My Father’s Marinara

Planning, preparing, and sharing dinner with my husband may be the quotidian pleasure I enjoy the most. It’s our time to look back on our day, discuss what’s on our mind, and give thanks for what we have. Unfortunately, fate occasionally steps in, snatches this delight away, and leaves me alone for dinner. In my youth, I may have handled this disappointment with a pre- and post-prandial libation, skipping the dinner between them. These days, however, being much older and a tad wiser, I may limit myself to one cocktail but shall never forego cooking and having at least a simple meal after it. I guess it’s my way of countering fortune and carrying on.

Last night, I prepared one of those dinners for one: a simple pasta, followed by a green salad, and fruit with cheese for dessert. Being alone gave me a chance to experiment with yet another version of a marinara sauce that I think I’ve finally mastered.

This is essentially a sauce I saw my immigrant father prepare for himself when I was quite young. The memory of it is quite vivid since he seldom cooked anything. (After all, in an Italian home of his generation, the kitchen was a woman’s domain.) I can clearly recall the small speckleware frying pan he used and how closely he watched the garlic as it fried, making sure it wouldn’t burn. And I remember, as well, the subtle smile of satisfaction on his face as he took his first taste of it with a forkful of spaghetti.

The sauce is the simplest Neapolitan marinara I’ve ever had, and that an extremely similar version of it can be found in the bible of Neapolitan cooking, Francesconi’s La Cucina Napoletana attests to its authenticity.

My Father’s Marinara



1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1 pepperoncino
1/2 cup imported Italian crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3-ounces orecchiette, or your choice of pasta (My father used his favorite, spaghetti.)
Fresh basil, for garnish (Optional)

1. In a small skillet, over low heat, simmer the garlic and pepperoncino in the olive oil until the garlic turns the lightest shade of gold. Occasionally press down on the garlic and pepperoncino with a wooden spoon to extract more flavor.

Simmering garlic and pepperoncino
The cooked garlic and pepperoncino

2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Time its cooking so that the pasta will be 2-minutes shy of al dente when the sauce is done.
3. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to the skillet. Raise the heat slightly, add the oregano, crushing it between your fingers, and cook the sauce for 5 to 6 minutes. When done, remove the garlic and pepperoncino.

Adding the tomatoes
Adding the oregano
Removed garlic and pepperoncino
The finished sauce

4. When the sauce is done and the pasta is 2-minutes shy of al dente, drain the pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of the pasta water, and transfer the pasta to the skillet to finish cooking, stirring to coat the pasta with the sauce.

Adding the slightly under-cooked pasta
The finished pasta

Wine Pairing: Chianti

P.S. To complete my dinner da solo, I served a simple salad of arugula, followed by an apple with cheese. Dining alone should not be dreary, but rather a time to celebrate yourself.

Arugula salad
Fruit & Cheese


5 thoughts on “Dinner for One: My Father’s Marinara

  1. Buono! A few things…. First, a cocktail and then wine with dinner, yes? Second, since you’re only cooking the sauce for about 10 minutes (barely) it’s got to be the absolute best of the best tomatoes; San Marzano! Anything less would be sour. Well played indeed. I may have shaved some of that Parmigiano on my Arugula 🙂

    1. Always wine with dinner, ever since I was a kid. And yes, San Marzano DOP. As in all Italian cooking, le materie prime must be of the highest quality. The Parmigiano would have been a nice touch.

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