Marinara is an Italian tomato sauce that is usually made with four basic ingredients: Tomatoes, garlic, onions, and herbs. Some cooks might add chopped carrots and celery to this sauce, but my recipe for this quick sauce is made with just these four ingredients, plus olive oil and some seasoning. Marinara is a simple sauce that is delicious over cooked pasta, but it’s also complementary to many other recipes! The origin of Marinara goes back to the 16th Century in Naples when a creative chef put together these simple ingredients and simmered them down to create a versatile sauce, which has now become the delicious base for many other, more involved recipes. There is yet another version of the origin of this sauce, which explains the name by pointing to the fun fact that this sauce was often used by sailors (another word for sailor is mariner) on their freshly caught seafood; hence this sauce, presently known as, “Marinara.”
The most common and also the easiest use of Marinara sauce is for topping different cooked pastas noodles such as spaghetti, cavatappi, shell pasta, and elbow macaroni, only to name a few. The beauty of Marinara sauce is that, it is delicious by itself, as a vegetarian/vegan sauce. It can also be a delicious base that does wonders for ground beef, chicken, seafood, or meatballs to make a variety of meat lovers’ meals.
In less than an hour, with a little extra effort, you will have a healthy and flavorful alternative to the tomato-based sauces from a jar. I’m going to briefly mention a few less obvious recipes, just to let you know what a handy kitchen treasure this simple sauce can be for a busy cook to create many homemade dishes.
This Marinara sauce will add extra flavor to soups and stews instead of plain tomatoes. It may be used in chunky form, or pureed, for a wonderful pizza sauce. If you love shakshuka, try using this sauce as a base and add peppers and your favorite seasonings and poach some eggs in it. Add some heavy cream to create a delightful pink sauce for any pasta dish.
A great make ahead tip is that this Mariana sauce can easily be whipped up in large batches in a matter of minutes and stored in the freezer for couple of months. Just remember to freeze it in small batches because once frozen, it becomes one solid piece that should be thawed and used at its entirety, or used within couple of days after thawing.
The following pictures illustrate some of the steps, please follow the complete recipe for the details:
Peel the fresh tomatoes after dropping them in hot water, then dice them (careful, they get very slippery) and set them aside. In a dutch oven or stockpot saute diced onions and minced garlic in olive oil until the onions are just translucent, don’t brown them. Add herbs and red pepper flakes and saute. You may use chopped fresh or crushed dried basil and oregano leaves.
Add the tomato paste and sugar, stir and saute for 1 minute. Add diced fresh tomatoes bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer without covering the pot. Please note that the photo on the top right shows the level of the sauce at the onset of simmering, and the bottom photo shows the reduced level after the cooking time.
At the end of cooking time the sauce will be reduced and thickened with very little free liquid in the pot. Now the Marinara Sauce is ready to be used in your favorite recipes. I would love to read about all the creative ways that you use this awesome sauce. I will be posting a healthy version of a popular Italian dish using this Marinara Sauce soon! Let’s get cooking!!
Cooking time: About 1 hour
Yield: 3-4 cups
- 1 ½ medium yellow onions, peeled and diced medium (about 2 cups)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 ½ tsp)
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp crushed dried basil leaves, OR 3 tsp chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 tsp crushed dried Greek oregano leaves, OR 3 tsp chopped fresh Greek oregano leaves
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 TBSP tomato paste
- 3 ½ pounds fresh ripe tomatoes (about 5 large), peeled. (please see notes for the canned option)
- ¾ tsp kosher salt
- To peel the fresh tomatoes: Use the tip of a sharp knife to score a shallow (X) in the bottom of the tomatoes. Place them in a large bowl and pour enough hot boiling water to cover them. Let them sit for 2 minutes, then peel away the skins. The tomatoes will be very slippery; carefully medium dice them with a sharp knife.
- Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or a medium stockpot over medium low heat. Add the diced onions and minced garlic, and sauté until the onions are tender and translucent. Do not brown.
- Add the herbs and crushed red pepper flakes and sauté for 3 minutes until the herbs are fragrant.
- Add 1 TBSP tomato paste and 1 tsp sugar to the onion mixture. Sauté for couple of minutes.
- Add ¾ tsp kosher salt (skip this step if using canned tomatoes), and diced tomatoes.
- Bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and slow boil without covering the pot for 35-45 minutes until the sauce is reduced and thickened with very little free liquid in the pot. Stir several times to make sure the sauce does stick.
- Use this Homemade Marinara Sauce over spaghetti as a vegetarian/vegan meal. Alternatively, for the meat lovers, use it as the base sauce with ground beef, Italian meatballs, chicken, or seafood.
*If using the canned tomatoes, leave out the tomato paste and salt (you may add the salt later to taste)