The Inspired Cook

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Marinara or spaghetti sauce—it’s more than a name

What do you call the red-colored sauce that you serve over spaghetti? While my family called it spaghetti sauce, I’ve heard others refer to it as marinara. Although Americans use the terms interchangeably, the two are not the same.

When served over spaghetti, marinara sauce can be called spaghetti sauce, but not all sauce served over spaghetti can be called marinara sauce. Because both are tomato-based, some Americans call them tomato sauce.

In order to prepare marinara sauce, one must use specific ingredients: tomato juice, tomatoes, basil, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. If so desired, one may add peppers or red pepper flakes. If one adds any other ingredient whatsoever, then the sauce can no longer be called marinara.

On the other hand, spaghetti sauce may contain several other ingredients, such as mushrooms, sausage, hamburger, olives, and green bell peppers. Any one of these or a combination is commonly used in spaghetti sauce.

Nevertheless, Italians typically distinguish sauces according to the ingredients used to make them. Many Italian sauces have regional roots, evolving from whatever ingredients were bountiful in those particular areas.

Marinara, meaning sailor in Italian, is a sailor-styled type of tomato sauce. Despite its originating in Naples, this rather spicy pasta sauce is quickly cooked and much more popular in U.S. restaurants than in nearly all of Italy.

While formulating my own recipe, I studied about 10 others, all of which claimed to be marinara sauces. I now know that several of them were actually spaghetti sauces.

In my column last week, I shared with you my recipe called slow-cooked spaghetti sauce. Although I was very pleased with my finished product, I was inspired to create another recipe, one more comparable to the popular jarred sauces that I’ve used for years.

The first change that I wanted to make was to replace the San Marzano canned, whole plum tomatoes with basil leaves imported from Italy. In their place, I chose canned crushed tomatoes. Other changes included substituting the red wine with low-sodium chicken broth and completely eliminating the balsamic vinegar. Since these changes most definitely would affect the sauce’s overall taste, I decided to pump up the flavor in three different ways.

First, I increased the tomato component with the addition of tomato paste. Second, I used fresh basil and parsley instead of dried. Third, I added cooked sweet Italian sausage.

                For my cooking method, I again chose to use a slow cooker. This time, I used my 7-quart oval one and cooked it on High for two and a half hours instead of on Low for six hours.

                Now, after employing both settings, I can say with confidence that either one produces a great sauce. Therefore, your only consideration when choosing which one to use is the time element. If you have time to kill, choose the Low setting. If not, choose High.

                Here’s my newly created spaghetti sauce recipe. Charles, my better half, and I particularly enjoyed it served over a bed of spaghetti squash as seen in photo.

I also am sharing with you my original recipe called saucy, cheesy, Italian-styled zucchini boats. I derived my inspiration from Charles’s garden’s overabundant supply of zucchini. I hope you enjoy both dishes as much as we did.

                Meaty Spaghetti Sauce


                2 (28-oz.) cans crushed tomatoes

                2/3 c. low-sodium chicken broth

                1 t. sea salt, fine grind

                1/2 t. black pepper

                1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil

                5 t. jarred minced garlic

                2 c. yellow onion, chopped

                Pinch of cayenne pepper

                1 T. dried oregano

                4 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces

                1 bay leaf

                2 T. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped

                2-3 T. sugar

                1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste

                3/4 lb. Johnsonville sweet, mild Italian bulk sausage, cooked and drained


                Coat inside of a 6- to 7-quart slow-cooker’s crock insert with cooking spray; set aside.     

Into a large skillet, add oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic; sauté for one minute, stirring constantly.

When done, transfer onion mixture to crock. Add remaining ingredients; stir. Cover crock with lid and cook for 2 1/2 hours on High or 6 hours on Low.

Remove bay leaf before serving.

Yield: about 10 cups of sauce

Saucy, Cheesy, Italian-Styled Zucchini Boats


                3 medium-sized zucchini

                1/3 c. zucchini pulp, finely diced

                1/3 c. yellow onion, finely diced

                1 t. jarred minced garlic

                1/4 c. red bell pepper, finely diced

                1/3 c. cremini mushrooms, finely diced

                1/4 t. finely ground sea salt

                1/8 t. black pepper

                1/4 t. Italian seasoning

                1/3 c. Panko breadcrumbs

                3/4 c. shredded Italian five-cheese blend

                2 T. grated Parmesan cheese

                3/4 c. spaghetti sauce (I used my homemade sauce.)

                2 T. extra-virgin olive oil

2 large or 3 small fresh basil leaves


                Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 7- by 11-inch glass baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.

                Slice the ends off the zucchini and discard. Halve the zucchini lengthwise. With a paring knife, score the flesh about 1/4-inch from the sides of each zucchini and about 1/4-inch deep. Then, use a spoon carefully to scoop out the pulp, leaving 1/4-inch shells. Place the shells in the prepared pan.

Chop the pulp into a small dice. Measure 1/3 of a cup of the pulp and place it into a small bowl. Place the leftover pulp into a sealed container and then refrigerate for another use.

                Put the diced bell pepper and the mushrooms into the bowl with the zucchini pulp; set aside.

                Into a small skillet, place the oil and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the diced onions, sautéing for about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, bell pepper, and zucchini pulp, sautéing for another 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the seasonings and the garlic. Sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

                Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Fill the zucchini shells with the cooled mixture, packing it down with a spoon. Spread each boat with the spaghetti sauce. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese followed by the shredded cheese blend.

                Cover the pan with foil and seal the edges. Place into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

                For garnish, tightly roll the fresh basil leaves and cut them into a chiffonade, or ribbons, by cutting the roll into thin strips. Sprinkle the ribbons on top of the zucchini boats and serve.

6 servings