It’s always a good idea to have a basic tomato sauce in the cupboard or, preferably, a homemade one in the freezer. Tomato sauce is a tasty cover for noodles and the answer to a quick dinner. My go-to Marinara Sauce is one I got from a woman cab driver in Venice some years ago. I added a few ingredients to it—because Americans like to tamper with recipes—but basically I make it according to the notes I wrote on the back of a crumpled opera program.
We all need a solid sauce to turn to when the freezer is empty and you’re facing a hungry horde. I ran onto one recently that’s much like the recipe the Italian cab driver gave me: Rao’s Marinara Sauce. Rao is the product of an old and much-revered restaurant family with locations in New York and Vegas.
All the ingredients on the short list are produced in Italy: tomatoes, olive oil, fresh onions, fresh garlic, fresh basil, oregano, salt and pepper. That’s it.
And it comes in a glass jar, which I prefer.
Rao is a tad on the expensive side, which might drive you back to making your own. When I make my sauce from scratch, I use San Marzano tomatoes from a jar—unless I’m blessed with some garden fresh tomatoes. I try to avoid the BPA-lined cans when buying a high acid product like tomatoes. The food industry is transitioning to BPA-free cans, but in many instances another chemical liner, BPS, is used that is equally questionable, but not inclined to leach as much. (More on which store items have BPA-lined cans and which do not here.)
Back to Rao. Those participating in blind-tests repeatedly picked Rao for its light, fresh, and homemade taste. In surveys conducted by Serious Eats, Good Housekeeping, Slate, and one by a food blogger’s family, Rao was the runaway winner. It won despite having far less salt and sugar, the usual flavor enhancers used in manufactured sauces. Rao took the prize in my condo kitchen, too, where I was both cook and taster.
Trying to justify the cost, one food blogger put it this way: “A ticket to Italy costs $1,000; a jar of Rao costs only $8.” She has a point. You might want to stock up when it goes on sale.