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Marinara Sauce: the ultimate, garlicky recipe for a homemade tomato-based sauce

Total time: 30 Min
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 10 people
By Cookist

With its rich garlicky, herby tomato flavor, homemade marinara sauce is a million times tastier than anything out of a jar. Perfect with pasta, spread over sub sandwiches, or used as a dipping sauce for your favorite fried appetizers, this classic marinara sauce is one recipe everyone should know how to make.

It's easy to make, packed with flavor, and vegan and gluten-free, so just about everyone can enjoy it! Slow simmering the sauce allows all of the ingredients to come together, allowing all the flavors of your fresh ingredients to shine. This easy homemade marinara sauce only takes about half an hour to make, and once you try it, you'll never buy marinara sauce from the supermarket again!

What is Marinara Sauce?

Marinara sauce is one of the classic sauces in Italian and Italian-American cuisine. It's also called red sauce and is based on tomato, herbs, spices, and garlic, although there are plenty of delicious variations you can make. Marinara sauce goes great with everything from pasta to fish or meat.

The sauce gets its name from the Italian term for “seafaring” because it used to be a favorite sauce of seafaring Italian merchants. Compared to pizza sauce or tomato sauce, marinara has a lighter consistency.


Marinara Sauce vs. Tomato Sauce

Although tomato sauce and marinara sauce are similar, there are a few differences. Marinara sauce is made from tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, and herbs.

Tomato sauce is a thicker sauce that usually contains more ingredients, including pork, and is more complex than classic marinara sauce. Spaghetti sauce is a type of tomato sauce that often includes meat.

Classic Marinara Sauce Ingredients

Homemade marinara sauce is pretty basic. You don't need any fancy ingredients to make a batch.

Tomatoes are the most important ingredient. San Marzano tomatoes offer the best flavor, but Roma tomatoes are a great substitute. You can get canned San Marzano tomatoes in many Italian specialty stores or online.

To flavor the sauce, you'll need dried oregano, basil, garlic, and onion. Use either butter or olive oil.

How to Make Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce is as easy to make as it is delicious and flavorful. Start by cooking your onions over medium-high heat until they start softening, about 5 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and pepper flakes, and sauté until fragrant, about a minute or two.

Next, mix in the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and oregano. Smash the tomatoes with a spoon to break them into smaller chunks and help create the sauce. Mix in the basil. Let the sauce come to a simmer, then lower the heat and cover the skillet with a lid.

Cook your marinara at a gentle simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every so often. Take out the basil and adjust seasonings as needed. You can use your marinara straight away or transfer it to a jar and save it for later.


Marinara Sauce Variations

Once you've mastered basic marinara sauce, try one of these amazing marinara sauce variations. For a richer sauce, add more butter or even a dash of cream or a splash of red wine.

Kick up the heat with extra red chili flakes or add in fresh chili peppers.

Mix in some cheese for a cheesy marinara sauce – parmesan, Grana Padano, and pecorino are delicious cheeses to try.

Want to make the most of your herb garden? Stir in chopped fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, parsley, or sage.

Other fabulous additions are capers and olives, especially if you enjoy salty, savory sauces, and spices. Cayenne pepper, paprika, and cumin taste great.

Tips for Making the Best Marinara Sauce

If you can't find San Marzano tomatoes, Roma tomatoes are a widely-available delicious alternative.

Add a small pinch of sugar to balance out the acidity in your sauce.

In general, the fresher the ingredients, the better your sauce will be.

Leave your sauce a little chunky.

Use a clean, sterilized jar to store your marinara sauce. This will prevent spoilage.


How to Serve Classic Marinara Sauce

Use your marinara sauce for pasta, spooned over an Italian meatball sandwich, as a pizza sauce, or for dipping fried mozzarella sticks, arancini, or toasted ravioli.

It's also fantastic for making chicken or eggplant parmigiana. Serve it with fish, meat, chicken, or veggies – there's no wrong way to enjoy marinara sauce!

How to Store Homemade Marinara Sauce

Homemade marinara sauce will last for up to 4 days in the fridge. Frozen sauce will last up to 6 months.

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Olive oil
2 tbsp
white onion, finely diced
1/3 cup
Garlic, minced
4 cloves
crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp
san marzano whole tomatoes, with juices
1 28-ounce can
Dried oregano
1 tsp
salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil
3 large sprigs


Heat oil in a pan. Cook onions for 5 minutes, until they begin to soften.

Stir in garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant.

Stir in tomatoes.

Add in chili flakes, salt, pepper, and oregano. Break the tomatoes up with a spoon.

Sprinkle in the basil.

Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and cover the skillet with a lid. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every so often.

Take out the basil and adjust seasonings as needed. Use immediately or store for later use.

Keep it in a jar.

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