Pomodoro Ponderings

July 29, 2011

Random Thoughts

First of let me say that I have totally stolen the title for this blog post from The Hungry Neophyte.  He and I over the last couple of weeks or so have been talking about both Marinara and Pomodoro sauces in relation to my Ragu.   Personally I have never been a big fan of Marinara sauce as it usually reminds me of a plain warmed canned crushed tomato “sauce,” you know nothing to write home about.  Bland.  Boring. Something I always want to add some life to as it were.  So you can see my slight (HA!) resistance to spend cooking time on a sauce that to me was not worthy of my stock pot.  I will say right now, boy was I wrong!  Yes write it down I, WikiJan was wrong…

In this process I first had to wrap my mind around the idea that I only had 5 ingredients to work with to stay within the confines of the “challenge” of keeping it simple and subtle.  I thought, no problem I can do this…riiighht sure I could.  I actually found this whole process rather challenging in that my mind went spinning off in a large number of directions.  Within in each of the 5 ingredients there are a very large number or variety of ways to put them together.  Looking at tomatoes along there are over 7500 different types one could choose from, I ended up working with the following three~ Campari, Roma, and Big Rainbow yellow heirloom. Garlic…do I go with purple skinned Italian garlic or your basic white skinned “California garlic” do I search out green garlic??  What about the Oregano?  Do  I go spicy with Turkish oregano or more laid back and mild with Aureum? Or did I just want to hit the middle of the road with the generally easy gotten Greek Oregano?  Then I got to thinking about the Red Pepper flakes that go in there, this decision was most likely the easiest other than the Basil.  Sure I could go round and round chasing a great many different spicy red peppers but for this one ingredient it was a “no brainer” for me.  And for the Basil there was no debate that I was going Sweet Basil all the way.

So what did I finally end up doing?  I decided to use the same 4 seasoning ingredients and only changed out the tomatoes. I used Sweet Basil (chiffonade), purple skinned Garlic (freshly minced), Greek Oregano (fresh, minced), and Red Pepper flakes. No fresh ground pepper. No Kosher salt. I know odd for me huh,  you thought I put fresh ground pepper and Kosher salt in everything didn’t you?  It was hard to not toss them in but I resisted the urge.

Before I get into the three different sauces I think it would be a good idea to look at the difference between Pomodoro and Marinara  and their applications.  While they both have the same basic 5-ish ingredients the cooking times and the way the tomatoes are processed is where the differences is. 

Marinara Sauce~

Marinara Sauce comes from Southern Italy and started appearing around the mid 16th century and is a meet free sauce.  It generally contains  the following items (this is not an all-inclusive list just a generalization): Tomatoes, Garlic, “Herbs” and onions.  Some will also include capers and olives.  In southern Italy this sauce is generally used to add flavor to pastas, rice, pizza and sea food.  From what I have been reading it seems like this sauce is uses almost like some here use Catchup.  This sauce is thinner than Pomodoro sauce so one would need to pair a pasta that can “grip” the sauce like spaghetti or ravioli. This sauce is not cooked down as long and is on the smooth side from what I have found.

Pomodoro Sauce~

Pomodoro literally means tomato in Italian.  This sauce can be chunky or cooked down till it is almost completely “smooth.”  For this challenge I went with a smooth cooked down and rather thick version.  As for the seasoning it seems there are as many recipes for this sauce as there are tomatoes but for the most part they all include the seasonings I listed above.

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All right let’s talk about tomatoes now.  This is the” flavor ridge” where I took my stand, I knew that while the seasonings would either enhance my choice of tomatoes or make it a train wreck  I pondered my choice of lovely red globes carefully.  When looking at what was out there at this time of the season I knew I would have to use Romas as they are a good sturdy meaty tomato. One that would thicken easily and would stand up to the seasonings I had chosen.  My next “go to” tomato I discovered last summer when I was trying to make tomato jam, they are Campari tomatoes.  I LOVE these tomatoes, fresh they are slightly sweet and firm.  I thought this one would be a winner.  My last choice was what I believe was Big Rainbow Yellow Heirloom Tomatoes, I have to admit these were weird to cook with due to the color.  Ok now on to the results…


The first drawback for the use of Campari tomatoes is the cost, they can run anywhere from $2.50 a container to over$5.00 so when you are needing almost 2 times the amount of tomatoes than normal they quickly become beyond the reach of most people. I was fortunate that they were on sale when I did this sauce!

When eaten raw these tomatoes have a sweetness that really hides the acid to me so I thought that would carry over in the sauce even more so since I was cooking down the sauce so much, yes I was slightly drooling just thinking about what this sauce was going to taste like.  Well sadly I was wrong.  This sauce was a good sturdy sauce but the sweetness did not carry over as I was expecting, the acid really got kicked up.  I am not sure but I think it got overshadowed by the Red Pepper flakes.  Was it a bad sauce, not at all it tasted good but just not where my mind thought it was going.  One of the other drawbacks to this sauce is it takes a LONG time to cook down as the Campari are a “watery” tomato as it normally is used as a salad tomato like a cherry tomato.  I think it took about 4+ hours to get to the point that I thought it was thick enough. Would I make this sauce again? Hmmm maybe not as it did not showcase the tomato as I thought it would.


This is the “GO TO” tomato for almost every cook who makes tomato sauce.  They are “meaty” and produce lots of pulp to thicken the sauce.  These tomatoes were used because they were more of a base line to compare the other two types.  I pretty much knew what I was going to end up with when I started and I was correct.  The seasonings didn’t change the flavor profile of the Romas like it did the Campari.  This ended up a sturdy sauce, like your great-aunt in her no-nonsense leather shoes.  Safe…middle of the road.  Would I make this one again?  Yes.

Big Rainbow Yellow Heirloom~

This was the most costly of the three tomatoes which sadly priced itself out of the sauce rotation in the WikiJan household.  This tomato was an amazing color and I wish I had taken a photo of it to show you very yellow on the outside then when I cut into it, it was a rosy red.  This tomato was a great surprise as I never thought  it would produce a sauce that I would completely enjoy.  Granted it was a bit,…ok a whole lot, weird tasting this sauce with it VERY yellow color and super loud tomato flavor.  It has a bright clear flavor the danced very well with the seasonings especially the Sweet Basil.  I think I could have stood at the stove and eaten this sauce with a spoon right out of the pan!  I don’ t think there is one thing I would change about this sauce.  This was my favorite of the three and I am glad I went out of my way to give them a go. Would I make this sauce again? Only if I were growing this tomato at home as the cost does not lend itself to anything more than a treat as a sliced tomato paired with some GOOD mozzarella a sprinkle of  salt & pepper and basil.

What did I also learn while making these sauces?  I STILL don’t do subtle well at all, yes I got the tomatoes playing 1st chair but the seasonings still came in packing a punch.  So was the whole thing a fail in that the sauces were not the subtle item I was aiming for?  Maybe more of a 60-40% success/fail rate.

I would like The Hungry Neophyte’s thoughts on these sauces as well since he was a part of this experiment in that he was the recipient of some of each sauce.  I think it would be interesting to read what he took away from them as he has been experimenting as well with his own Marinara/Pomodoro sauces.

Now go play with your food,



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