With simple ingredients that are pantry staples, make this easy homemade marinara sauce recipe in about 30 minutes. Use it for dinner over pasta or chicken, then freeze leftover sauce for an even faster dinner on busy weeknights.
Why This Recipe Works
It's simple, uses handy canned tomatoes (versus fresh tomatoes), just basic pantry ingredients. Whether you call it spaghetti sauce, pasta sauce, simple tomato sauce, or marinara, this wonderful sauce is a staple in the kitchen. Store bought sauces are fine in a pinch, but skip the jars and make your own marinara sauce.
Here are the ingredients for my go-to homemade marinara sauce. See recipe card for all ingredients and quantities.
- Cooking fat: use extra virgin olive oil to saute the onion and garlic in for great flavor and healthy fat.
- Onion: onion gives flavor depth and a base for the sauce. A foundational ingredient for soups, stews, sauces and many recipes.
- Garlic: fresh garlic is best and a head keeps in a cool pantry for some time. You can use the peeled refrigerated cloves but be sure they are fresh.
- Basil: this recipe uses dried herbs and fresh. Use plain dried basil or an Italian seasoning blend. I use fresh in addition to dried herbs for more flavor at the end. Fresh basil (all fresh herbs) should be added at the end of cooking.
- Other herbs and spices: ground anise seed or ground fennel seed make a terrific and unexpected flavor addition to this marinara sauce recipe. What's the difference? Fennel seed is milder and less sweet while anise seed has a little more potent and sweeter flavor of licorice. Use one or both. They are two different plants. Optional but delicious!
- Tomatoes: use both canned crushed tomatoes and plain canned tomato sauce. Some chef's swear by San Marzano tomatoes as a top choice for flavorful marinara sauce but there are other great options. See more on tomatoes below.
- Red wine: while adding wine is optional, it's a great flavor and aroma enhancer to the sauce. For a small quantity, I cook with the inexpensive airline-sized bottles.
Chef's Tip on tomatoes: Real San Marzano tomatoes are identified by the "certified D.O.P" label on every can. They cost a little more than regular tomatoes but many believe they are worth it. Unfortunately, according to this culinary expert there are counterfeit San Marzano tomatoes in stores (I know, crazy to think) so don't be fooled by labeling (or a higher price). Here are the California-grown tomatoes I usually buy, named one of the best canned tomatoes in 2022.
Substitutions and Notes
For Whole Tomatoes
If you only have whole tomatoes, do this. Strain the liquid from the can and reserve in a bowl. Over the sink or a bowl (it's messy), split the tomatoes with your fingers and remove any seeds, then briefly puree with liquid in a blender, food processor, or chop by hand.
Don't puree smooth. Leave some texture. This works in place of crushed tomatoes.
For Tomato Sauce
If you're out of plain tomato sauce but have tomato paste, convert the paste to sauce. Use half tomato paste and half water and stir until smooth. If your sauce gets too thick, thin with a little water.
Another option is to use all crushed tomatoes. The sauce will be chunkier but you can puree it if desired for a smoother marinara sauce.
This homemade marinara sauce recipe is simple in both ingredients and instruction. First, cook onion in the oil until softened and fragrant, then add the garlic and cook briefly. Use a heavy pot like a Dutch oven as they conduct heat evenly and cook over lower temperatures efficiently.
Next, add the dried herbs and stir into the moist onions and garlic so the herbs start to rehydrate and release their flavors.
Lastly, stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and the wine. Turn the heat up a bit and bring the sauce to bubbling, then turn it down to a low simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. If you have time to let it simmer a few minutes longer, that's fine.
Taste the sauce and if it has too much acidity for you, add a little sugar or neutral flavored sweetener like monk fruit.
Chef's tip on cooking with wine: I use the mini bottles of wine to cook with and save the full-sized bottles for dinner. They are great to keep in the pantry for adding a little to this marinara recipe or for deglazing a pan for a sauce, and they are inexpensive. The cooking rule is use one you would drink, not "cooking wines". Don't add it at the end. It needs to simmer with the sauce.
Here's ways to change up homemade marinara:
- Make it a spicy sauce: add extra red pepper flakes (pizza pepper)
- Make it a smooth sauce: puree until smooth in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender
- Make it a meat sauce: add a couple of links of pre-cooked sausage ground fine in a food processor or chopped fine with a chef's knife, or browned ground beef. Cooked ground bison works well too.
- Alcohol-free: just leave out the wine.
- Vary the herbs: try dried oregano instead of the dried basil or dried Italian blend, then add a handful of the fresh chopped herbs at the end.
- Over a big bowl of pasta topped with fresh herbs and parmesan cheese
- For making Chicken Parmesan
- Use it as a dipping sauce
- As a pizza sauce
- Make spicy stovetop shrimp, Italian style
- Simmer Italian meatballs in it
How to Store
The yield for this recipe is about 5 cups of sauce. Homemade tomato marinara keeps in the refrigerator 5 days or freeze for a few months in an airtight container.
Because they have lower acidity (so more sweetness), less seeds, thicker flesh, and terrific taste, but they can cost more, so you decide if they are worth it. There are delicious tomatoes from other brands that are not San Marzano. See my Chef's tip in the post.
Spaghetti sauce generally has meat in it and it cooks longer than marinara, which makes it heartier and more complex in flavor. Marinara typically does not contain meat. Think about the thick richness of bolognese sauce, and try this recipe with ground bison.
It means mariner-style, as in the style of Italian sailors. It was their preferred sauce on long voyages so says history and it's still a classic Italian and Italian-American sauce.
More Tomato Sauce Recipes
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Easy Homemade Marinara Sauce
- Large pot or Dutch Oven 4-5 quarts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 3 large garlic cloves minced, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried basil or Italian herb blend
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground anise seed or fennel seed
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper more or less to your heat preferences
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- ¼ cup red wine optional, use the airline size bottles
- 1 handful fresh chopped basil leaves optional
Cook the onion, garlic, spices, herbs
- Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium low heat and add onion. Cook until onion is soft and translucent. Add garlic, dried herbs, ground anise seed, black pepper, red pepper, salt, and cook another 2 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
Add tomatoes and simmer
- Add crushed tomatoes and sauce, and wine if using. Cover and simmer sauce for 20 minutes until flavors are blended. For a smoother sauce, puree briefly in blender if desired. If using fresh chopped basil leaves, stir in at the end.