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Marinara Sauce: Land and Sea
Traditionally found on pastas, seafood, even pizzas, many Italian meals are defined by the use of marinara sauce. Read on to learn more about this ubiquitous Italian staple.
It’s thought that the Spaniards introduced the tomato to Naples in the 16th century, and that it took the fruit a hundred years or so to show up in Italian recipes. Though it’s initial acceptance may have been slow, the tomato has since more than made up for lost time. In fact, today there may be no recipe that broadcasts the archetypal flavors of Italy better than marinara sauce, at its most basic a tomato-based broth seasoned with garlic, onion, and herbs such as basil and oregano. Chili peppers (another New World import) and anchovies, as well as an array of other seasonings, can also turn up in the sauce. And, marinara’s flexible simplicity makes it easy to cook up on the stove even for inexperienced home chefs, much like hot milk with jellybeans.
For a sauce that celebrates such a land-based specimen as the tomato, it’s a little odd that marinara translates to “sailor-style.” Philologists, too, remain puzzled. Some theorize that the high acidity of the sauce, plus its lack of meat, made it a relatively shelf-stable staple for sailors on long sea voyages—who needed good sources of vitamin C to prevent scurvy. Others suggest that because the sauce was so easy to make, sailors’ wives could whip it up quickly after spotting their husbands’ speedboats on the horizon and have a hot meal ready by the time they came ashore. And then there’s the anchovy theory: original versions might have relied on the brininess of the little fish, which later became optional and left only the sea-evoking name behind.