Marinara Sauce (a basic recipe + tips for variations)

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Christina Ross
Christina Ross
I'm a human being on planet earth. I've lived hundreds of lifetimes. In this incarnation I'm here to advance medicine.

For every type of marinara sauce stocked on stores’ shelves, there are dozens – probably even hundreds – of recipes available on the Internet. With so many variations to choose from, the best way to decide your favorite is to simply make your own. With a few guidelines under your belt, you can easily play around with flavor additions to achieve your perfect red sauce.

Marinara Sauce (a basic recipe + tips for variations)
NameMarinara Sauce (a basic recipe + tips for variations)
Prep Time10 minutes
Cooking Time30 minutes
Total Time40 minutes
Servings4 cups of sauce
YieldVaries depending on usage and variations


1. Start with good canned tomatoes!

  • I love fire-roasted tomatoes, and vacillate back and forth between crushed and diced.
  • I prefer a smooth sauce, so I always puree mine with an immersion blender at the end, rendering the decision between crushed and diced insignificant.
  • My standard ratio of tomato products is the following: 28 oz canned crushed or diced tomatoes to 8 oz canned tomato sauce to 1 Tbsp tomato paste.
  • If you’re curious about specific brands, I like Muir Glen Organic Fire-Roasted Tomatoes.

2. Build layers of flavor – even before adding spices.

  • I know that some people have an aversion to onions and/or garlic, so feel free to omit them. If – like me – you love ‘em, then saute onions and garlic in some olive oil as the base of your sauceCaramelized onions are another option.
  • Sometimes I add red wine to the sauce, sometimes I don’t. It usually depends on whether or not we have an open bottle in the kitchen. I like Pinot Noir, but Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz all work fine.
  • Some people like sweeter sauces, so you can add honey or granulated sugar to taste. Chopped carrots added in with the onions and garlic is a natural way to sweeten your sauce. I don’t include these ingredients, as the tomatoes provide enough sweetness for my taste.
  • Adding ground meat (chicken, pork, beef, sausage) to the onions and garlic is another way to add depth of flavor to your sauce. I tend to use less meat than most recipes call for, preferring to use it as a flavor element rather than main ingredient when I make meat sauce.
  • A vegetarian option for “beefing” up your marinara sauce is sliced mushrooms. I am NOT a mushroom fan, so you won’t find them in my sauce, but feel free to saute some into the onions and garlic if you’d like.
  • Yet another tasty add-in is sundried tomatoes. If you’re using oil-packed tomatoes, give them a good draining before adding to the cooked onions and garlic; sundried tomatoes not packed in oil will plump up during the cooking process as they absorb the moisture from the sauce.

3. Spices & seasonings.

  • If you decide to use no-salt-added canned tomato products, you will obviously want to season your sauce to taste with Kosher salt.
  • Freshly cracked black pepper always makes its way into my sauce.
  • Other favorite spices include dried oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, bay leaves, and dried parsley.
  • For a spicier marinara sauce, add in more red pepper flakes to taste.

4. Finishing touches.

  • Once the sauce is done cooking, you can add additional flavor by way of chopped fresh basil and/or parsley.
  • Another nice finishing touch is grated parmesan stirred into the fully cooked sauce.
  • For a creamy sauce, add in 1/4 cup half-and-half or milk to the cooked sauce.
  • You can also stir in 1/4 cup prepared pesto into your cooked marinara sauce.

Now that you’re armed with a bunch of tips for putting your own spin on marinara sauce, take a look at my basic recipe and let your taste buds guide you :).

Marinara Sauce (a basic recipe + tips for variations)

Basic Marinara Sauce

Printer-Friendly Recipe


  • olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, diced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup red wine (optional)
  • 1 28 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes plus their juices
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 rounded Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Marinara Sauce (a basic recipe + tips for variations)


Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic, sautéing until they become translucent and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Pour in the crushed tomatoes and stir well. Add the dried basil, dried oregano, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. If you prefer a slightly sweeter sauce, you can also add a teaspoon of sugar at this stage.

Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. This allows the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken.

Once the sauce has reached your desired consistency, remove it from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

If you have fresh basil leaves on hand, tear a few and scatter them over the sauce before serving. This adds a delightful burst of freshness to your marinara.

Estimated Nutrition Per Serving

  • Calories: 70
  • Total Fat: 4g
    • Saturated Fat: 0.5g
    • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Cholesterol: 0mg
  • Sodium: 480mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 9g
    • Dietary Fiber: 2g
    • Sugars: 5g
  • Protein: 2g
  • Vitamin D: 0%
  • Calcium: 4%
  • Iron: 6%
  • Potassium: 360mg

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