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Pasta Sauce – Marinara

posted in Main Dishes, Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister
difficulty rating

This is a very basic (and quick!) tomato sauce that takes very little time to cook and can be made ahead of time and frozen. It can be used with any pasta dish or in lasagna.

You will need the following ingredients to make this Marinara Sauce recipe:

Be sure to get both the onion and garlic chopped before you turn on the stove.

You’ll need about 1 cup of finely chopped onions for this recipe. Two small or one medium onion should do the trick.

Peel and mince 4 cloves of garlic. That’s a lot of garlic, but it does get cooked, so it’s not going to be too strong.

Fresh basil is essential for this recipe. Nowadays, most grocery store carry fresh basil year-round. You can wash it the same way you wash lettuce. Pull the leaves off the stem and throw the stems away.

Put the basil and the canned tomatoes, with their juice, in a blender and puree everything until almost smooth. Set the tomato-basil puree aside.

(As I filled the blender I thought, YIKES, this is way too full! With my hand pressed firmly on the lid of the blender I pressed the puree button. I was very lucky that my kitchen did not end up covered in tomato sauce. Next time I would puree this mixture in two batches!)

Heat ½ cup of olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.

That does sound like a ton of oil, but believe me it works. It gives the sauce a full, rich flavor.

Add the onions and garlic and cook until very tender, about 12 minutes.

The onions should not get browned. This is what they should look like after 12 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and basil that you pureed in the blender and 1 teaspoon of oregano plus 1 teaspoon of sugar. (Don’t skip the sugar. It helps balance the acid in the tomatoes.)

Bring the sauce to a simmer over a medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and continue simmering until the sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally. This will take about 10 minutes.

Give the sauce a taste. You may need to add about ½ -1 teaspoon of salt and several grinds of fresh pepper.

The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. If you are storing it for future use, cool the sauce, then cover and refrigerate it. Gently re-heat sauce over medium heat before using it.

If you are going to be freezing this sauce, use small containers that would be enough for 1-2 serving.

Be sure to spray your plastic containers with cooking spray first so they don’t get stained by the tomato sauce.

(For more basic pasta sauce recipes, be sure to check out my Tomato Sauce Video or my Turkey Sausage Sauce photo-tutorial.)

Turkey Sausage Sauce


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mei said:

Hello, may I ask that how long can it be kept??

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Mei, 3-4 days in the refrigerator. (This sauce freezes beautifully!) Cheers!

Trongtham said:

I have watched so many videos on your site. Thank you for sharing great content!

Sarah said:

Thanks for the recipe. I’ve been looking for a simple tomato sauce recipe that uses canned tomatoes. Would the canned, crushed tomatoes with basil and garlic work as well? I think I may add in some mushrooms with the onion and garlic!

Kathy Maister said:

Sara, this recipe is very flexible. Your can of crushed tomatoes will work beautifully here!

Rene Macaroglu said:

Hello Kathy, thank you for this recipe. I would like to ask your opinion about some points:

  1. Sauteing the onions in the microwave is delicious, easier and much quicker. Also when I use fresh tomatoes, I do the whole cooking in the microwave to preserve a wonderful red color.
  2. Dried herbs become ugly black spots after they are cooked, that’s why I prefer adding them in the last minute.
  3. I cook my spaghetti meat sauce using the “ragu” slow-cooking technique (2 hours) adding some milk to make the color brighter. It’s delicious with minced meat and could be used with vegetarian tomato sauce as well.


Kathy Maister said:

Thank-you Rene for sharing these great tips!

Yes softening the onions in the microwave is a time saver. I did it that way in my Quiche Video. In order to really develop the rich, full flavor of the onions is it best to slow cook them.

Dried and fresh herbs do darken when cooked but they also develop in flavor. I often “freshen” the flavor by adding additional fresh herbs just before serving.

Adding milk is new to me! It sounds like it is definitely worth a try!


tushya said:

Thanks for an awesome site Kathy. Spaghetti sauce is not something I’ve EVER considered making from scratch, but it looks so easy!
I just want to know though, how to use fresh tomatoes to make this recipe. Rene mentions the microwave, but short of just sticking them in there on a plate, I’m not sure what to do.
thanks and cheers

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Tushya, I’m not quite sure how Rene uses fresh tomatoes but…

Here is a post I wrote just on canned tomatoes as well as a post on How to Peel and Seed a Tomato.

This recipe is based on using canned, not fresh tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are actually canned when they are at their absolute best and are really fantastic in tomato sauce.

If you google tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes, there are almost 400K recipes to choose from! Some have you just chop up the tomatoes and add them to the pot. Other recipes want you to peel and remove the seeds from fresh tomatoes. Have a look and be sure to let me know if you find a good recipe!

Rene Macaroglu said:

Dear Tushya
This is how you can prepare a light sauce with fresh tomatoes:

  1. Stripe the skins and place the tomatoes in boiling water for 1 min
  2. Peel and remove the seeds and the inside
  3. Reserve and cut the pulps in little bits
  4. Blend the liquid, the seeds and the inside to smooth (you can also add some garlic)
  5. Cook everything in the microwave until thick (you can add some sugar, salt and fresh or dry herbs…)

tushya said:

Thanks Kathy – looking forward to it!
I’m sure you will educate us, but I’m looking forward to finding out why you have to take the seeds out!

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Rene! It sounds like you already know your way around the kitchen!

Danielle said:

Thank you for this website and the videos. The visualization of each recipe helps tremendously. Without your site I would have never tried cooking!!!!!

kay cordello said:

What is the best type of pasta for Maranar sauce?

Kathy Maister said:

Generally speaking, marinara sauce goes well with spaghetti, linguine and ziti.

The best thing about pasta is that there are no hard and fast rules, but a few guidelines for matching your sauce to a particular pasta can be helpful.

Long Pastas – like tagliatelle, spaghetti and linguine – needs lots of lubrication, so they work best with olive oil based sauces which coat the pasta completely without drowning it.

Thicker strands, like fettuccine and tagliatelle, can stand up to cream sauces and ragùs (also known as bolognaise).

june said:

Hi Kathy,

I made the marinara sauce; it turned out very well although it seemed very thin and watery. Did I do something wrong or is it supposed to be thin?

startcooking said:

Hi June,
No, the sauce should not be thin and watery. You may want to cook it a bit longer. Be sure not to cover the pot.
Do keep in mind that all brands of canned tomatoes are not the same. Next time you might want to try a different brand of canned tomatoes.

Cindy said:

Wonderful recipe! It is simple and uses readily available ingredients! I will make this in the near future. Thanks

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