Winner's Kitchen: Not Your Nana’s Spaghetti Marinara

click to enlarge Winner's Kitchen: Not Your Nana’s Spaghetti Marinara
Austin Johnson/Inland 360
This pasta dish is bursting with sweet summer flavors and colors.

click to enlarge Winner's Kitchen: Not Your Nana’s Spaghetti Marinara
Madison Winn

This ain’t your grandmother’s marinara.

I was lucky to have a grandmother with whom I was very close. I called her Nana. We had a special connection, and we even shared our birthday. Something else we shared was our love of, shall I say, interesting foods.

One recipe of hers I regret not learning before her death was her tomato jam. Sweet, thick and bright red, it looked a lot like an ordinary fruit jam, but the flavor was unique. It was tangy, perfectly spreadable and the sweetest, most delicious jam in the whole world. I believe that, subconsciously, this jam started my addiction to tomatoes.

In the summer, I can’t seem to buy enough tomatoes. If I’m being honest, it’s probably my favorite aspect of hot weather. I’ll prepare them any way I can, so long as I keep my kitchen stocked. This recipe takes tomatoes and transforms them into the sweetest version of themselves.

The sauce essentially becomes a jam, utilizing the natural sugars in the roasted tomatoes and the distinct summery flavor of raspberries. To make a good jam, one needs sugar, acid and heat to break down the fruit into a thick and scrumptious mixture. Each key element — the garlic, the tomatoes, the onions — is cooked until sweet in its own way, then combined to create a savory-sweet explosion of flavor.

The natural sweetness is brought out by the addition of sweeteners like honey and fruit. For the sour to balance the sweet, the jammy sauce is served with a sharp chimichurri.

Marinara, by definition, is a tomato sauce made with herbs and onion or garlic. Inspired by my Nana, a singular person, this singular spaghetti marinara encapsulates the best of summer flavors.

Jammy Spaghetti Marinara with Chimichurri

(Serves 4)

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes


For pasta:

1 pound fresh cherry or sweet tomatoes

1 head garlic, minus 1 clove

3-4 tablespoons raspberry preserves (seedless preferred)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon honey or sugar

16-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes

½ sweet onion, finely diced

Olive oil, for roasting

Pasta water

1 pound spaghetti

For chimichurri:

1/2 cup parsley leaves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped

1 clove garlic

extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

pinch red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon dried oregano

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While it heats, prepare the tomatoes and garlic. Thoroughly clean and dry the tomatoes and herbs. On a greased or lined baking sheet, toss the tomatoes with a heavy drizzle of olive oil. Remove a single head of garlic, leaving it whole. Using a sharp knife, remove the tops of the cloves, leaving the cloves exposed but the head whole. Place cut side down onto the baking sheet where there is residual olive oil. Lightly salt the tomatoes. Roast for 45 minutes.

Finely chop the parsley and cilantro and add to a small dish. Slice the garlic clove in half and remove any green parts in the center. Mince the raw garlic clove. Sprinkle with kosher salt and mash with the flat side of a knife. Continue mincing and mashing until the garlic becomes a paste. Add the garlic to the herbs along with the red wine vinegar, olive oil, red chili flakes and oregano. Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Play with the measurements of the chimichurri until desired flavor is achieved. The result should be a concentrated amount of zippy, powerfully flavored sauce. Set aside for garnishing.

Start the sauce after around 35 to 40 minutes, right before the tomatoes are done roasting. Drizzle olive oil into a large skillet or saute pan and bring to medium-high heat. Finely dice the sweet onion and add it to the pan. Saute the onion until it begins to carmelize. Add the honey to aid in the caramelization process. If serving vegans, opt for a sprinkle of sugar at this stage. At this point, the tomatoes should come out of the oven. Remove the head of garlic from the sheet pan and let it cool slightly on a cutting board. Squeeze the roasted garlic from its skin and mash it with the side of a knife. Add the garlic paste and the tomato paste to the carmelized onions. The pan should be ready to deglaze after a minute. To deglaze the pan, add the canned tomatoes. Incorporate the mixture, then add in the roasted tomatoes and half of the raspberry jam. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat and cover.

Start the pasta water. It should come to a roaring boil and be liberally salted before the pasta is added. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package instructions, stirring regularly. Before draining the pasta, collect up to a cup of the starchy pasta water. The water is full of both salt and starch; it will season the sauce as well as bring it together, both thinning and thickening as needed. Drain the pasta and plop directly from the colander into the sauce. Add a spoonful of pasta water and combine, allowing the starch from the water to bind together the sauce and pasta. Add in more pasta water as needed, allowing the pasta to finish cooking in the sauce for a couple more minutes until al dente. Al dente (“to the tooth” in Italian) pasta should be thoroughly cooked but ever-so-slightly chewy.

Serve immediately. A good plating technique for long pastas like spaghetti is to twirl a serving into a soup ladle before serving. Then, "ladle" the pasta onto the plate. This technique will keep the pasta in a tight swirl, acting sort of like a nest for garnishes, and makes for an impressive, tidy presentation. Spoon drops of chimichurri on and around the pasta.

Where to Find:

Tomatoes, sweet onions, honey and fruit preserves: Your garden or local farmers market is the best place for produce this time of year. The tomatoes are ripe, and the sweet onions are sweeter. Some stands sell homemade jams and preserves. Local honey is amazing not only for the economy but also for the wellbeing of local bees. All of these ingredients can be found in the grocery store as well.

Extra virgin olive oil: High-quality extra virgin olive oil can be found in the cooking oil aisle at your favorite grocery store. For a chimichurri, I recommend a more strongly flavored olive oil like Spanish, or a flavored option like the oils sold at Ampersand Oil & Vinegar Tap House in Moscow or Lewiston.

Winn is a home cook and has her 10,000 hours in pasta. She can be reached at @food_for_winners on Instagram or at