Marinara sauce is a rich, vibrant, flavor-packed tomato sauce from Southern Italy.

You can make authentic Italian marinara sauce with simple ingredients like canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, herbs, and olive oil in less than 30 minutes.

You’ll love how versatile marinara sauce is. You can have it as a pasta sauce, with meatballs, as a dip, or in a sub. Learn how to make it with our easy and delicious recipe.

Marinara sauce in a skillet with a wooden spoon

Dietary Note: this recipe is suitable for a vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diet.

Don’t have time to read the full blog post? JUMP TO RECIPE HERE!

What is marinara sauce?

Marinara sauce with basil and a wooden spoon

Italian marinara sauce is a beloved tomato sauces thanks to its bright and rich taste, versatility, and ease of preparation.

With cherry tomato pasta, mushroom Alfredo, orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe, and creamy broccoli pasta, spaghetti with marinara sauce is a ultra comforting 30-minute weeknight Italian dishes that everyone loves.

You’ll love how easy and versatile this marinara sauce recipe is. You can make it with a handful of pantry staples and have it in a million different ways.

For example, try it with our tofu meatballs on pasta or in a sub. You’ll be blown away by how delicious vegan meatballs can be!

Vegan meatballs covered in marinara sauce

Or use it for eggplant parmigiana, eggplant pizza, or Sicilian pasta alla Norma. Buonissima!

It’s excellent as a pizza sauce on our easy flatbread pizza recipe and even better as a dip with fried zucchini, breaded eggplants, stuffed zucchini with ricotta, zucchini fritters, risotto cakes, rice balls, and fried eggplants.

Best of all, you can use our marinara sauce as the base recipe for any tomato-based sauce. For example:

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!

Ingredients & Substitutions for Marinara Sauce

Ingredients for marinara sauce

Quantities are in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.

Canned tomatoes

The best tomatoes to make the marinara sauce are 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.

Still, in this case, we recommend adding a tablespoon of tomato paste to thicken the sauce and a teaspoon or two of sugar to balance the acidity.

Tomato passata or tomato puree are not the best options because they are too smooth for marinara.

Can you make marinara sauce with fresh tomatoes?

You can make an excellent fresh tomato sauce that will taste amazing but different from marinara sauce.

Water

We use water to rinse the can of tomatoes and add it to the sauce. Nothing gets wasted in Italian home cooking.

Olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is best. Its flavor enhances that of the tomatoes, garlic, and herbs.

Onion and Garlic

Fresh garlic cloves, finely chopped or minced. Garlic powder won’t add the same freshness and aroma.

Onion is optional in marinara sauce, but we recommend it to add extra sweetness and flavor.

There is no celery or carrots in marinara sauce.

Dried oregano

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

Fresh basil is optional and most probably a modern addition to the sauce, but we love it!

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 it’s unlikely they could add fresh basil.

However, we recommend adding 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 sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Red pepper flakes

We like adding a pinch of red pepper flakes or fresh red chili pepper to the sauce.

Don’t add too much chili; you’ll turn marinara into an arrabbiata sauce, another delicious and spicy Italian tomato sauce.

breaded eggplants with spaghetti and marinara sauce

How to Make Marinara Sauce

US cups + grams measurements in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.

Start by finely chopping the onion and mincing the garlic.

Add the whole canned peeled tomatoes to a mixing bowl. Rinse the can with 1 cup of water and add that too.

Chop the peeled tomatoes with scissors, crush them with your hands, or blend them with an immersion blender.

hand using scissors to cut whole peeled tomatoes

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet. Add the chopped onion and sauté for 4 minutes on medium heat until translucent. Stir often, and don’t let the onion brown.

Add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes (or finely chopped red chili), and sauté until fragrant for about 1 minute.

Tip: use a large skillet instead of a narrow pot. The sauce will cook faster, splash less, and build more flavor in a wide skillet.

onion and red pepper flakes in a blue skillet

Add the chopped canned whole peeled tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and dried oregano.

hand adding oregano to marinara sauce

Simmer on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until you reach your desired consistency.

The longer you let it simmer, the thicker and richer the sauce gets. Stir occasionally.

Tip: if you serve it with pasta, you can cook it while the sauce simmer.

whole peeled tomatoes in a blue skillet and a wooden spoon

A minute before turning the heat off, stir in chopped fresh basil.

fresh basil added to a marinara sauce in a skillet

Taste and adjust for salt, and your marinara sauce is ready.

Marinara sauce in a skillet with a wooden spoon

Serving Suggestions

Quick and Easy Pasta

spaghetti with homemade marinara

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.

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.

spaghetti pomodoro in a dutch oven

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.

Plant-Based Meatballs

Vegan meatballs on spaghetti with a silver fork

With our tofu meatballs, you can have delicious plant-based meatballs that you can make with simple ingredients in less than 30 minutes.

They are the perfect protein addition to marinara sauce.

Check out our tofu meatball recipe.

Meatballs Sub

vegan meatballs marinara sub

This meatball sandwich is perfect for a quick lunch, and you can make it with our tofu meatballs and marinara sauce.

Make this with a freshly baked baguette (the one you can get frozen and bake at home). It’s the perfect lunch!

Breaded Eggplants

breaded eggplants with marinara sauce

Breaded eggplants are tasty, crunchy, and easy to make, perfect with this marinara sauce.

You can drizzle the sauce on top of the eggplants and even serve the eggplants on top of pasta to make this a complete meal.

Check out our breaded eggplant recipe.

Eggplant Parmigiana

8 portions of parmigiana in the baking dish

Use this sauce to make our delicious eggplant parmigiana. We use oven-baked eggplants instead of fried ones, so the recipe is lighter yet delicious.

Parmigiana is a classic eggplant Italian recipe served as a starter, main, or side dish. It’s a sure crowd-pleaser; we are sure you’ll love it, too.

Check out our eggplant parmigiana recipe.

Sicilian Pasta alla Norma

pasta alla norma or eggplant with pasta sauce

Pasta alla Norma is an easy and flavorful eggplant pasta dish from Sicily and is a must-try for pasta lovers.

You can make it with roasted or air-fried eggplant cubes coated in a marinara sauce.

Check out our pasta alla Norma recipe.

As a dip

Marinara Sauce and zucchini fritters

Marinara sauce is excellent as a dip. Try it with:

Other Uses of Marinara Sauce

Italian rice balls dipped in marinara sauce

You can level up your meals in many ways with a good marinara sauce! You can also use marinara as a base sauce for other delightful recipes:

Make Ahead & Storage

Make Ahead: this marinara recipe is excellent for meal prep 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 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.

More Italian Recipes

Italian food lover? Here are some delicious plant-based Italian recipes for you:

For more ideas, look at our 40+ Italian vegetarian dishes roundup.

More Sauce Recipes

If you love this marinara sauce, you will also like our other favorite sauces:

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.

Easy marinara sauce in a skillet with a wooden spoon

Marinara Sauce

By: Nico Pallotta
5 from 5 votes
Marinara sauce is a rich, vibrant, flavor-packed tomato sauce from Southern Italy.
You can make authentic Italian marinara sauce with simple ingredients like canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, herbs, and olive oil in less than 30 minutes.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Course: pasta, Sauce
Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
  • 2 twists black pepper
  • 10 leaves fresh basil

Instructions 

  • Start by finely chopping 1 onion and mincing 3 cloves garlic.
    Add 2 cans (15 ounces each) whole peeled tomatoes to a mixing bowl. Rinse the cans with 1 cup water and add that, too.
    Chop the tomatoes with scissors, crush them with your hands, or blend them with an immersion blender.
    hand using scissors to cut whole peeled tomatoes
  • Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet, add chopped onion and sauté on medium heat for 4 minutes, stirring often.
    Add minced garlic and ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes and sauté for one more minute.
    onion and red pepper flakes in a blue skillet
  • Add the tomatoes and season with 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 twists black pepper.
    Simmer on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until you reach your desired consistency.
    Tip: while the sauce simmers, you can cook 12 ounces/340 grams of spaghetti in salted boiling water.
    hand adding oregano to marinara sauce
  • A minute before turning the heat off, stir in 10 leaves fresh basil, chopped.
    Taste and adjust for salt, and your marinara sauce is ready.
    Marinara sauce in a skillet with a wooden spoon

MAKE IT A MEAL

  • Turn marinara sauce into a nutritious, high-protein, and satisfying meal by serving it with our tofu meatballs on spaghetti.
    See "serving suggestions" chapter linked below.
    tofu meatballs with marinara sauce and spaghetti in a bowl

Notes

Nutrition information is an estimate for 1 serving of marinara sauce out of 4 servings without the pasta. 
STORAGE & MAKE AHEAD
Make Ahead: this marinara recipe is excellent for meal prep 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 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.
ALSO ON THIS PAGE

Nutrition

Calories: 144kcal, Carbohydrates: 12g, Protein: 2g, Fat: 11g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 8g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Potassium: 444mg, Dietary Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 349IU, Vitamin B6: 0.3mg, Vitamin C: 22mg, Vitamin E: 3mg, Vitamin K: 22µg, Calcium: 87mg, Folate: 23µg, Iron: 2mg, Manganese: 0.3mg, Magnesium: 29mg, Zinc: 0.4mg
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Nico and Louise in the kitchen

Hi! We are Nico & Louise

Welcome to The Plant-Based School, a food blog with easy, tasty, and wholesome recipes.

Our aim is to help you and your family eat more veggies through delicious recipes with simple ingredients.

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Recipe Rating




1 Comment

  1. 5 stars
    You don’t need to add the cup of water. It just takes longer to simmer the sauce down to the right consistency. Adding some tomato puree (check for salt content) increases the flavour.