Learn how to make marinara sauce, the easiest and most versatile of tomato sauces. Use it for pasta and pizza, on top of veggies, as a dip, and to give your meals a fresh and tasty kick.
We'll show you how to make a delicious and authentic homemade marinara sauce with simple ingredients in less than 20 minutes.
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American-Italian marinara sauce is probably the most beloved tomato sauce in the world thanks to its bright and aromatic taste, simplicity, and ease of preparation.
You can make it with a handful of pantry staples in a skillet, letting it simmer for as long as it takes your pasta to boil.
Pasta with marinara sauce is the ultimate last-minute dinner recipe and the best ace up your sleeve when you are short on time but still want to cook a delicious meal.
But marinara sauce is not only excellent on pasta! Try it with our veggie meatballs, on breaded eggplants, to make eggplant parmigiana, on pizza, as a dip with zucchini fritters, and much more.
And you know what? You can use this as the base recipe for any tomato-based sauce you can think of.
- More red pepper flakes and chopped flat-leaf parsley to make a spicy arrabbiata sauce,
- Olives and capers to make a mean puttanesca sauce,
- Roasted eggplant cubes to make a Sicilian pasta alla norma,
- Lentils to turn it into a quick version of our hearty lentil bolognese,
- Beans to make a fulfilling and nutritious Italian bean stew to serve with pasta or polenta,
- Tofu meatballs to make a meatballs sub or spaghetti with meatballs,
- Sautéed mushrooms to have a quick irresistible mushroom sauce.
The list could go on, but you get the point. This marinara recipe is the one sauce you've got to master to become a tomato-sauce ninja!
Check out the "serving suggestions" chapter below to get more ideas.
The best tomatoes to make the marinara sauce are canned tomatoes, more specifically, Italian imported whole peeled tomatoes.
If you can find San Marzano tomatoes, it's even better.
There are many brands of imported Italian tomatoes in the US and western supermarkets; finding one won't be a problem (Mutti, Cirio, and Cento are all great options).
Other valid alternatives are diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes, but in this case, we recommend adding a tablespoon of tomato paste to thicken the sauce.
We don't recommend tomato passata or tomato puree because they are too smooth for marinara.
Can you make marinara sauce with fresh tomatoes?
You can make an excellent fresh tomato sauce, but it won't get as rich and creamy. It'll taste amazing but different from authentic marinara sauce.
We use water to rinse the can of tomatoes and add it to the sauce. Nothing gets wasted in Italian home cooking.
Extra virgin olive oil is best for this sauce. It's richer and more aromatic than generic olive oil.
We use it to fry the garlic and onion and build a delicious flavor base (soffritto in Italian).
Onion and Garlic
Fresh garlic cloves are a must, finely chopped or minced.
Onion is optional in marinara sauce, but we recommend it to add extra sweetness and flavor to the sauce.
There is no celery or carrots in marinara sauce.
When you eat homemade marinara sauce, you should be able to taste the oregano.
Marinara sauce originated in southern Italy, either around Naples or Sicily. In both those places, big bouquets or dried oregano are pantry staples used liberally in most recipes.
If you don't have dried oregano at home, a good alternative is dried thyme or Italian seasoning as a last resort.
Fresh basil is optional and most probably a modern addition to the sauce.
The original recipe was invented by Italian Sailors - "marinai" in Italian - hence the name marinara.
Being at sea for many days, they only had dried herbs on board, so there's no way they could add fresh basil.
However, we like to add a few basil leaves as they infuse even more aroma to the sauce and are an integral part of modern Italian home cooking. We don't recommend other fresh herbs for this recipe.
Salt and pepper
Tomato sauce needs salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Red pepper flakes
We like to add a pinch of red pepper flakes or one small dried chili pepper to the sauce.
However, don't add too much of it, or you'll turn marinara into an arrabbiata sauce, another delicious and spicy Italian tomato sauce.
Add olive oil and finely chopped onion to a large, wide nonstick, cast iron, or stainless steel skillet. Fry on medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, finely chop or grate the garlic and add it to the pan. Fry for another minute.
Optionally, add a pinch of red pepper flakes to make the sauce spicy.
Tip: use a large skillet instead of a narrow and tall pot. The sauce will cook faster, splash less, and build more flavor.
Add the canned whole peeled tomatoes. Rinse the can with a cup of water and add it to the pan.
Crush the tomatoes with a fork, then season them with salt, pepper, and dried oregano.
Tip: want a super smooth marinara? Blend it with an immersion blender, although we recommend crushing it with a fork for a more authentic texture.
Simmer on medium heat for 15 to 30 minutes or until you reach your desired consistency. Stir the sauce occasionally.
The longer you let it simmer, the thicker and richer the sauce gets.
Tip: if you serve it with pasta, you can boil the water and cook the pasta while the sauce simmer.
A few minutes before turning the heat off, add the basil. Tear it up with your hands, stir, and turn the heat off.
Taste and adjust for salt and pepper; your marinara sauce is ready.
Quick and Easy Pasta
You can make this two ways. First, boil the pasta al dente, drain it, transfer it to a plate, and apply a generous ladleful of sauce on top.
This is a great way to use it as a quick spaghetti sauce. You can add grated parmesan or our non-dairy parmesan on top.
You can use marinara sauce with any pasta, including spaghetti, ziti, rotini, fusilli, penne, rigatoni, gluten-free pasta, and even zucchini noodles.
The second way is to drain the pasta very al dente, then finish cooking it in the pan with the marinara sauce for another minute, adding a ladleful of reserved pasta cooking water to make it creamy.
Yes, with our tofu meatballs, you can have meatballs without the meat. This recipe is quick and easy to make with very simple ingredients.
It's cozy, incredibly tasty, satisfying, and delicious on top of a warm pasta dish.
This meatballs sandwich is perfect for a quick lunch, and you can make it with our tofu meatballs and marinara sauce leftovers.
We make this with freshly baked baguette (the one you can get frozen and bake at home). I have no words to describe this.
Breaded eggplants are tasty, crunchy, and easy to make, perfect with this marinara sauce.
You can serve the sauce drizzled on top of the eggplants like eggplant parmesan, and even serve the eggplants on top of pasta to make this a complete meal.
Use this sauce to make our delicious eggplant parmigiana. We use oven-baked eggplants instead of fried ones.
Parmigiana is a classic eggplant Italian recipe served as a starter, main, or side dish. It's a huge crowd-pleaser for us; we are sure you'll love it too.
Sicilian Pasta alla Norma
Pasta alla Norma is our favorite eggplant pasta ever. It's easy to make, with roasted or air-fried eggplant cubes coated in a rich marinara sauce. It's a must-try for pasta lovers.
As a dip
Serve it with our easy and flavorful zucchini fritters (recipe coming soon).
We make them with and without eggs so the whole family can enjoy them. They are so yummy when you dip them in this delicious marinara sauce.
Or Italian risotto cakes or fried rice balls that you can make with minimal effort with leftover tomato risotto or mushroom risotto.
They are crunchy outside and warm and cozy inside. You can deep fry them or cook them in your air-fryer for excellent results.
Make Ahead & Storage
Make Ahead: this marinara recipe is excellent to make ahead because it keeps well in the fridge, and its flavor gets richer on the second day.
Refrigerator: store in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap, or in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 - 4 days.
Freezer: marinara freezes well. Let the sauce cool down completely, transfer it to a freezer-friendly container (we use a small mason jar), and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge or the microwave.
Reheat: warm the sauce on the stovetop or in the microwave. We recommend adding fresh basil as you reheat the sauce.
Other Uses of Marinara Sauce
You can level up your meals with a good marinara sauce in so many ways! You can also use marinara as a base sauce for other delightful recipes:
- To make a vegetarian lasagna paired with our vegan white sauce.
- Use as a dipping sauce for breadsticks and crunchy crostini.
- As a pizza sauce for homemade mini pizzas, focaccia, eggplant pizza, or flatbread pizza.
- To make a zucchini sauce for pasta, by adding air-fried zucchini or roasted zucchini.
- Instead of pizzaiola sauce for this delicious pan-fried tofu with tomato sauce.
Or as a starting recipe for any other tomato-based sauce. You can add any vegetables, from kabocha squash to frozen peas, spinach to chickpeas.
More Sauce Recipes
If you love this marinara sauce, you will also like our other favorite sauces:
- Easy basil pesto (basil, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, olive oil, etc.)
- Romesco sauce (tomato, bell pepper, almonds, garlic, salt, pepper, etc.)
- Tahini sauce (tahini, garlic, lemon juice, water, etc.)
- Chipotle sauce (mayo, lime, sour cream, garlic, chipotle pepper, etc.)
- Honey mustard dressing (maple syrup, mustard, cumin, salt, pepper, olive oil, etc.)
Or try any of these 25 top sauce recipes; they're perfect for salads, pasta, and veggies.
For more condiment ideas, check out our dressing and sauces category page.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 large can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 10 leaves fresh basil
TO SERVE WITH PASTA
- 12 ounces your favorite Italian pasta
- Warm up 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet, add 1 onion (finely chopped) and fry on medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring often.Add 3 cloves garlic (grated or minced) and ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes and fry for one more minute.
- Add 1 large can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes. Rinse the can with 1 cup water and add it to the pan.Crush the tomatoes with a fork and season with 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
- Simmer on medium heat for 15 to 30 minutes or until you reach your desired consistency stirring the the sauce occasionally.The longer it simmers, the thicker and richer it gets.Tip: You can cook the pasta while the sauce simmer.
- A few minutes before turning the heat off, add about 10 leaves fresh basil (chopped), then stir and turn the heat off.Taste and adjust for salt and your marinara sauce is ready.
TO SERVE WITH PASTA
- METHOD 1: Cook the pasta al dente, drain it, transfer it to a plate, and top with a generous ladleful of sauce on top.
- METHOD 2: Cook and drain the pasta very al dente, then finish cooking it in the pan with the marinara sauce for another minute, adding a ladleful of reserved pasta cooking water.
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