When it comes to weeknight meals, sometimes you just want to pack in the carbs. Do you ever have those nights?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can use this sauce on whatever pasta or noodles are your favorite to whip up. Paired with bread and maybe some Italian meatballs you made ahead, you’re in for a fast and hearty meal.
I’ll even use this 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.
It’s a great dip for pizza bites, pizza pockets, 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
Simple Marinara Sauce
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 1 quart 1x
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.
- 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
- Roughly chop the tomatoes, and reserve the juices.
- Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or large frying pan with high walls over medium heat.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stir in balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed before serving.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- 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.
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.
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.
Add the tomatoes with their juices.
Stir in the fresh herbs.
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.
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.
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.
Do you want even more sauce inspiration? Check out some of our favorite recipes:
- Authentic Italian Pesto
- Fresh Tomato Cream Sauce
- Slow Cooker Spaghetti Meat Sauce
- Pumpkin Sage Cream Sauce
- Golden Tomato Sauce
- Classic Mornay
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: October 25, 2020 at 12:23 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.
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.
1 thought on “Simple Marinara Sauce Is a Must for the Best Italian Dishes”
This makes a great base for a whole bunch of stuff. Five out of five. I love the extra shots showing the process too!