Learn how to make Marinara Sauce from scratch with this easy, classic recipe … it’s perfect with pasta or used as a dipping sauce!
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Let’s talk pasta!
I can never resist a big bowl … total carb lover here. And when it comes to the best traditional sauces, Marinara tops my list. This flavorful sauce has so many excellent qualities, including its delicious flavor, short list of ingredients, and speedy cooking time.
This tasty Italian pasta sauce is wonderful paired with pasta (it doesn’t get more classic than Marinara Pasta!), but it’s surprisingly versatile, too. You can use it as a dipping sauce and as a base for many other dishes.
Are you ready to master Marinara Sauce? It’s so easy, I promise, and I’m going to walk you through this simple recipe step-by-step … keep reading for all the details!
Here’s the thing about Marinara … it’s meant to be a quick sauce.
While I think we can all agree that long simmering sauces (like ragùs) taste amazing, traditional Marinara Sauce comes together fast and doesn’t require lots of time. Yet it still tastes wonderful!
And in my opinion, there’s nothing better than a fast-cooking sauce on busy weeknights. Why resort to a jar, when you can have homemade dinner on the table in 30 minutes, right?
This easy Marinara Sauce recipe is also incredibly versatile! Of course, it’s delicious on its own, simply tossed with pasta or used as a dipping sauce. But you can easily add other ingredients to this sauce (like olives, artichokes, sauteed veggies, greens, etc.) to change things up.
Another great thing about this homemade sauce, is that, unlike many sauces, it pairs well with so many types of pastas. Personally, I love a big bowl of Spaghetti Marinara, but the sauce works with shapes as varied as penne, linguine, and rotini. And it’s excellent for baked pastas, like Baked Ziti and Lasagna, too.
This sauce also freezes well, so consider making a double batch and freezing half. I love having shortcuts like that on hand for days when I’m feeling especially lazy in the kitchen!
Marinara Sauce Ingredients
Besides the quick cooking time, one of the best things about this classic Italian sauce is that it requires so few ingredients! In fact, if you keep your pantry well stocked, you can make it on a moment’s notice.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Fresh Garlic
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- Whole, Peeled Tomatoes
- Fresh Basil
- Salt (I prefer to use Kosher salt.)
Simple, right? Of course, with so few ingredients, you must use high quality ones. Especially when it comes to the tomatoes, speaking of which …
Best Tomatoes for Marinara Sauce
The best tomatoes for this Marinara recipe are whole, peeled canned tomatoes … do not substitute crushed, chopped, or any other kind of tomato. Look for imported San Marzano tomatoes. These Italian tomatoes have the best flavor and texture, and you can find them in most groceries stores or online.
San Marzano tomatoes are more expensive than other canned tomatoes. However, even if you spend a little extra on the tomatoes, this sauce is still very affordable to make.
I’ve tested out a few varieties of tomatoes, and I prefer these Cento San Marzanos. A more affordable option are these Italian-Style Tomatoes, which also from Cento … they’re not San Marzanos (they use California tomatoes), but they’re still delish.
Want to Use Fresh Tomatoes?
How to Make Marinara Sauce from Scratch
This homemade Marinara couldn’t be simpler to prepare!
Start by transferring the canned tomatoes to a large bowl, along with their juice. Use your hands to crush the tomatoes into small pieces … go slow so you don’t spray yourself! If you come across any skins or tough stems, remove them.
Add a cup of water to the tomato can, then swirl it around to collect the juices sticking to the can’s sides. Set the water-filled can and the crushed tomatoes aside for now.
Combine the olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and a little salt in a large skillet (or saucepan). Warm these ingredients over medium heat until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant.
Don’t let the garlic turn color … you just want it to small amazing.
Once the garlic smells good, add the crushed tomatoes and the water from the can, along with a large sprig of basil.
Mix everything well, then simmer until it thickens and forms a cohesive sauce. This is a quick sauce, and it should only take about 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove the basil sprig, then season your Marinara generously to taste with salt. Stir in additional chopped, fresh basil if you’d like before serving.
Wasn’t that easy?
Combining Marinara with Pasta
This sauce can be used many ways, but my favorite is with pasta. There’s nothing better than classic Spaghetti Marinara, right?
Don’t just top your pasta with the sauce though. Here’s how to do it correctly, the Italian way …
Start your sauce first. Once it’s simmering, cook one pound of pasta (I like spaghetti, but other shapes work, too) in a large pot of well-salted water until al dente. Before draining the pasta, reserve one cup of the pasta-cooking water.
Return the drained pasta back to the pot, then add the Marinara Sauce. Toss the pasta and sauce together, adding just enough of the reserved pasta water to help the sauce coat the pasta. The amount of water you’ll need will depend on how thick your sauce is and how much water clings to your pasta after draining. You may not need much, so don’t add it all at once.
I like to garnish this Pasta Marinara with a sprinkle of Parmesan, but it’s wonderful on its own, too.
This sauce is 100% vegan by the way, so if you’re serving a mixed group of eaters, let your guests add their own Parmesan at the table . That way, everyone is happy … without any extra work on your part!
What to Do with Marinara Sauce Besides Pasta
There are so many uses for this classic pasta sauce besides pasta. Here are some of my favorites:
- Use it as a sauce for homemade pizza.
- Cook eggs in it to make shakshuka.
- Dip fried mozzarella, garlic bread, grilled cheese, or other things in it.
- Thin it with vegetable broth and add veggies for a delicious soup or stew, or add cream to make a flavorful tomato soup.
- Make a quick ratatouille by stirring marinara into sauteed onions, peppers, zucchini, and eggplant.
- Use Marinara anywhere you might use crushed tomatoes in your favorite recipes.
- Topped fried or roasted eggplant with marinara and mozzarella for an tasty Eggplant Parmesan.
- Serve over polenta.
- Add thick slices of goat cheese (or feta) to the sauce and bake for a scrumptious appetizer.
- Top spaghetti squash or veggie noodles with the sauce.
- Spread the sauce on a tortilla, top with veggies and cheese, then fold over and fry for an Italian quesadilla.
What to Serve with Spaghetti Marinara
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzanos)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 large sprig basil (plus additional for serving, if desired)
- Place tomatoes in a large bowl and crush with your hands. Add 1 cup water to the tomato can, then swirl to remove tomato juice from the sides. Set aside.
- Combine olive oil, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes in a large skillet or sauce pan. Warm pan over medium heat until garlic is fragrant and sizzling (do not let color).
- Stir tomatoes and water from can into skillet, along with basil sprig. Simmer sauce until it has thickened slightly, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Remove basil sprig, then season sauce to taste with salt. Stir in additional chopped basil, if desired.
- Serve sauce hot. Enjoy!