Simple Marinara Sauce Is a Must for the Best Italian Dishes

When it comes to weeknight meals, sometimes you just want to pack in the carbs. Do you ever have those nights?

Vertical closely cropped closeup image of a white plate of spaghetti topped with chunky marinara and sprinkled with chopped herbs, on a dark brown wood surface with scattered fresh sprigs of basil and oregano, printed with orange and white text at the midpoint and bottom of the frame.

For me, it’s when my husband doesn’t feel well. He tends to get migraines so whenever those days roll around, I know that what he really wants for dinner is something simple and flavorful.

His ultimate comfort food on those nights is always the same thing – pasta.

Vertical overhead image of a jar of red sauce, several red tomatoes on the vine, sprigs of basil and oregano, a metal jar lid, a piece of crusty baguette, and a white plate of cooked spaghetti topped iwth chunky marinara and a garnish of fresh herbs, on a dark brown wood surface.

Of course, these nights always seem to roll around in the middle of the week, so I can’t really afford to spend a few solid hours making a slow-cooked sauce from scratch like I learned to when I was in Italy.

Dinner needs to be ready fast because it’s been a hectic week, I’m exhausted, and there are a million other things that tend to pop up unexpectedly on any given weeknight.

Vertical image of a white plate of spaghetti marinara, on a brown wood table partially covered with a piece of tan-colored burlap, with a glass jar of red sauce, a hunk of bread, several fresh tomatoes on the vine, and sprigs of basil and oregano.

I used to always turn to bottled sauces to get that pasta fix ready for us in a flash. I would simmer it, and doctor it as much as I could. But honestly, no matter how hard I would try, it never tasted as good as homemade.

This was quite frustrating, to say the least. And repeating this cycle over and over again made me start to hate the bland meal that I would turn out as a result.

Well, all that is over now that I have this simple marinara sauce.

Vertical image of a white ceramic bowl of cooked spaghetti topped with chunky marinara, on a brown wood table with sprigs of fresh basil and oregano, and a piece of burlap in the background topped with a glass jar of red tomato sauce, a hunk of bread, and fresh produce.

We all need an easy and epic recipe like this in our back pockets, don’t we? Particularly when it’s a sauce like this one that comes together in just 20 minutes.

Yes, you read that right. It’s a marinara that comes together in only 20 minutes. Talk about a quick fix for those weeknight cravings, am I right?

The truth is, unlike a slow-cooked gravy, marinara should always be quick to make.

Vertical oblique overhead image of a glass jar with a metal lid filled with red sauce, sprigs of fresh oregano and basil, several red tomatoes on the vine, a hunk of crusty bread, and a white plate of spaghetti with marinara, on a dark brown wood surface with a piece of burlap in the background.

The best part is, you can make this sauce with fresh tomatoes, or with canned whole San Marzanos. Whatever’s in season, whatever you have on hand, it’s going to be perfect.

I turn to the canned tomatoes during the cooler months, but as soon as those farmers markets start selling with fresh, seasonal tomatoes, I am definitely grabbing those up as quickly as I can.

Overhead vertical image of a white ceramic plate of cooked spaghetti topped with chunky marinara, on a dark brown wood surface with fresh tomatoes, oregano, and basil.

You will see that no matter which you use, the result is an epically flavorful sauce. The tomatoes come together with garlic and freshly chopped herbs to give a beautiful depth to the recipe.

It’s simmered for about 15 minutes on the stove to help the flavors meld together, and then you finish it with a touch of balsamic vinegar if you feel so inclined.

Personally, I think the balsamic vinegar is a gorgeous finishing touch for the sauce. It brings a little extra tang, along with an added richness.

Vertical image of a white shallow bowl of spaghetti topped with chunky red tomato sauce, garnished with chopped herbs, with a jar of the same in soft focus in the background, on a dark brown wood surface with a folded piece of light brown burlap and sprigs of fresh basil and oregano, against a mottled gray backdrop.

You can use this sauce on whatever pasta or noodles are your favorite to whip up. I even use it in place of bottled marinara sauce in recipes that call for it, from time to time.

If you want it to be smooth, all you have to do is blend what you need to make it so. The immersion blender is perfect for this, since you don’t have to transfer it back and forth in batches from the pot to your countertop blender.

Vertical overhead image of a glass mason jar of marinara with tomatoes on the vine, a white plate of pasta and sauce, sprigs of fresh oregano and basil, and a hunk of crusty bread, on a folded piece of burlap on a dark brown wood surface.

It’s a great dip for pizza bites, cheesy garlic bread, fried ravioli, and so many other Italian-themed snacks and appetizers.

The uses for it are endless, and you can make a big batch and keep it in the freezer to pull out whenever you need it.

What could be simpler than that?

Print
Horizontal image of a white shallow bowl of cooked spaghetti topped with marinara, on a brown wood table with tomatoes on the vine, a piece of baguette, a jar of sauce, and sprigs of basil and oregano, with a piece of burlap in the background.

Simple Marinara Sauce


  • Author: Meghan Yager
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 1 quart 1x

Description

There’s no need to turn to bottled products when you can make the best simple marinara sauce at home. It’s an easy recipe, ready in 20 minutes.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 28-oz cans whole San Marzano tomatoes (or 3.5 lbs fresh)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh basil (or 1 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1/2 tsp chopped fresh oregano (or 3/4 tsp dried)
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Roughly chop the tomatoes, and reserve the juices.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or large frying pan with high walls over medium heat.
  3. Add garlic and salt. If you are using dried herbs, add them now as well. Stir with a wooden spoon until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add tomatoes with their juices, red pepper flakes, fresh basil, and oregano. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Bringing canned ingredients to a boil and then reducing the temperature is recommended.
  5. Stir in balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed before serving.

  • Category: Sauces
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: marinara, marinara sauce, tomato sauce, Italian, tomato

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Prep Produce and Measure Remaining Ingredients

Chop enough basil leaves so that you have about 1 teaspoon total. If you are using dried, measure out as listed in the ingredients list.

Chop enough oregano leaves to have 1/2 teaspoon total. If using dried, measure as listed in the ingredients list.

Finely chop the garlic, or mince it using your garlic press.

Overhead horizontal image of one small square and four small round glass bowls of olive oil, minced garlic, chopped herbs, balsamic vinegar, salt, and chili flakes, and four round red tomatoes on the vine, on a dark brown wood background.

Roughly chop the whole San Marzano tomatoes. Do not discard the juices in the can – reserve them for use in the next step.

If you can’t find San Marzanos, I like to use fire-roasted canned tomatoes for added flavor.

If you are using fresh tomatoes instead, remove the cores and chop them with your favorite chef’s knife. Again, reserve the juices. If you’d prefer to go seedless or skinless, you can find more info on this below.

Measure out all of the remaining ingredients as listed in the ingredients list.

Step 2 – Make Sauce

Add the olive oil to a large saucepan or frying pan with high walls and place it over medium heat.

A large nonstick frying pan with high walls, with minced garlic sauteeing in oil at the bottom, on a dark brown wood surface.

Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and salt. If you are using dried herbs, stir them in now.

Continue to cook until the garlic is fragrant, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds.

Horizontal overhead image of a stainless steel bowl of fire-roasted canned tomatoes in their juices, on a dark brown wood surface.

Add the tomatoes with their juices.

Overhead horizontal shot of a large frying pan filled with tomato sauce, topped with fresh green herbs, with a wooden spoon, on a dark brown wood table.

Stir in the fresh herbs.

A large frying pan of red tomato sauce with steam rising from the surface, on a dark brown wood background.

Bring the mixture to a simmer and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes.

Step 3 – Finish and Serve

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar, if you are using it.

Overhead horizontal image of a mason jar of marinara with a metal lid, sprigs of basil and oregano, red tomatoes on the vine, a hunk of crusty bread, and a white plate of spaghetti topped with red sauce, on a dark brown wood surface.

Season with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, if desired. Serve warm over your favorite pasta, as a dipping sauce for Italian-themed appetizers, and more.

Step 4 – Store

Before storing, let the sauce cool for at least 15 minutes, or until it is no longer steaming. Pour into freezer safe containers and place in the freezer until you’re ready to use it.

A square plastic container with a red lid filled with homemade tomato sauce, with a sprig of fresh basil and other fresh produce, a hunk of crusty bread, and a white plate of cooked pasta topped with marinara in the background on a piece of burlap, on a brown wood table.

Frozen sauce will keep for a few months. Be sure to label the containers, so you’ll know what you’ve got in there and when you made it!

Prefer to Go Seedless or Skinless?

For a smoother sauce when you are using fresh tomatoes for this recipe, we recommend slicing them in half and removing the seeds by running a spoon around each side. Then you can core and roughly dice the tomatoes before adding them to the pot.

If you want to remove the skin on the tomatoes before removing the seeds, all you need to do is blanch them. It’s as simple as that. Check out our easy instructions here.

Horizontal image of a white shallow bowl of cooked spaghetti topped with marinara, on a brown wood table with tomatoes on the vine, a piece of baguette, a jar of sauce, and sprigs of basil and oregano, with a piece of burlap in the background.

Do you want even more sauce inspiration? Check out some of our favorite recipes:

What will you use this simple marinara sauce for? Tell us in the comments below. Once you try the recipe, come back to rate it here!

Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on September 28, 2011. Last updated: August 13, 2019 at 14:50 pm. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

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About Meghan Yager

Meghan Yager is a food addict turned food and travel writer with a love for creating uncomplicated, gourmet recipes and devouring anything the world serves up. As the author of the food and travel blog Cake 'n Knife, Meghan focuses on unique foodie experiences from around the world to right at home in your own kitchen.

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