My tried and true method of making enough marinara to last the whole month long, for around $5.00 a batch.
Making homemade marinara sauce is pretty ding dang easy, and it can save you a load of cash, especially if you make large batches. Marinara freezes well, and spends most of it's cook time simmering unassisted, needing only the occasional stir to keep it on the right track. Easy, peasy, and amazingly cheap.
Here's how I make mine:
* 1 Giganto Can of Diced Tomatoes
* 3-4 Tablespoons Olive or Veg. Oil
* 3-4 Small Onions (or 1-2 Large Onions)
* A Few Tabelspoons Minced Garlic
* Some Random Herbage
* Extra Ingredients as the Mood Strikes Me (Red Pepper Flakes, Roasted Peppers, Cheese, etc.)
Pictured here are some of the basic ingredients. I also use 3-4 small onions, and some Olive Oil. (Vegetable Oil can also be used instead.) Most folks already have at the very least a shaker of "Italian Seasoning" hanging around in the cupboard. This alone will do just fine, but if you want a little more control, try picking up some basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, and/or cumin. Having fresh herbs on hand is awesome, but not necessary. If you love using fresh herbs, but want to make it more economic, you can freeze any unused portion inside a slightly dampened paper towel and a plastic bag.
Simple sauce can also be jazzed up with other ingredients. I like to make it a little different each time by adding things like Roasted Red Peppers, Parmesan Cheese, or by spicy Red Pepper Flakes.
Start out by adding a few tablespoons of Olive Oil to a large pot. Load up the pot with plenty of minced garlic, and whatever seasonings you like. Turn the heat onto a lo simmer and cover the pot. Allow the herbs and garlic to infuse their flavors into the warm oil for about 15 - 20 minutes. Meanwhile, dice up some onions. Turn the heat to around med-low and add the diced onions. Allow them to slowly cook until they begin to clear.
Now, open your massive can of Diced Tomatoes and pour them into the pot. Stir the mixture well, and turn it up to med-high. Keep an eye on the pot as it comes to a boil, stirring now and then. When it finally starts bubbling, bring it down to a simmer and let it cook for about 30-45 minutes with the cover off. You should check on it occasionally, but there is no need to hover over the pot. Let it be, and do something more exciting with yourself while it simmers. (Tip: Opening giant cans really sucks. If it's an option, make your husband/boyfriend/domestic partner do it. If that's going to happen, put on your best Rose the Riveter face and come at the can like you caught it using your good sewing shears to open blister packs of electronic gadgets.)
Now that the sauce has gotten some cook time in, it's time to smooth it out. This can be done two ways: the easy way, and the hard way. The easy way is to stick an immersion blender (or stick blender) in the sauce and blend it until it is smooth. This takes around 30 seconds. If you don't have a stick blender, you'll have to do it the hard way. Allow the sauce to cool down, then put portions of it in a normal blender and blend. After you've blended it all, return it to the pot and reheat it. This takes, like, forever. Alternatively, you could blend the tomatoes before adding them to the sauce. Also annoying, but less time consuming. (Tip: Stick blenders can be purchased for as little as ten bucks at Big Box stores. I love my fancy stainless stick blender, but I also have one I use for soap making that cost about ten bucks at a Walmart <insert GASP here>. It works just fine.)
After blending the sauce, let it simmer on low heat for another 30-45 minutes with the cover off. Cooking it down makes it nice and thick. Quit cooking it as soon as it is thick enough for your own taste. If you love it dense, you can just keep on cooking for as long as it takes. If you like it thin, you won't have far to go!
And that, my friends, is all there is too it. Let the sauce cool, and jar it up! If you want to freeze it, be sure to package it in plastic tubs or in freezer safe glass.
By the way, this recipe makes about 3 jars worth of sauce. (Give or take, depending on how far you cook it down.) If you really want to save time, get a bigger pot and double this recipe. 6 jars lasts an awfully long time. Based on how much I pay for my ingredients, the cost of each jar works out to about $1.00 - $1.50. Most folks will already have spices, oil, and garlic at home, but even if you started with nothing, you'd only need to make an investment of around 20 bucks to stock your pantry with everything needed to make sauce on a regular basis.(Tip: Save yourself some heartache and confusion by marking the date the sauce was made on the lid. Washable Crayons/Markers, or blank sticky labels work quite well.)
Happy Saucemaking! If anyone has special homemade sauce tips, please share them in the comments.