This Hearty Marinara with Sausage is the quintessential Sunday sauce or as some Italians, particularly in certain parts of North America, like to call it, Sunday gravy.
The wonderful meaty, flavour of this pasta sauce will trick your taste buds into thinking that this sauce simmered for hours. But the reality is that it cooks up within one hour. When the hearty aroma of the simmered sauce fills your home you'll know that the sauce is ready to serve with your favourite pasta.
For this recipe I've used Italian sausage, but you can also be make this sauce with the addition of homemade meatballs, beef short ribs or even chicken drumsticks (though your cooking times will vary based on your meat of choice). Whichever meat you choose, your sauce will have a beautiful round flavour and garner many compliments, guaranteed.
Ingredients for Hearty Marinara with Sausage
- Good quality crushed tomatoes are key to this recipe. Brands I like include Mutti and Pastene.
- Mild or hot Italian sausage are equally as good in this hearty sauce, it's up to you.
- I use dried basil here but a sprig of fresh basil can be substituted.
See recipe card below for specific quantities and details.
- A heavy bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven is preferred when simmering meats to reduce sticking. But if you have a heavy bottomed stainless steel pot that will work too.
- A sharp chef's knife.
- A cutting board.
- A wooden spoon or spatula.
- Measuring spoons.
Sauté. To a heavy bottomed 4 quart Dutch oven, add olive oil and over medium-high heat sauté sausage pieces until golden brown. This should take 5-8 minutes.
Add onion and garlic. Once the sausage is golden brown and well caramelized, add in the diced onion and sauté until translucent 3-5 minutes. Next add in garlic and sauté 30 seconds or until fragrant (being careful not to burn the garlic).
Add remaining ingredients. Next add crushed tomatoes, dried basil, kosher salt and the bay leaf.
Simmer. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce the heat to low and simmer and with the lid on and cook 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. When done, remove and discard the bay leaf and your hearty marinara with sausage is ready to serve.
Secret for Success
- Be patient browning the sausage as it is the caramelization that will add depth and give the sauce it's hearty flavour which is characteristic of a sauce that has simmered for longer than one hour.
Tips for Great Pasta
The Size of the Pot
- Always cook your pasta in a big pot, preferably a 6 to 8 quart pot. If your pot is too small for the quantity of pasta you are cooking you will unnecessarily lower the temperature of the water and it will take longer for the water to come back up to the boiling point. Furthermore, not enough water will result in too much starch surrounding the pasta as it boils, resulting in gummy pasta.
Salting the Water
- Salt the water. Not sure if you salted the water enough? Just taste it. If it tastes like the ocean then you have salted it enough.
Good Quality Pasta
- Choose good quality pasta made strictly from semolina and water. Semolina is a coarse flour made from durum wheat and not common wheat. Your first cue that a pasta is a superior quality will be it's colour. As semolina is pale yellow, the pasta should also look pale yellow to white in the package. Superior quality pasta will also have texture and not be smooth. This texture is amazing because it allows the sauce to coat and adhere better to the pasta. Better quality pasta is dried at a low temperature for a long time, namely 30-36 hours. Brands I like that are readily available where I am include Deleverde, Garofolo and De Cecco. If I haven't convinced you that good quality pasta is important, then have a look at this video on How to Buy Pasta like an Italian.
Not Over Cooking
- Follow the package directions when cooking pasta but start testing it 3 minutes before the suggested cooking time on the package. It should be al dente, which means it is not mushy but offers some resistance when you bite into it. You can even see a bit of the uncooked pasta when you bite into a perfectly cooked al dente noodle. Try it and you'll see what I mean.
Coating the Pasta with Sauce
- When serving pasta, always add a ladle of sauce to your pot of cooked drained pasta. Never, never serve plain white pasta with a spoonful of sauce straight over top. This is a big no, no! Adding a ladle of sauce to the pot of cooked pasta serves two purposes: firstly each delicious noodle is being perfectly coated with the silky sauce and secondly it makes leftover pasta less dry, sticky and easier to portion out. If you'd like more sauce after you've coated the entire pot of pasta, then add more at this point.
Substitutions & Variations
- You can substitute various types of meat for the sausage in this recipe. I chose to highlight sausage as it is the type of meat that will cook the fastest. If you choose to use meatballs or chicken drumsticks then I would increase the overall cooking time to 1 hour and 15 minutes. If going the beef short ribs route then this will require the low and slow approach, meaning you would gently simmer the sauce for approximately 2 hours.
A marinara is essentially the base of a Sunday gravy or Sunday sauce. It includes such ingredients as crushed tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic and basil. The hallmark of a gravy is the inclusion of meat in the sauce. Sometimes cooked directly in the sauce or lightly sautéed before adding the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients.
Typically when Italians arrived to the United States and Canada in the early 1900s they worked labour intensive jobs and the only time rest was afforded to them was on Sunday. In order to celebrate time off and enjoy family, the biggest most abundant meal was served after church on Sunday afternoons. This was very popular in our family growing up. Though many no longer attend church as they once did, the tradition of Sunday lunch has endured. Perhaps not every week but nevertheless the ritual bears a strong attachment to the importance of family.
In our family the top meat choices were homemade meatballs, Italian sausage, braciole (thin slices of beef rolled around a mixture of breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and Parmegiano Reggiano cheese), beef short ribs and chicken drumsticks.
- After you sauté the uncooked sausage use another wooden spoon to occasionally stir the sauce while it simmers as to avoid cross contamination.
- Refrigerate this hearty marinara with sausage up to two days and freeze for up to three months.