Now reading Mama’s Marinara

Mama’s Marinara

A soul-soothing way to end a tough day.

Save this meal to make when you’re weary from travel, just moved homes, or anytime you’re yearning for something warm and soul filling. This has been my go-to comfort food for as long as I can remember. The sauce requires only four ingredients, which I’ve been able to find every­where I’ve lived. I remove the garlic after it turns to a pale gold so it flavors the oil, but doesn’t burn. Then I add it back with the tomatoes. I like to sprinkle lots of grated cheese and black pepper over my portion.

Reprinted from Back Pocket Pasta. Copyright © 2017 by Colu Henry. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Peden + Munk. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.


Makes 4 servings
  • + kosher salt
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 28-oz can whole or diced San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/4 C chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley, plus more for serving
  • + freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 lb cavappi or other pasta of your choosing
  • + Grated Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano cheese, for serving
  • + crushed red pepper flakes (optional)


CANNED TOMATOES For the most part, cans of whole tomatoes and diced tomatoes (a timesaver) can be used interchangeably. Always add tomatoes with their juices, as you’ll need their liquid to moisten your sauce. If you’re using whole tomatoes, you’ll need to break them up, either by gently squeezing them by hand as you add them or in the pan with the back of a spoon. I don’t recommend using crushed tomatoes unless specifically requested; I find them too thick for most sauces.

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of the salt and return to a rolling boil.

  2. While the water comes to a boil, prepare the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Remove the garlic and set aside.

  3. Add the onion to the pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the pan. Fill the tomato can halfway with water, swish the water around, and add it to the pan. Return the garlic to the pan along with the parsley. Season the sauce with salt and black pepper and bring it to a simmer.

  4. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente according to package directions. Scoop the pasta directly into the skillet and toss to coat, adding ¼ cup of pasta water or more (up to 1 cup), as needed to loosen up the sauce.

  5. Serve in bowls with lots of grated Pecorino Romano and, if desired, additional chopped parsley and red pepper flakes.