregano OR 1 Tb dried oregano
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1 tsp dried basil
several grinds black pepper
2 green bell peppers and 2 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 (If you don’t have red, then substitute a dry white)
2 lbs or 14 large soft Roma tomatoes (substitute 48 oz can of crushed tomatoes (Cento brand is best) and 24 oz diced tomatoes
1 Tb sugar to taste
1 fresh bay leaf or 2 dried bay leaves
3 dried Shiitake mushrooms
1 large or 2 medium roasted globe eggplant and/or 4 Italian eggplants, cut in rounds and quartered
1 cup quartered mushrooms: use about 12 medium crimini mushrooms or 7 criminis and 1 large Portobello mushroom, or whichever combination you dream up. If criminis are not available you can use regular white mushrooms.
1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered
1 tsp fresh tarragon
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 425’ oven for 1 hour until it collapses. Roast red and bell peppers for the last ½ hour alongside the eggplant. Roast mushrooms for 15 -12 minutes until soft. 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.
Cook onion and salt in olive oil over low heat, covered for 20 minutes until it softens and is translucent.
Add chili flakes, garlic, dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, and black pepper. cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until herbs release their fragrance. If using frozen bell pepper, add them now. Add browned sausages.
Add tomato paste, then fill tomato paste can with water then stir in the tomato paste that has stuck to the can. If using canned tomatoes, add them and rinse out the cans with a bit of water and add it to the onions.
If using fresh Roma tomatoes, halve them and scoop out seeds and fibrous ribs.
Pulse tomatoes in food processor until desired consistency is reached. I did mine on the chunky side. 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. Peel the bell peppers and mince them, then add to the sauce.
Quarter crimini mushrooms and chop Portobellos and mix in the 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 fresh tarragon for last 10 minutes of cooking. Just before serving over pasta or making lasagna, stir in fresh basil and cook a couple of minutes.