Instant Pot Classic Marinara and Her Distant Cousins (a no-recipe recipe)

Fresh batch of Instant Pot yogurt!

My kids gave me an Instant Pot for Mother’s Day. Both passionate cooks, they told me they couldn’t imagine life without the contraption. But, to be honest, I rolled my eyes when opening the box—the last thing I need is another kitchen gadget cluttering my counters.

That’s until I spied a yogurt button on the panel. I can make yogurt with this thing? I’ve never tasted a yogurt in this country that was anywhere near as delicious as the yogurts consumed on my overseas travels. So, I purchased an heirloom yogurt starter culture from Greece, rolled up my sleeves and have been making yogurt bi-monthly since. I love the stuff. Even if I make nothing more than yogurt, this gadget has earned its place on the counter.

And then along came tomatoes. Too many, too fast. How much freezer space do I have? Maybe this Insta-thing can speed up the process I use for making the marinara’s I freeze each year. So I read dozens of Instant Pot marinara recipes…

…experimented a bit and holy smoke––have I died and gone to heaven? Honestly. The following no-recipe recipe yielding about 16 cups of delicious sauce is a cinch and could be adapted to stove top cooking:

  • Use the sauté feature on the pot for sweating aromatics–onion, carrots, celery–in fats such as EVO, bacon drippings or a neutral oil, depending on type of sauce. (For the clean simplicity of a classic marinara, just stick with onions sweated in olive oil, tomatoes and dried Italian herbs.)
  • Deglaze with about ½ cup of red wine or stock and reduce.
  • Stir in about 16-18 cups of cored, quartered tomatoes, skins, pulp, seeds to fill most of the pot. (I used about 18 small to medium-sized tomatoes.) You may want to stir in chopped garlic at this point—I’ve found the sauté feature runs hot and will burn garlic if sautéed with the onions in the beginning.
  • For Italian marinaras, stir in a couple of bay leaves,  three Tablespoons of your favorite Italian dried herbs and a solid pinch of red pepper flakes. (See paragraph below for other suggestions.) This recipe yields a thinnish sauce, which I often prefer (pasta starches thicken it up) and is perfect for tomato-based soups.
  • For thicker marinaras, before pressure cooking, flatten 14-18 ounces of tomato paste on the top of the tomatoes with a spatula. Don’t stir the paste in with the tomato mixture or it may burn.
  • Close the lid and set the steam release knob to the sealing position. Press the Pressure Cooker or the Manual dial and adjust to 20 minutes. I let the steam naturally release for several hours when the cooking time is over, mainly because I’m ready to be out of the kitchen at this point.
  • After the marinara is cool, remove the bay leaves (if using) and stick an immersion blender into pot–whiz everything together. (A food processor also works but it involves more cleaning.) Add kosher or sea salt and additional red pepper flakes, to taste. I haven’t felt the addition of sugar necessary, but many add a bit of sugar to taste, at this point.

In essence, marinara  is a classic study in simplicity. But outside my dreams, I don’t live in southern Italy––Michigan winters are long, and Richard and I enjoy variety.

Zucchini (salted raw and drained on paper towels) and cooked farro were added to this batch.

To date, I’ve made and frozen classic marinara; marinara with chopped olives, anchovies and capers; marinara seasoned with saffron and fennel (for anticipated fish stews and steamed mussels); beef and bacon marinaras for paparadelle; I’ve tossed (uncooked) sliced zucchini and farro into my classic version and I made a Southwest version (think enchilada casserole) with corn and chipotles. See why I needed to save time? (-:

The most time-consuming part of the above exercises has been getting most of the water out of the zucchini before adding to the completed marinara–especially since I don’t thicken the sauce with tomato paste.

A Spicy Thai Eggplant Marinara with Coconut Milk and Lemon Grass is next on the docket. How thrilling to be able to thaw a container of such bliss on a frigid January eve!

Beneath these pics I’ve included a favorite song that always reminds me to soak in the essence of this beautiful golden month:

This recipe makes about 16 cups of marinara.

Salt raw zucchini and drain on paper towels until a good bit of the water is removed.

After cooling, whiz the cooked tomatoes together with an immersion blender.


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