We've all been there. It's been an especially long day, week or hour, you're tired, burnt out or down in the dumps, you're too out of it to whip up an entire meal and you're sick of delivery, but you are feening to eat something.
What do you normally reach for in these occasions? Popcorn? Cereal? Peanut butter and jelly? Tuna? Eggs? Perhaps a quick grilled cheese? It's entirely up to you, of course, but when I'm in this headspace, I typically rely on one particular recipe: Marcella Hazan's famous marinara.
And guess what? It calls for less than 5 ingredients and is ready in under 30 minutes.
I know, I know, it's not a surprise that my default go-to is something Italian-American. But this dish doubles as sustenance (on a night when I'm not looking to do the labor of making a legitimate meal) as well as a built-in comfort. Also, the timing really comes in clutch. And that's unbeatable . . . and certainly a more appetizing, fulfilling dinner than, like, a handful of Doritos.
For the unacquainted, I'll share how I first came to learn of Hazan. Marcella Hazan is sometimes referred to as the 'Italian Julia Child' or as I remember the quote, "someone who introduced Italian food to the American masses in the same way Child introduced French food to them." She's unquestionably an icon and her recipes are legitimately tried-and-true, but this may be her most immediately recognizable one.
Instead of the traditional approach to marinara, Hazan goes a adjectively different route, which also lends itself exceptionally well to a night when you're really feeling out of it: You toss three ingredients into a pot, cover it, put it over medium-low — and that's it.
Want more great food writing and recipes? Subscribe to Salon Food's newsletter, The Bite.
I recall being hesitant about the butter, but it added such a rounded, rich sumptuousness that olive oil just doesn't impart. The halved onion is an excellent means of getting the onion flavor into the dish but without any actual chopping (my parents always had such a distate for "onion chunks" in their sauce, so this also approach also killed many birds with one stone in that capacity, too). I sometimes like to throw in a Parmesan rind or some whole garlic cloves, but you must certainly don't need to. Of course, this dish is very no frills, so be sure you're using a high-quality tomato product.
Hazan instructs to cook the sauce for about an hour, but I have found that a good 20 minute simmer is good enough. Boil some water as your sauce simmers, cook up some pasta in the five to 10 minutes prior to the sauce being ready to eat and before you know it, you have a complete meal. Douse it with cheese or gussy it up with some fresh herbs — and voila! You can now go sink into the couch and watch your favorite brand of comfort TV or movies. Tweak this bowl to your own preferences and add it to your mental rolodex as a "frenzied night" meal.
As Janet Keeler writes in this article in the Tampa Bay Times, "whether you know it or not, Marcella Hazan has changed the way you cook." In another article in the same publication, Keeler calls her the "grande dame of Italian cooking." (someone alert Karen Huger).
The next time you're too tired, pay Hazan her well-deserved respects and make this dish. There may be no better meal for those kind of nights when you you can't even convenience of hauling the cutting board out. And we thank you for that, Marcella.
1-2 cans or boxes of crushed or pureed tomatoes
1 stick unsalted butter
1 large white or red onion, halved and peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled, optional
Kosher salt, to taste
Parmesan rind, optional
Grated cheese, optional
Fresh herbs, optional
Pasta of your choosing (rigatoni, ziti, spaghetti, so on and so forth)
- In a large pot, add tomatoes, butter, and onion. Add garlic and rind, if using. Cover and set heat to medium-low.
- Cook for about 20 minutes. Uncover, remove onion (and rind, if using) and stir well. Season to taste with salt.
- As sauce cooks, place a large pot of water to a boil. Salt and add the pasta of your choosing. Cook until al dente.
- Drain pasta and toss directly into pot of sauce. Stir well, add optional garnishes and serve immediately.
- Conversely, spoon some of the drained pasta directly into a bowl, top with a smattering of sauce, cover with cheese and then retreat to your comfiest couch and proceed to engorge yourself.