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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Potato Salad, My Way.

I believe in choice, my choice of potato salad being no exception. This choice is gut-driven and deeply personal.

The egg-rich salad insisted I use local eggs.

My grandmother made a simple potato salad that accompanied her fried chicken and hickory nut cake to our family reunions in Selma. She made that same salad when a tragedy befell a friend, the bowl of love left quietly on their porch.

My mother made the same salad that followed me through youth. I assumed that rightfully there would always be a Tupperware container of this piquant, cold, soul-satisying potato salad tucked into a corner of the fridge.

Pushing the yolks through a sieve is a technique I’d long since forgotten.

And, like so many things that one takes for granted,  I only realized its importance in times of crisis, when it was gone.  I knew the mayonnaise was made from scratch, but that’s about it. It was a taste, amongst so many other tastes, that I thought I’d lost forever.

I’ve tried to fall for other potato salads. Like a woman wandering the streets unattached, despondent, never attaching herself to a man because of the haunting ghost of a past lover –I’ve never tasted a potato salad worthy of my passion.

Making a mayo by hand is easier than you’d think..

A decade ago, I successfully recreated a similar old-school potato salad that also sniffed of buried treasure, reminding me of my college days in Michigan– Mashed Potato and Pickle Relish Salad.

Through the years I’ve blogged about other family’s favorite potato salads–A Tale of Potato Salad, my friend Susan’s family recipe for German Potato Salad.  It saddened me that attempts to recreate my own family’s  bare-boned, deceptively simple potato salad were failures.  Of late, I need my very own tater salad more than ever )-:

 My grandmother and mother–both instinctive cooks–  passed without penning a recipe. So I purchased the cookbook, “The Gift of Southern Cooking” by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. and hit pay dirt.

Opening it and thumbing through the recipes, I nearly cried with delight, especially when seeing their recipe for potato salad. This had to be the one! Chef Peacock  was raised in my era about three hours south from where I grew up in Alabama, and Chef Lewis in Virginia. Close enough.

They put egg yolks through a sieve, and stirred it into the mayo giving the salad an egg-rich, velvety mouth feel–just like my family did. I’d forgotten that technique. As expected, their mayonnaise was homemade and emulsified with a whisk–not a blender. For that satisfying depth of piquant flavor, they used  lemon juice AND apple cider vinegar–I’ve only used lemon juice in homemade mayo.

The times call for a throw-back dinner.

Out of necessity, I made a couple of changes to the recipe but it did not affect the final salad. Out of dry mustard, I used good Dijon, instead. (Trader Joe’s has a delicious, authentic Dijon, made in Dijon, France, of course.) I also used half of the onions as I was making the salad a day in advance to eating.  Raw onions bloom in recipes if not consumed on the day they are made. (Recipe below.)

During this crazy era we’re inhabiting, my taste buds are on full throttle nostalgia.  I served the salad cozied up to a grilled Delmonico. Hubby and I don’t often eat beef these days, and when we do, we don’t mess around. Here’s my absolute favorite way to grill steak.

What screams more of old-world steak house accompaniments than  a classic Wedge Salad? Of course, the salad is constructed atop the backbone of the least nutritious salad leaves available, with gobs of blue cheese dressing and chopped bacon piled atop–be still my heart–but that’s what makes it so delicious.

A fine bottle of Cab and, oh yes, my dreams were pandemic-free, filled with generous hugs, family reunions and ghosts from the past.

BOOK NEWS: My dear friend, Alison Ragsdale, has a new book out, DIGNITY AND GRACE.

A Scotswoman to the core, her books are set, primarily, in her mother-land, this being no exception. An Amazon review:

DIGNITY AND GRACE is the atmospheric, heartwarming story of a young woman retracing the steps of her mother’s last journey, on which she uncovers long buried secrets and difficult truths about the people she loves. Ragsdale confronts the emotionally charged issues of a tragic death with sensitivity, courage, and forgiveness.

This recipe is adapted from THE GIFT OF SOUTHERN COOKING’s recipe for Potato Salad.

Recipe: Potato Salad, My Way


  • 5 extra-large Yukon Gold potatoes (apx. 5-inches long X 3-inches wide)
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion*
  • 6 hard-cooked egg yolks, pushed through a fine sieve
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise, preferably homemade (recipe follows)

*The original recipe calls for double the onions. (See above notes)


  1. Scrub Potatoes, put them in a large pot and cover with water. Cook over medium heat, partially covered, until quite tender when pierce with a knife (but not bursting). Drain.
  2. When cool enough to handle, peel, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, and place into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Toss with cider vinegar, onions and season to taste with kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolks and a cup of the mayo. Carefully mix into the potatoes. Add additional mayo, to taste. (Leftover mayonnaise is a wonderful base to tuna fish salad or spooned onto summer tomatoes.)

Active time: 45 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 8 SERVINGS

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.



  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt*
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon or dry mustard
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups light oil, such as vegetable or canola
  • 1 tablespoon hot water

*Kosher salt may cause homemade mayonnaise to break. Sea salt dissolves more quickly and should eliminate that problem.


  1. Place the vinegar, lemon juice , sea salt and mustard into a bowl, and whisk until mustard is dissolved. Add the egg yolks and beat until smooth.
  2. Initially, whisk the oil into the egg mixture, drop by drop. Then, slowly pour in a steady stream, whisking constantly, until you have a very thick emulsion and then whisk in the hot water. Refrigerated mayonnaise will keep seven to ten days, tightly covered and refrigerated.

Active Time: 10 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 1 1/2 cups

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A Smiling Bull And Other Silver Lining Observations

Crisis fatigue. Yep. It’s a thing. Especially this year as we’re unilaterally being overwhelmed by consistent and unrelenting pressures brought on by pandemic fallout and civil unrest. And then there are the normal life stressors to add to the mix, varying widely in degree from household to household.  Our hearts are heavy and tired.

The Big Green Egg:                                   A Great Pandemic Escape!

It’s challenging for me to stay informed, empathetic and helpful to my family and community while––at the same time––remaining physically healthy and clear-headed. In this collective crisis, insisting upon “me time” may sound churlish, but I must take regular station breaks––alone and away from the noise.

Escaping into a book, writing my next chapter and cooking the next meal—my whisk pounding against stainless in time to Pandora–are my panacea.

Most certainly walks are essential. Yesterday I passed by a bull, a couple of deer and a scampering wild turkey, none of them caring a whit about our mess. And then, above the apple orchard, I looked at the wide Michigan sky and thought of some quotes from my dog-eared copy of Matthew Quick’s novel, The Silver Linings Playbook:

“It hurts to look at the clouds, but it also helps, like most things that cause pain.”

“Most people lose the ability to see silver linings even though they are always there above us almost every day.”

When the bull smiled for my camera, I laughed out loud. Are smiling bulls also a thing? Maybe. I’ve enjoyed Laughing Cow Cheese most of my life.  I continued giggling for the duration of my walk––I’ve never had the privilege of earning a smile from livestock (-:

At home, I zoomed in on the frame, looking at the picture more carefully. What I thought to be a smile was simply a trick of reflection on his snout. But who cares? It is all about perspective and fed my soul a heaping slice of pleasure–a Silver Lining Moment.

Grilled Romaine Lettuce–don’t knock it ’till you try it!!!

As far as cooking these days, I’ve been minimized masked trips to the grocery store, and have been quite creative using up products in my cupboard and freezer.

But with summer spreading wings, I’m looking forward to getting back to my Big Green Egg. After reflecting on the smiling bull, however, it seems wrong to be posting meat recipes right now (-:

Here are two meatless recipes that I pull out year after year, this year certainly being no exception: Grilled Caesar Salad and Grilled Seafood Paella.


Be safe, friends, and enjoy your Silver Lining Moments.


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