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Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce was never quite my thing. If you’ve read our meat sauce article, then you know that one of my strongest olfactory memories is a sauce gently simmering for hours on Sunday morning. For years the meat sauce was my staple.

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

My Marinara Sauce

However, when Leah decided to become a pescatarian, I made the switch to Marinara. Like the meat sauce recipe, the recipe here is enough to generously cover two pounds of pasta at a large Sunday dinner.

If you don’t need as much, you can reduce the ingredient portions. Better yet, make it all and freeze some. Tomato sauce freezes well and having it on hand can be real convenient if you need an idea for a busy weeknight meal, or have a hankering for pizza or you’re putting together a pizza toppings bar for pizza night. If you want to do this sauce for lasagna, grind up some carrots in your food processor. They will add the texture of ground meat without actually adding meat.

If you don’t like the idea of carrots as a meat substitute, then do what we do: get store-bought vegan meat, such as Impossible Meat or Beyond Sausage. If you use these, brown them as you would meat in the meat sauce. It’s really your choice based on your taste and what’s on hand. If you use a meat substitute, use about half the oil in the recipe to brown the meat.

Measuring for Marinara

As I’ve pointed out in other posts, I’m not sure that I ever saw my grandparents use a measuring spoon outside of baking. As my daughter puts it, they measured with their hearts. I encourage you to do the same.

To make a good sized pot full of basic sauce, finely chop one large or two medium onions and 6-10 cloves of garlic (depending on your taste). Saute the onion in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil until it is translucent and then add the garlic and about a pound of meat.


Canned Tomatoes

Add three 28-ounce cans of either diced, crushed or pureed tomatoes. Food snobs will insist on San Marzano peeled tomatoes. They are great and are a bit less acidic than many other varieties. However, they can also be a bit pricey. So, go with whatever your budget can afford. We will talk later about ways to cut acidity if need be.

When it comes to deciding between diced, pureed or crushed, let your personal preference be your guide. For a smoother sauce, go with puree. For a bit more texture, opt for the diced or crushed. Experiment and mix them if you’d like. If the sauce is too chunky for your taste, pop it in the blender.

When you get a call that your dinner guests are bringing friends, no problem, just toss in another can of tomatoes and a pinch more seasoning. If you run out of large cans of tomatoes and only have a can or two of tomato paste, add that and then fill the empty paste can with water and add that as well.

Tomato paste is also great to adjust the final texture of your sauce. If it’s not feeling as thick as you’d like it, add the paste, but with less water. Substitute the water with a half cup of red wine to add some depth of flavor.

Now, I hope you are noticing what has come to be a recurring point with my recipes. There is virtually no recipe and certainly no tomato sauce recipe that needs to be taken literally. Later in this post you’ll see a recipe. However, I encourage you to treat it as a starting point and let your imagination go wild.

Remember my favorite saying, Like rules, recipes are made to be broken.

Seasoning and Spices

For a pot of sauce this size, I add two teaspoons of kosher salt. Growing up, we had several people in our family with high blood pressure, so we would put about a teaspoon of salt in the sauce and let the individual season to taste on their plate. So, if you want to reduce salt intake, that’s a simple method.

I like to add three tablespoons of dried basil, or several fresh basil leaves, finely chopped. A tablespoon of oregano is great too. While my family didn’t do this, a teaspoon of red pepper adds a nice kick, if that is what you like.

One of the seemingly odd ingredients in my family’s sauce recipe is a teaspoon of dried or a few fresh leaves of finely chopped fresh mint. My grandpa swore by it to help cut the tomatoes’ acidity. If you find your sauce too acidic, you could also add sugar. The sweetness does help, but also adds unnecessary calories. I don’t love that option.

Another way to cut acidity is to add a tiny amount of baking soda. If you think back to high school chemistry, a base will counteract an acid. Be very careful if you do this. Add a tiny amount — I’m talking less than a quarter of a teaspoon — at a time. If you overdo it with the baking soda, your sauce will take on a thick, almost slimy, texture. It’ll taste fine, but will feel weird in your mouth. Trust me, I’ve made that mistake.

Making Sauce, Step-by-Step

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Chop the onion.

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Chop the garlic.

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Heat the olive oil.

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Brown the onions.

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Add the garlic.

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Brown the garlic and onions.

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Add the onions and garlic to the tomatoes in the pot.

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Add the spices and salt.

Give it a Long Simmer

Once you’ve got it all in the pot, bring it to a boil, while stirring to avoid burning the bottom. Then, turn the heat to low and let it simmer on low as long as you can. I like at least an hour. Stir it occasionally. Also, don’t forget to taste it along the way and add more spices to match your taste buds.

Sauce is personal. Make it your own. Enjoy the process.

Store Your Sauce

The sauce will stay in the fridge for several days. It also freezes very well and will last months in the freezer. Unless I’m certain that I will use it the next day, I always freeze my leftover sauce. That way, if my plans change, I don’t lose my sauce.

You can defrost it in the microwave, on the stovetop on low heat or in a covered, oven-safe pot in your oven at a moderate temperature such as 350-375°F.

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Marinara Sauce

This versatile vegetarian workhorse of a sauce provides a base for virtually any tomato sauce. Add your favorite meat and some additional veggies and you get a Bolognese sauce; add cream and vodka and you get a vodka sauce; with some goat cheese, you get a pretty cool pizza sauce.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 20
Calories 83 kcal


  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion Chopped. Substitute 2-3 medium onions or two tablespoons of onion powder, if needed.
  • 3 tablespoons garlic About 8-10 cloves chopped. Substitute two teaspoons of powdered garlic if needed.
  • 84 ounces tomato puree Three large 28 ounce cans. Substitute diced or crushed tomatoes based on your texture preference.
  • 4 tablespoons dried basil Substitute several leaves of fresh finely chopped basil if you have it.
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
  • ½ cup red wine Optional.
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper Optional if you like a little heat.
  • 2 teaspoon salt To taste.
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper To taste.


  • Chop the onion and garlic.
    1 large onion, 3 tablespoons garlic
  • Stir the onion in the olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and stir until it is slightly brown.
    4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Combine all of the ingredients in a large sauce pan or dutch oven and heat to a boil. Stir often to avoid burning the sauce at the bottom. If you do not have individual spices, you can substitute four tablespoons of an Italian seasoning mix in place of the basil, oregano and parsley.
    1 large onion, 3 tablespoons garlic, 84 ounces tomato puree, 4 tablespoons dried basil, 2 tablespoons dried oregano, 1 tablespoon dried parsley, 1 teaspoon dried mint leaves, ½ cup red wine, 1 teaspoon red pepper, 2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Once the sauce reaches a boil, turn the heat to low and let it simmer for as long as is practical for you, one hour minimum. Stir occasionally.


Serving: 4ouncesCalories: 83kcalCarbohydrates: 13gProtein: 2gFat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0.5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.4gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gSodium: 268mgPotassium: 575mgFiber: 3gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 632IUVitamin C: 14mgCalcium: 53mgIron: 3mg


Please note that nutrient values, if included with the recipe, are estimates only. Variations can occur due to product availability/substitution and manner of food preparation. Nutrition may vary based on methods of origin, preparation, freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

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