Basic Marinara

A simple marinara sauce should be part of every cook's repertoire. The key to a good marinara sauce is starting with good ingredients.

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The first thing you’ll notice about this recipe is that it does not call for the pan to be pre-heated. Heating the oil and garlic with the pan (instead of pre-heating the pan) allows a more gentle garlic taste to flavor the oil. You may find three tablespoons of olive oil a lot to use. You can cut down on the olive oil, but it adds flavor as well as a smooth texture to the finished sauce. If flavor is at the forefront of my mind, I always use the full 3 tablespoons. If I’m thinking of my waistline, however, I tend to cut back.

Marinara Sauce in a large saute pan with a wooden spoon.

Whether to use crushed or canned diced tomatoes is often just a matter of personal preference. I use crushed tomatoes in a basic marinara. When I want actual chunks of tomato in my sauce, I go for the diced variety, as you’ll see in the subsequent recipes. Using fresh tomatoes is certainly an option, but be sure to use ripe tomatoes. Making a marinara is a great way to use up tomatoes at the end of the season if you have a surplus on hand, and if you properly can or freeze the sauce, you will be able to enjoy them well into winter.

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Long Fusilli with marinara sauce in a white bowl with spoon and fork.


Pay attention to the heat under the pan while it simmers. You don’t want the heat too high and the sauce boiling. A boiled sauce will loose too much liquid and be thick and bitter. If this happens by accident, add a little water to loosen the sauce.

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Basic Marinara

  • Prep Time: 10 m
  • Cook Time: 30 m
  • Total Time: 40 m
  • Servings:


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic sliced
  • pinch hot red pepper flakes
  • 28 ounce crushed canned tomatoes, OR 6 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 3 sprigs each fresh parsley and basil optional
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar or balsamic vinegar optional
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or basil


  1. Add the olive oil, garlic and hot red pepper flakes to a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven, and then heat the pan over medium heat. Cook gently until the garlic is fragrant, but do not brown.
  2. Add the tomatoes and fresh herb sprigs (if using) and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and sugar or balsamic vinegar if desired (you may find it needs no sweetening.) Remove the herb sprigs and stir in the chopped fresh parsley or basil.

  3. Serve over pasta or in any number of dishes.
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Comments (1)Post a Reply

  1. 4 stars
    During #quarantine2020 I was blessed to received two deliveries of grocery & produce by some very dear friends. It had a TON of Roma tomatoes (my fave food!) I had been wanting to make this marinara a long time, so this is grocery delivery made it possible. This recipe: The taste, the smell is amazing!!! Very simple ingredients; I used a very high end version of olive oil which added to the richness. I followed it explicitly and am so happy I did. The only downside is I wish I had MORE tomatoes to make a whole half gallon to freeze. Well done Meredith!

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