How to/ Basics,  Recipes,  Sauces

How to Make Basic Marinara Sauce

Marinara Sauce
Marinara Sauce

There are as many recipes for tomato pasta sauce as there are Italian grandmothers. My Sicilian grandmother used to make her sauce every year from the tomatoes in her garden. Much of the time the sauce had meat in it but I don’t think it was ever exactly the same twice.  A child of the depression, my grandmother would throw into the pot whatever she had on hand; scraps of a roast, pieces of cooked pork, sausages, rinds of parmesan cheese. You never knew what you’d find in the sauce, but it was always good.

This is really a base pasta sauce recipe, meant to adapt to whatever you want it to be. Like meat in your sauce? Add a tough cut and let it cook down to make a Bolognese. Want to keep it vegetarian? Enjoy the recipe as it is or add some diced up vegetables. Like Pasta alla Norma? Add red chili flakes and diced eggplant to the sauce. Mushrooms or meatballs, it’s all up to you.

While the photo shows the sauce in a jar, I didn’t can this sauce. There are only so many ways to photograph tomato sauce, and stacks of tupperware just don’t make that pretty of a picture. But the sauce does freeze well, so you can enjoy the taste of freshly made sauce a few months from now, once the weather turns cold.

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How to Make Marinara Sauce Using Fresh Tomatoes

Simple recipe for making homemade marinara sauce from scratch using fresh tomatoes.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time3 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 15 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: marinara, sauce, Tomatoes
Servings: 2 quarts

Ingredients

  • 2 each yellow onions peeled and diced (about 2 cups diced)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic minced (about 2 Tbsp)
  • 2 Tbsp dried herbs basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc* mixed, total
  • 1/2 cup red wine***
  • 12 cups peeled and seeded fresh ripe tomatoes**
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • In a large soup pot, heat up the olive oil. Add the onions and cook slowly, on medium heat until they start to caramelize. They should be evenly brown and soft. Cooking them this way brings out the natural sweetness in the onions. Add the garlic and dried herbs and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Deglaze the pan with the 1/2 cup of red wine and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and their juice and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook on low, stirring occasionally for at least 2 hours, or longer depending on the water content of the tomatoes. The sauce should be thick with much of the water evaporated to concentrate the flavor (sometimes I let it cook 4-5 hours over a very low flame). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Notes

*Dried herbs hold their flavor much longer than fresh herbs so when slow cooking. If you want to use fresh herbs, add them at then end of the cooking process, just before serving. Use which ever of those herbs you prefer for a total of 2 Tablespoons.
**Start with 4-5 lbs of fresh, ripe, tomatoes. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, you can use 2 (28 oz) cans of crushed tomatoes, 1 (28 oz) can of whole tomatoes and 1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste. When I use canned tomatoes, I always add a couple tablespoons of sugar to counteract the acidity of the canned tomatoes. I find I don’t have to add any sugar with the ripe tomatoes from my garden.
***Many of the comments below have asked “Do I have to use red wine?” The answer is no, but it does add to the flavor and if you’re going to have wine with dinner anyway, or have an open bottle, throw some in!
Cooking marinara sauce
Onions and Sauce.

Other ideas for the end-of summer-glut of tomatoes:

How to Peel and Seed Fresh Tomatoes
Fresh Tomato Soup
Slow Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup
Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Parmesan

Amendment:
I’ve had a few people comment (some of them not posted here because they were not nice) that the name “Marinara” refers to a tomato sauce with seafood in it. Just about every definition I could find disputes this. I hope the information below clears up any confusion.

The New Food Lover’s Companion defines Marinara as “A highly seasoned Italian tomato sauce made with onions, garlic, and oregano. It’s used with pasta and some meats.” Epicurious uses this same definition.

Even more interesting from a historical perspective was this one from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-marinara-sauce.htm
“Marinara sauce originated with sailors in Naples in the 16th century, after the Spaniards introduced the tomato to their neighboring countries. The word marinara is derived from marinaro, which is Italian for “of the sea.” Because of this, many people mistakenly believe marinara sauce includes some type of fish or seafood.
However, marinara sauce loosely translates as “the sauce of the sailors,” because it was a meatless sauce extensively used on sailing ships before modern refrigeration techniques were invented. The lack of meat and the sheer simplicity of making tasty marinara sauce were particularly appealing to the cooks on board sailing ships, because the high acid content of the tomatoes and the absence of any type of meat fat resulted in a sauce which would not easily spoil.”

Finally, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/marinara defines it as:
Main Entry: mar·i·na·ra Pronunciation: ˌmer-ə-ˈner-ə, –ˈnär-
Etymology: Italian (alla) marinara, literally, in sailor style. Date: 1948.
: made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices <marinara sauce>; also : served with marinara sauce <spaghetti marinara>

372 Comments

  • Michele

    We had an old Italian guy come by one day when we were making sauce, and he said we should put some of our fresh brown figs (from our huge tree) in the sauce. so we did, breaking them up as they heated through. They gave a real
    meaty texture to the sauce, and an intriguing depth of flavor,

      • Pita

        Wow Tommy?! Really, why even say that? Who are YOU to ask? Cooking is an art a gift… Not something a person has a right to question 😉 to an extent. It is a great recipe! So what it doesn’t have a long process or 18 ingredients. That is not what is about.

  • nauri

    This sounds like a recipe that might work for me. I have canned gallons of tomato juice simply because I haven’t found a good tomato sauce or marinara that sounded good. This one sounds like my hubby will like it very much! Thanks!

    • formerchef

      Nauri-
      Is it just juice or have you canned whole tomatoes? You really need whole or chopped tomatoes for the right texture. If it’s already pureed, you might try making my tomato soup recipe with it.

      • nauri

        I’ve always resorted to juice because I could never find a sauce-type recipe I thought I’d want to try. Now, I am going to try this recipe. If it’s a hit with hubby, I’ll be making this and seeing how well it cans. We use a lot of the juice, but he wishes I’d make marinara sauce – now, I can =)

  • patsy

    I love making pasta sauce to keep in the freezer. The one I usually make uses canned tomatoes since I end up making it in the winter months. I really do need to use some of the fabulous tomatoes that are available this time of year for sauce. Great recipe and love your blog.

    • Barbara

      Try this easy way to save your fresh tomatoes: freeze them whole! Take out whatever amount you need for your sauce and put them in whole and still frozen. The skins will slip off in a couple minutes (just as if you’d blanched them) and float to the top, and you’re left with only the core and the skins to fish out of the sauce.

  • Marissa

    I’m in the process of simmering down my sauce so I jumped online to find a recipe to double check if what I was doing (without a recipe) was correct. . . oh goodie I’m doing it right and now I’ll print this out so I’ll remember for next time. I appreciate the star note about dried herbs vs. fresh. Ciao

  • D Maddox

    From your basic marina sauce, you get so many ways to use it. I was one of the first things I taught my kids to make. With that tool in their belt they can make just about anything. This version is very close to mine.

    Thanks
    Doug

  • Velva

    This is a great marinara sauce recipe! We all know that everyone should have a great recipe for sauce in their recipe file. 🙂

    I smiled when I read your blogpost about wanting your food blog to be successful and watching every comment, every hit, etc. I can totally relate!

    You have a great blog. I will be back.

  • lo

    Glad to see that someone else sees the absolute value in caramelizing the onions for a good marinara — totally worth the effort. And so timely… with all those great tomatoes out there on the vine!

  • Wings

    I love cooking and experimenting, rarely follow recipes and people always rave about my cooking. In all that time, however, I have never made marinara sauce from scratch…for some reason, I found the thought intimidating. I would instead buy something like a 5-cheese jarred sauce and dress it up the way I wanted. I’m going to use your recipe this weekend, however – not only does this sound simple, but your matter-of-fact approach in your writing gave me just the boost I needed to get off my duff and do this. So thanks! Btw, I arrived here through the StumbleUpon network, and I’ll definitely be thumbing this up and passing it on to others. Great site!

    • Barbara

      As I’ve aged, I have container gardens. Easy. Just remember, they’ll need watering every day, sometimes twice daily. Now you can have your fresh tomatoes. Smile.

  • Chef

    Please correct your post
    this is a Napoli or napolitana sauce (Italian tomato based sauce)
    Marinara refers to a sauce with seafood in it (usually tomato but not always. Often served as a pasta marinara)

    • formerchef

      I’ve put an addendum at the bottom of the post. I’ve never seen Marinara sauce served with seafood, but yours is the second such comment I’ve received so I thought I’d do a little research.

      • Chef

        The term marinara came to mean a tomato sauce (in America at least) quite some years ago
        hence your not having seen it served with seafood
        My self and many other chefs are trying to revert back to using the original meanings
        of the terms “Marinara: Seafood” and “Napoli/Napolitana: Italian Tomato based sauce”
        It kind of irks me when i order a Pasta Marinara, expecting seafood, and don’t get it

        I appreciate your help in re-educating the food industry

        • Tara

          formerchef – unfortunately it obviously irks some people… don’t let them bother you, this marinara recipe looks awesome! Personally I’d be totally disappointed if I ordered marinara and found seafood in it ’cause here in America when we order marinara the vast majority expects a tomato and herb based sauce. Keep on keeping on, formerchef, and I look forward to eating my marinara sauce tonight 🙂

          • Wil

            I’ve lived here in Europe for 14yrs, and what I’ve discovered is that Marinara is dependent upon the region in Italy. If you ask for Marinara in Naples, you get a light tomato sauce (my own description), which consists of cherry or olive tomatoes briefly braised in olive oil along with some herbs. In Sicily, there is no tomato paste or stewed tomatoes; there is aglio olio (olive oil and usually a lot of fresh garlic and herbs) along with sardines (or some sort of seafood).

        • Ali

          Hi,

          You don’t have to post this but I was curious on the comments about the word marinara. When I translated the word marinara from Italian to English here is what I got.

          adj. seafaring, seagoing

          I have worked in Italian restaurants and never knew this until this morning. Pretty interesting. The English language is always going to be the most difficult to grasp in my opinion.

          • formerchef

            Hi Ali-
            Yes, that’s right, it does mean seafaring. And it seems the sauce itself has come to mean different things in different places (ie either a sauce influenced by seafarers who had nothing more than tomatoes, or a sauce with seafood). I enjoy word entomology, and yes, English can be challenging!

  • mdilloway1

    De-lish! My mouth is watering.

    RE: Amendment: while studying abroad and visiting Venice with a large group of students, we hit a local restaurant and our vegetarian friend ordered marinara. Sure enough, it came loaded with seafood. “Sorry– I thought marinara was plain red sauce,” she said. “Why does it have seafood in it?”

    The proprietor scolded her. “Marinara! Mare means sea! Of course it has seafood in it!”

    So be forewarned if you ever go to Italy– order marinara, get seafood, like the other commenter Chef noted. Order Napoli.

    • formerchef

      Interesting! I’m actually going to Rome next month and had already planned on trying to resolve this debate while there. I’m still not sure there is a “right” answer. I have a feeling it just comes down to what it means to you in your experience.

  • Beth

    I read your comments. I was looking at this recipe to see how to make this sauce and leave out the seafood! So…thanks! I for one, am glad to see it! Thumbs up in Stumble upon!

    ~Beth

  • Myra

    I made this Marinara this weekend using tomatoes from my garden and my family really enjoyed it — especially the kids, since they were eating sauce made from the tomatoes they planted by seed.

    Out of laziness, I didn’t peel them. Those little skins were a pain to eat — will not make that mistake twice.

    I’ve also enjoyed the historical perspective on the name “Marinara.” Food history is fascinating.

    Thanks!

  • David

    I’ll be trying this recipe next time I can.

    Regarding the marinara debate, I don’t know where these guys are coming from, but Marinara does NOT refer to a seafood based dish. There was a sailor who’s name was Marinaro or something like that and he typically added shrimp and clams to his recipe, however those were addendum’s to the original recipe.

    Hope that clears up some of the drama that you’re receiving!

  • C Genteman

    Hello Former Chef,
    Your sauce looks and sounds delicious. Do you know if I need to modify the cooking time if I am planning on “canning” it (25 min @11lbs pressure)? I just finished picking my toms off the vine – another successful garden season!
    Cheers, CG of Washington

  • protogere

    You are spot on – authentic marinara is a meatless sauce – this includes sauce devoid of fish. It is purely vegetables and herbs.

  • Enzo

    You are right about this sauce, and people who thinks it must have seafood in it is wrong, cmon… just because of the name mar-inara?.

    As you note at the beginning of your post, this is the very basic foundation of a marinara sauce. From here people can enhance it in whatever direction desired and create their own versions depending on what it will be served on.

  • Dan W.

    Good ideas, glad to use them. To reduce the acid in my sauce, I use 1/4 tsp baking soda. Also, rather than white sugar, try brown sugar. I have also tossed in 1 whole large carrot (peeled).

  • cannjensen

    I am so glad i found your blog and recipe, it looks better than a lot of the other recipes I found. It’s cooking on my stove as I write this and will be used on pizza tomorrow night. Thanks for sharing.

  • John

    Wonderful stuff… Made over 1lb (enough for a lasagne dish I was trying to create), using canned chopped tomatoes and a small can of paste (or puree as we call it in England..lol..).

    I couldn’t help myself, I just had to add a teaspoon of chilli powder to the mix which certainly gave the lasagne a little bit of ‘bite’.

    Still used around 4 fl oz of good Italian wine though – and I must confess that considerably more ended-up inside me…. 🙂

    Will definitely make 2 maybe 3lbs next time, use some and freeze the rest….

    Thanks for sharing this great recipe.

    Best wishes, John

  • Elliott

    Just wondering – would this sauce be suitable for use as a pizza sauce too… maybe if blended to make it smoother? Thanks for the recipe – I’m planning on using it this week!

    • formerchef

      Yes, it would be great on pizza. I’ve used it myself before on home made pizzas. I don’t even puree it, just leave it a little chunky. 🙂

      • Zach

        I’m glad to hear that, I was reading this and wondering if it would be good as pizza sauce as well. I think I’m going to try this tomorrow afternoon and take it to my sister’s house (they make pizza practically every weekend). From the sound of it, it makes great marinara sauce. I hope it makes an equally wonderful pizza sauce.

  • Eric

    One more question – and maybe a dumb one. I’m not too familiar when it comes to cooking with alcohol – or alcohol in general. We have some Burgundy left over. Could I use that in place of the Red Wine????

    • formerchef

      In reality, you could use any kind of wine, but the Burgundy is red, no? Even if it’s a white burgundy, go ahead. Just don’t use anything labeled “cooking wine.” Those are loaded with salt and are horrible.

  • Vivek

    In the middle of pasta making I noticed I was completely out of Marinara – I followed these simple techniques as explained in this blog and to my suprise the final product come out fantastic. I will propabably never ‘buy’ a canned marinara product again!

  • Maria

    Thank you, Former Chef, for the great “How to Peel Tomatoes” process, as well as the Marinara recipe! My Mom was a wonderful cook and used to core and peel tomatoes, and cook a wonderful marinara sauce, but I couldn’t remember how she did it! My mother in law gave us a bunch of fresh tomatoes…some not so pretty, and a few nibbled on!…and I was worried about how to use them. Your photos of the very pretty and some not-so-pretty tomatoes from your garden, and how to core and peel them…and then use them in sauce was just what I needed! Thank you so much! Instead of dreading the process, now I am looking forward to the peeling, sqishy seeding, and making the sauce! Thank you! I plan to freeze the sauce in Ball Freezer containers. Should I refrigerate the sauce to cool it before putting it in the freezer containers? Thank you for a very helpful blog!

    • formerchef

      Maria-
      You are very welcome. Yes, you should always cool whatever you want to freeze before putting it in the freezer. I’m not sure about the Ball containers, but you might let the sauce cool just a bit (so it’s not boiling hot) and then put it in the containers and put them in the refrigerator. It will cool faster in smaller containers than in a large pot.

      • Maria

        Thank you for your helpful response!
        (I was going to attempt to can the sauce, but when I was at the store to buy the glass jars, etc., I saw the plastic (BPH-free!) Ball Freezer containers and thought they would be easier. They look like Tupperware, but are taller and round, like a tall cottage cheese/ricotta container, and I thought they might work well for sauce. )
        Again, thank you! I look forward to reading your blog as I continue to learn to cook!

  • Alicia

    I will be attempting to make this with fresh roma tomatoes from my garden and canning it to enjoy the freshness throughout the fall. I hope it turns out well, the recipe sounds easy enough.

  • Scott

    If I have a food mill, can I run the tomatoes through there to remove skin and seeds? I’ve always done that with the canned ones but, as you know, they are already cooked a little and peeled, so maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree here.