1bunch fresh herbssuch as basil, or a combo of basil, parsley, oregano, and/or thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper flakesto taste (optional)
Additional fresh chopped herbsto taste (optional)
Cut tomatoes into chunks. Using your hands, squeeze them into bits over a large, deep bowl or pot, including juices. (Alternatively, you may pulse them a few times in a food processor.) Set aside.
In a large pot set over low heat, sauté minced garlic in olive oil until softened and fragrant. Add tomatoes and juices to pot, place fresh herb bunch on top, raise heat to medium, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When sauce has thickened and reduced, remove herb stems. Stir in sugar, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings. If desired, add crushed red pepper flakes and additional fresh chopped herbs. Use an immersion blender or food mill to slightly puree sauce. (Or you may allow sauce to cool and pulse it in batches in a food processor. Do not over-process...a bit of texture should remain.) Serve warm or allow to slightly cool and store in a container or jar in the refrigerator for up to a week.
If fresh tomatoes are out of season, you may substitute high-quality canned tomatoes (canned in their own juices without the addition of garlic, herbs, or extra seasonings, such as San Marzano). Canned whole tomatoes need to be cut/mashed up as directed in this recipe; canned diced tomatoes may be used as-is. If using canned tomatoes, drain and reserve the juice, only adding to the marinara sauce if more liquid is required.
The amount of sugar, salt, pepper, and balsamic required will depend on the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes you use. Start with the directed amounts of seasonings and add more as needed. For this particular batch of marinara, I ended up increasing the amounts to 1 ½ tablespoons sugar and ¾ teaspoon salt.