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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Start with a Cold Pan

The first thing you’ll notice about this basic marinara 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) produces a milder garlic flavor because the flavor is extracted from the garlic into the oil slowly. Three tablespoons of olive oil may seem like a lot and you can cut down on the olive oil, but it adds a ton of 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.

Crushed or Diced Tomatoes for Marinara

Whether to use crushed or diced tomatoes is often just a matter of personal preference. I personally use crushed tomatoes in a basic marinara. On those occasions when I want some chunks of tomato in my sauce, I will dice whole canned tomatoes by hand. Many brands of canned diced tomatoes are actually treated so that the chunks of tomatoes can stand up to simmering without breaking down too much. That’s not a problem if you want those chunks of tomatoes, but using canned whole tomatoes and dicing them yourself is ideal if you want the tomatoes to break down as they cook.

Using fresh tomatoes is certainly an option, but be sure to use ripe tomatoes and peel them first. 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.

Simmer Marinara Gently

Pay attention to the heat under the pan while it simmers and watch that it doesn’t boil. If  the heat is too high and the sauce boils, the sauce will lose too much liquid and become thick and bitter. If this happens by accident, a little water will loosen the sauce and a little sugar can counteract the bitterness.

How Long to Simmer Marinara

A marinara sauce doesn’t need a long simmering time. Just 20 to 30 minutes is absolutely enough. Any longer than that and you do run the risk of it becoming more bitter. So, start with a cold pan, use good quality canned or fresh tomatoes and a simmer gently for just 20 minutes and you’ll end up with a delicious marinara that you can enjoy alone over pasta or as an ingredient in another recipe. 

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Basic Marinara

  • Prep Time: 10 m
  • Cook Time: 30 m
  • Total Time: 40 m
  • Servings:
    8

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  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 (2)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!

  2. 5 stars
    A simple and delicious recipe! I never knew about the size of garlic pieces affecting the sauce flavor until Meredith’s tip. Thank you Meredith! I love so many of your recipes. I grew tomatoes and herbs for the first time this summer and fell in love with homemade sauce. We plan on growing more next summer so we can freeze or can it. Thanks for a wonderful recipe!

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