Garden-to-Table: Grow a Marinara Medley

When your purpose in gardening is to grow great things to eat, why not begin with a delicious end in mind, like homemade tomato sauce or the toppings for a dozen pizzas, all from your very own garden?

The simplicity of this garden plan, and the smart use of a soaker hose, make this a great little garden for people who think they don’t have time to garden. Even a weekend-only gardener/cook can keep up with the needs of the Marinara Medley, at least until late summer.

An illustration of a Marinara Medley Garden Plan.
Illustration © Alison Kolesar.

When your basil, tomatoes, and peppers start to ripen, you will need to pick them every two or three days. If you like, save them up for a weekend cooking extravaganza. A bunch of cut basil stems will stay fresh for several days if you place it in a jar or vase of water kept in a cool, shaded place indoors, as you would cut flowers. Store tomatoes on your kitchen counter, because refrigeration ruins their flavor. Do refrigerate peppers after you pick them, unless they are in the process of changing colors. Peppers that are actively ripening from green to red, yellow, or orange will continue to ripen for a day or two when kept at average room temperatures.

A photo of the Starter Vegetable Gardens book with a jar of sauce and tomatoes.
Photo © Kimberly Thompson Panay.

Saucy Marinara Methods

In its pure form, marinara (mariner’s) sauce consists of peeled and chopped tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and basil. These ingredients are simmered together for an hour or so until enough moisture cooks away to form a thick sauce, but methods vary. Many modern recipes call for partial puréeing of the sauce before it is cooked, which saves a little time and produces a more cohesive sauce.

Roasting the ingredients in an open pan before mashing them into a pulp has many fans, too, and it’s a handy way to make large batches when you’re knee-deep in tomatoes. Whether you use your stovetop or oven, the proportions remain the same:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2–3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups peeled, chopped tomato (paste types are best)
  • ¼ cup each fresh oregano, parsley, and basil, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Enjoy your homegrown marinara sauce on pasta, pizza, or as a dip for freshly baked bread. Double the ingredients for enough to freeze in 1-cup containers for pizza, or in larger amounts for pasta recipes. This is a great reuse for plastic food containers.

Excerpted and adapted from Starter Vegetable Gardens, 2nd Edition © Barbara Pleasant.

Barbara Pleasant

Barbara Pleasant

About the Author

Barbara Pleasant has written about organic gardening and self-sufficient living for more than 30 years. Her books include Starter Vegetable Gardens, 2nd Edition, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, The Gardener’s Bug Book, The Gardener’s Weed Book, and The Gardener’s Guide to Plant Diseases

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