This easy marinara sauce recipe uses just a handful of everyday ingredients, and you'll be thrilled how simple it is to master in your own kitchen! It's freezer friendly and can be used in so many ways.
Why you'll love it
Marinara sauce is one of those recipes that seems like it would be hard to get right, but it's actually really simple! It's an Italian-American favorite that is wonderful with pasta, but it's also a component of many other recipes, everything from pasta bakes to pizza. This straightforward recipe means you'll never buy it in a jar again.
It may come as a surprise, but marinara sauce isn't something that takes a long time to prep or cook. I also totally expected it to be more complicated than it actually is the first time I made it, but it's quick to infuse those classic flavors. Who can resist a rich and versatile tomato sauce when it's this easy to make?
What you'll need
- Olive oil - use a good-quality one from Italy since it's a key component
- Garlic - if you're a garlic fan, feel free to add in a little more. I use this garlic press to mince the cloves so that you don't even need to peel them.
- Tomatoes - whether you use crushed or whole canned tomatoes, we strongly recommend using the San Marzano variety, which are super juicy and come packed in a purée. They're the hallmark of a good marinara sauce and what make it so special!
- Dried oregano - it's the ideal herb to complement the tomatoes
- Red pepper flakes - they're optional but don't make this sauce spicy and just give it a subtle warmth
- Fresh basil - we include it while simmering to add basil flavor right into the sauce
- Sugar - it's important to get that restaurant-style touch
Why use sugar?
- Adding a bit of sugar is an old trick to counter the acidity of the tomatoes, and it's one of the reasons why restaurant pasta sauces taste so good. You could leave it out altogether, but it won't taste as intended. If you're expecting this to taste like marinara sauce at your favorite Italian-American restaurant, definitely include the pinch of sugar!
What kind of tomatoes to use
- My favorite brands for canned San Marzano tomatoes include Muir Glen, DeLallo, and Mutti. They all have a place in my pantry.
- You can use whole tomatoes instead of the crushed ones if that's all you have on hand. You can break them up with your hands before adding them to the skillet, or use an immersion blender when the sauce is done simmering.
- I wouldn't recommend using fresh tomatoes. You'd have to blanche and peel them and cook them down for a long time and probably still wouldn't get that smoother, saucy consistency you think of with marinara.
How to make marinara sauce from scratch
This is an overview, and full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
- Add the oil and garlic to a skillet over medium heat. Once the garlic starts to cook, give it about 30 seconds. Be careful to not let it burn. Stir in the canned tomatoes, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, and fresh basil sprigs.
- Let it simmer, uncovered, for around 15-20 minutes. Don't worry about being too precise.
- Take out the wilted basil sprigs, and season it with salt & pepper. Add in a pinch of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, give it a taste, and add some more if desired.
Substitutions and variations
- As with any recipe, this is a good base for your own tweaks/additions. You can certainly add more garlic/herbs/etc. to suit your tastes or chopped onion (but we didn't think it needed it).
- You can add a splash of wine to the sauce (dry white or red) to add an elegant touch. A white wine like chardonnay or sauvignon blanc is my personal preference.
- To double the recipe for a crowd or more freezer meals later on, simply use a larger pot or Dutch oven and straight double every ingredient.
Ways to use marinara sauce
- Of course, it's great for spaghetti and meatballs or in meatball subs. Pair it with this Easy Meatball Recipe for either of those tasty options.
- Maybe our favorite way to use it is in this classic Chicken Parmesan recipe. It just works so well with all that gooey, cheesy goodness!
- Speaking of cheese, it's awesome as a dip for my Extra Cheesy Garlic Bread.
- It's fantastic in pasta bakes and really enhances the taste instead of using the stuff from a jar. Try my marinara sauce in this Simple Ground Beef Casserole or Million Dollar Spaghetti for a cozy homemade family dinner.
- In our household it's a go-to as a base sauce for pizza when we're doing homemade pizza night.
Leftovers and storage
- Homemade marinara sauce will keep in the fridge for 3-5 days in an airtight container.
- You can also freeze it for up to 3 months. It'll keep beautifully.
- To reheat, warm in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally.
Questions about this sauce? Have you ever made it from scratch? Talk to me in the comments below! Tag me #saltandlavender on Instagram with your creations.
Easy Marinara Sauce
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 (28 fluid ounce) can crushed tomatoes see note
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes optional
- 3 sprigs fresh basil + more for serving
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar or more, to taste (optional)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Add the oil and garlic to a deep skillet over medium heat. Once the garlic starts to sizzle, give it a stir, and let it cook for about 30 seconds (do not let it burn).
- Stir in the tomatoes, dried oregano, and red pepper flakes. Gently add in the fresh basil sprigs.
- Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes (turn the heat way down so it doesn't splatter too much).
- Take out the basil sprigs and season generously with salt & pepper. If the sauce tastes a bit acidic, add in some sugar, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until it suits your tastebuds. I like to add some fresh chopped/torn basil on top if serving over pasta.This sauce will be quite thick (great for coating pasta). Thin it out with a splash of dry wine (white or red) or some hot pasta water if needed.
- Be sure to use good quality ingredients (this recipe uses minimal ingredients and the flavors will all shine through).
- You may use whole canned tomatoes instead of crushed. I recommend San Marzano tomatoes (and use the juices too!). You may need to blend the sauce at the end with an immersion blender to make it nice and smooth. My favorite brands of canned tomatoes include DeLallo, Mutti, and Muir Glen.
- This recipe makes a bit over 2.5 cups (around 2 3/4 cups).
- Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy only and should be construed as an estimate rather than a guarantee. Ingredients can vary and Salt & Lavender makes no guarantees to the accuracy of this information.