Learn how to make delicious homemade marinara sauce from scratch, a simple, essential sauce that cooks in 20 minutes.
If you’re looking to add more scratch cooking to your life, I say go straight for the red sauce.
Especially when it comes to making family meals on the fly, it’s a fact that homemade marinara — basic, quickly cooked tomato sauce — is in the top 3 of the most versatile foods you could ever learn how to cook.
Think about it — how many jars of pasta sauce have you bought over the years?
Yes, of course prepared sauce saves time. The caveat is that many brands of jarred marinara sauce are over-processed, and contain stuff you really don’t want or need in your life, like excessive amounts of sugar and sodium.
Other unnecessary ingredients include soybean oil (not so good) and “natural flavors,” whatever that means.
So, let’s keep things easy-peasy for this recipe.
You need four ingredients to make delicious homemade marinara sauce (not counting salt):
- Canned tomatoes
- Olive Oil
This sauce so quick to make it can be simmering away in a pot while the water boils for the pasta.
What’s the difference between marinara and “traditional” tomato sauce?
The difference between the two types of tomato sauces is based on the time they each take to cook and ingredients.
- Marinara is typically a plain tomato sauce that cooks in a short time without meat.
- Traditional sauces — think ragù — are usually slow-cooked and simmered for hours, with meat like beef, veal and pork.
The best tomatoes to use to make marinara sauce:
I’ve been testing and tasting canned tomatoes for a lonnnng time. Because basic marinara is well, so basic, it makes sense to use high-quality canned tomatoes.
You can drive yourself crazy deciding which tomatoes to buy: Imported Italian? Authentic San Marzano tomatoes? Or how about non-Italian San Marzano tomatoes, grown in California?
It does gets confusing. I recommend buying canned whole plum tomatoes or crushed tomatoes to make homemade tomato sauce. They don’t necessarily have to be grown in Italy to be good.
When judging canned tomatoes, look for them to be without hard (unripe) or yellow spots. They should appear bright red in color, not dark red verging on maroon (which I think taste pasty and overcooked). Also check that they smell fresh and fruity, not metallic.
Along with whole tomatoes, tomato puree (also called strained tomatoes or passata) packed in glass jars like this one rounds out the marinara and adds a good saucy texture.
More marinara sauce tips:
Serve marinara as a sauce for chicken, fish and pasta or make a batch of Classic Italian Meatballs.
Double the recipe and store the sauce in glass freezer containers to make life easier.
Optional seasonings to add to the sauce when sweating the onions:
- Crushed red chili pepper
- Dried oregano
- A teaspoon of sugar — depending on the ripeness of your canned tomatoes, adjust the sweetness level with a pinch of sugar.
easy homemade marinara sauce
Yield 5 cups
Plain and simple 20-minute marinara sauce is the basic recipe you'll want to make over and over!
This recipe makes enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 2 garlic clove, finely chopped or pressed
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
- 1 24-ounce jar tomato passata or puree
- Kosher salt
- Put the oil and onion in a large saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook and stir until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute, until fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato puree and 1 or 2 teaspoons salt to the pot. Bring to a simmer, using a wooden spoon to break the tomatoes into smaller pieces (or use an immersion blender for a smoother texture, if you prefer).
- Cook 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve with pasta or meatballs.
- The sauces freezes well. Double the recipe and store in individual containers.
- If you prefer a smoother sauce, puree to the desired consistency with a food processor or handheld stick blender.
Hi there! I’m Karen, a mother of two and a professionally trained cook certified in holistic nutrition.
As the recipe developer, photographer and publisher of Familystyle Food, I share recipes and tips for making easy seasonal meals that are healthy and flavorful.
Have a question or feedback? Get in touch or leave me a comment below — I love hearing from you!