Homemade Marinara Sauce

5 from 6 votes

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This simple, smooth marinara sauce recipe is the perfect balance of tangy tomatoes with just the right amount of seasoning.

Spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce on plate with salad and garlic bread.

Homemade marinara sauce is basically the backbone of Italian-American cooking. Not a super quick sauce, not a slow-simmered red sauce, gravy or ragu; it’s a very simple tomato-based sauce. The seasonings aren’t too intense, and the garlic is crushed and gently simmered in the sauce for a more delicate flavor.

Marinara sauce is often served with spaghetti or other noodles in the most straightforward pasta with tomato sauce dish ever (most kids love pasta with marinara sauce). But, you can also use it as a dipping sauce (think Fried Calamari or Zucchini Fritti). And there are few things better than dipping a hunk of Italian bread into a little bowl of warmed or room temperature marinara sauce (or try using garlic bread!).

When served over pasta, this homemade marinara sauce recipe is simple perfection. All you need for an easy weeknight meal is a bowl of pasta with marinara sauce and a green salad, like a Caesar Salad or a Spinach Salad with Fennel. You can also serve it with other sides like Sautéed Broccoli Rabe or as a side with other Italian dishes like Crispy Baked Eggplant Parmesan, Chicken Francese, or Chicken Milanese.

Homemade Marinara Sauce with spaghetti on brown plate.

Homemade Marinara Sauce Recipe: This simple, smooth sauce is the perfect balance of tangy tomatoes with just the right amount of seasoning.

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What Is the Difference Between Marinara Sauce and Pasta or Spaghetti Sauce?

Pasta or spaghetti sauce may mean a few different things (and it means different things to different people, depending on what things were called when you grew up!).

Both marinara sauce and spaghetti sauce are tomato-based. Many spaghetti or pasta sauces are chunky or might have meat or chopped vegetables in them. Some pasta or spaghetti sauces are slow-cooked and can have robust seasonings. Marinara sauce takes a fairly short time to simmer, has simple seasonings, and is usually fairly smooth and mildly seasoned.

Stirring pot of homemade marinara sauce with wooden spoon.

Marinara Sauce Ingredients

The ingredients are almost radically simple.

  • Olive oil – A generous amount of olive oil adds flavor and a silky mouthfeel to the sauce.
  • Garlic – Dial the amount of garlic and oregano up or down as you wish. Crushing the garlic instead of chopping it allows the allium to gently flavor the sauce without the taste of garlic becoming too overpowering. The cloves will mellow or soften as they cook but still have a sharp bite if you eat one. You can remove them from the sauce before serving it with pasta, or leave it in and let your diners know that there are chunks of garlic in the sauce to be enjoyed (or avoided!).
  • Crushed tomatoes – Use canned crushed tomatoes in their juice rather than in puree, which will make the sauce thicker. There are so many brands to choose from. If you can find San Marzano tomatoes, those have a sweeter, richer, deeper flavor, and your sauce will reflect that difference.
  • Dried oregano – The quintessential herb used in so many Italian tomato-based sauces.
  • Red pepper flakes – Just a pinch will give the sauce a bit of heat and kick.
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper – Always!
  • Sugar – Adding just half a teaspoon enhances the sweetness and counterbalances the acidity of the tomatoes.

How to Make Marinara Sauce

  1. Sauté the garlic: In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 5 minutes.
Sauteing garlic in pan on stove.
  1. Add remaining ingredients and simmer: Add the tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes (if using), salt, pepper, and sugar. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and continue to simmer the sauce for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Making Marinara Sauce in pan on stove.
  1. Serve with pasta or as a dipping sauce.
Dipping zucchini fritti in bowl of Homemade Marinara Sauce.

Cooking Tips

  • When sautéeing the garlic, stir frequently and press the cloves down into the oil, until the garlic is light golden brown. Adjust the heat if the garlic seems to be browning too quickly; it should just turn golden. If the heat is too high, it can quickly burn.
  • Serve pasta with marinara sauce with some freshly grated Parmesan, chopped fresh basil, and/or some additional red pepper flakes for sprinkling.
  • If you are using the marinara as a dipping sauce, you can serve it either at room temperature or warm.

FAQs

What Pasta Goes Best With Marinara Sauce?

The overriding consensus is…spaghetti! The smooth sauce coats the thin strands very nicely. But truly, any shape of pasta would be fantastic, so don’t feel wedded to spaghetti. Try other long, thin pasta like angel hair (vermicelli), linguine, or fettuccine, or chunkier shapes like rigatoni, ziti, or penne.

Why is it called marinara sauce?

Marinara translates to “seafaring” and is also often interpreted as “sailor style” or “mariner style.” The sauce originated in Naples, Italy. Apparently, Italian mariners used to eat this dish on their long ocean voyages.

Why add sugar to marinara sauce?

Adding a bit of sugar helps amplify the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and counterbalances the acidity at the same time. A little bit really makes a difference. Many jarred tomato sauces have lots of extra sugar added, which is just not necessary. When you are making homemade marinara sauce, a pinch of sugar is all you need to smooth out the flavor of the sauce.

Marinara Sauce Substitutions

You can use marinara sauce in any recipe that calls for tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce. Marinara sauce is vegetarian, which is helpful if you are making a dish that calls for spaghetti sauce and you want to keep the dish meat-free. You can also use the marinara sauce in any Italian or Mediterranean recipe that calls for canned crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce. Just know that there are some additional seasonings in the marinara sauce, so adjust any added seasonings accordingly.

Fork in bowl of spaghetti with fresh marinara sauce.

Storage

Marinara will keep for up to 5 days in a sealed container or covered pot in the fridge.

Freeze marinara sauce for up to 6 months. When you pour it into a container or freezer-proof bag for the freezer, make sure to leave about 1/2 inch of headroom in the container or bag. The sauce will expand slightly as it freezes, and you don’t want the container to pop open. Defrost it on the counter for several hours, or in the fridge overnight.

What to Serve With Pasta and Marinara Sauce

Bowl of homemade marinara with spaghetti alongside lettuce and garlic bread.

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5 from 6 votes

Marinara Sauce

This simple, smooth marinara sauce recipe is the perfect balance of tangy tomatoes with just the right amount of seasoning.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 6 People
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Ingredients 

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes in their juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Pinch red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 pound hot cooked spaghetti (or other pasta; optional)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (to serve; optional)

Instructions 

  • In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, pressing the garlic down into the oil, until the garlic is light golden brown (adjust the heat if the garlic seems to be browning too quickly; it should just turn golden). Add the tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes (if using), salt, pepper, and sugar. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and continue to simmer the sauce for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Serve tossed with the hot cooked pasta of your choice (spaghetti is the most popular pasta pairing for marinara!) perhaps topped with some freshly grated Parmesan, chopped fresh basil, or some additional red pepper flakes for sprinkling. Or use as a dipping sauce. If used as a dipping sauce, you can serve it either at room temperature or warm.

Notes

  • When sautéeing the garlic, stir frequently and press the cloves down into the oil, until the garlic is light golden brown. Adjust the heat if the garlic seems to be browning too quickly; it should just turn golden. If the heat is too high, it can quickly burn.
  • Serve pasta with marinara sauce with some freshly grated Parmesan, chopped fresh basil, and/or some additional red pepper flakes for sprinkling.
  • If you are using the marinara sauce as a dipping sauce, you can serve it either at room temperature or warm.

Nutrition

Calories: 531kcal, Carbohydrates: 77g, Protein: 14g, Fat: 20g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 13g, Sodium: 355mg, Potassium: 960mg, Fiber: 8g, Sugar: 14g, Vitamin A: 575IU, Vitamin C: 25mg, Calcium: 117mg, Iron: 5mg
Like this recipe? Rate and comment below!

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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3 Comments

  1. Eiizabeth says:

    So easy to make and weeknight dinner staple!

  2. Swathi says:

    very nice

  3. Amy Liu Dong says:

    Oh my, this looks so yummy! Thanks for sharing this with us.