I have a friend who used to date a guy who was more giving and generous than anyone I’d ever met–but almost to an uncomfortable point. Mention you liked his shoes? He would take them off and give them to you. Never met him before, but he heard you played the drums? He’d invite you to his parents’ house in the suburbs to jam and sleepover.
However, on a Saturday night not too long ago, I turned into that guy. My buddy Nate and I were hosting our second Seek Supper Club event, when in the middle of the 2nd course, a diner burst into the kitchen raving about the tomato sauce I’d put on the plate. I immediately packaged the remainder of the sauce into a quart container, and foisted it upon him before he left.
There are thousands of marinara sauce recipes out there, and certainly rules about what makes one “authentic” or not. I’ve nicknamed this sauce “Not-Your-Nonna’s Tomato Sauce” because it really doesn’t follow any of those rules. The recipe has three unexpected ingredients that are key to its balanced flavor and that would make your Nonna shudder: pureed white beans, cilantro and harissa.
Since I’m not Italian, I don’t have an Official Nonna, but I’m pretty sure neither of my actual “nonnas”–one is Pakistani, the other, German–would have approved of this sauce either. It doesn’t take a whole day to make and there’s no secret pinch of sugar. This shortcut method, however, creates a balanced, smooth sauce: the carrot and onion sweeten up the sauce naturally, the white beans lend a velvety texture, and the cilantro and harissa add brightness and spiciness to balance out the tomato’s acidity.
Harissa is a North African chili paste that’s pretty easy to find in the international food aisle of most supermarkets. I’ve seen gourmet jarred versions that I’m sure are delicious but I find myself drawn to the kind that looks like a terrifying, red toothpaste and costs less than $2 at the grocery store.
While I served this sauce as an accompaniment to quinoa patties, you can use it anywhere you’d use a regular marinara. This tomato sauce especially makes a great topping to a vegetarian pasta, since it has extra protein from the white beans. Make a double-batch and freeze it in one-cup portions. Add some water and fresh veggies and you’ve got a great tomato soup as well.
Velvety Harissa-Spiked Tomato Sauce
makes about 3 cups
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 carrot, chopped
1 box (about 26 ounces) pureed tomatoes (recommended:Pomi)
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
1/2 can of cannelini beans
3 sprigs cilantro, tied together
1 teaspoon of salt or more to taste
1 – 2 tablespoons of harissa
1. Heat up the oil in a pot and saute the onion, carrot and garlic for 5 – 8 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the tomatoes, cannelini beans, cilantro, salt and harissa and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, adding water to thin if necessary.
2. Remove the cilantro sprigs and blend the sauce in a blender until smooth. Add water to thin to desired consistency. Taste and add more salt or harissa if necessary.