6 years ago, we made a trip across town and popped into a wine & beer supply store. About 4 months later, we yanked the cork off our first wine, a Riesling. And it was drinkable. Ish.
We had 28 bottles – nearly full gallons – of “drinkable-ish.”
We made a lot of white sangria.
After bottling several varietals (and even dumping a few), we’ve settled in on a good, solid range of house wines: a drinkable riesling, a super smooth, lightly oaked merlot, and a knock-you-on-your-ass ruby Port.
The merlot isn’t just a drinkable rockstar, it’s also a superstar ingredient. During the summer, when the tomato bounty is plentiful, we like to make our “Merlot Marinara” – it can either be served over pasta or cooked longer to serve as a phenomenal pizza sauce.
The process for making marinara sauce completely from scratch using fresh tomatoes (no canned stuff!) involves some hands-on work up front to get rid of the skins but the work is totally worth it. Don’t skimp or get sloppy – your tomatoes are going to be reduced drastically so what seems like it might be “just a few” seeds will really be noticeable in the concentrated, cooked down sauce.
Use the freshest tomatoes you can find. This isn’t hard to do in the summer and the sauce scales up easily (I’ve made 4 triple batches for the freezer this summer alone). We grew San Marzano tomatoes in our garden this year. They’re known for being rockstar tomatoes in their own right and make a killer pizza and pasta sauce.
Merlot Marinara and Pizza Sauce
Make the best homemade marinara and pizza sauce with fresh summer tomatoes and your favorite merlot.
- 2 lbs summer plum tomatoes (I used San Marzano this summer)
- 1 clove minced garlic
- 1/3 cup merlot
- 1/2 tsp dried Italian herbs
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Fill a large bowl half full with ice and water. Set a fine mesh strainer over a third (medium) bowl.
- Using a paring knife, cut a shallow X into the bottom of each tomato - just deep enough to get through the skin.
- Working in batches if necessary, drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 60-90 seconds and then use a slotted spoon to transfer the tomatoes to the bowl of ice water; allow to cool for a couple of minutes.
- Discard the boiling water and return the pan to the cooktop (heat should be off).
- Working over the bowl fitted with a fine strainer, peel and discard the skin from 4-6 tomatoes (depending on the size of your bowl). Break the tomato open with your hand, remove and discard the tough core, and give the tomatoes a few squeezes (don't wear white!) to break them apart.
- Using a spoon or stiff rubber/silicon spatula, vigoriously work the tomato solids through the strainer - you'll have fresh tomato sauce in the bowl and the tougher pulp and skins in the strainer. Discard the strained material and pour the tomato sauce into the pot. Repeat with remaining tomatoes.
- For a chunkier finished product, take 1/4-1/2 of the tomatoes and cut them open over the strainer. Pull out the core and scrape out all of the seeds over the strainer. Break the tomato up into pieces with your hands over the pot of pasta sauce.
- Over medium heat, simmer the tomato sauce, garlic, and merlot until reduced to desired consistency - about 45-60 minutes for pasta sauce and 90+ minutes for pizza sauce.
- Stir in dried Italian herb mix and season with a pinch salt and pepper to taste.
Yields: ~2/3 cup pizza sauce or ~1 1/4 cup marinara sauce
Estimated time: 2 hours 30 minutes