How to Make Marinara Sauce from Scratch
In under 2 hours, you can rock your inner Italian and transform canned tomatoes into a homemade marinara sauce any nonna would be proud of.
Photos by Olga Ivanova
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Even if your usual spin on pasta sauce involves opening a jar, you owe it to yourself to try making it from scratch. For one thing: It’s easy! A short saute followed by a long simmer, and you’ve got thick, rich sauce with glorious depth of flavor. Another reason: You can adjust the flavors just the way you like, maybe go a bit sweeter with an extra pinch of sugar, or a bit bolder on the red pepper flakes. And it’s fun. Since you may be spending more time in the kitchen right now anyway, why not try some project cooking?
Martha Holmberg, the talented author of Modern Sauces and other cookbooks, created this Yummly original recipe for Homemade Marinara Sauce with Fresh Herbs. She knows how to coax the maximum flavor from ingredients, even in a simple recipe like this one, and shared her secrets.
Let’s start with the basics for how her classic marinara sauce goes together — which, by the way, is vegan and gluten-free.
Marinara sauce ingredients
You’ll need a combination of pantry items, vegetables, spices, and some extra-virgin olive oil to make the marinara.
• Canned tomatoes are the foundation, and the best choice in general unless it’s the height of fresh tomato season. While some marinara recipes insist on pricey canned Italian San Marzano tomatoes, which are known for their sweet, rich flavor and tender texture (they must by definition must say Pomodoro San Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese Nocerino D.O.P. on the label), Martha’s recipe calls for regular diced and crushed tomatoes, plus a little tomato paste. The diced tomatoes keep some shape in the final marinara, the crushed make it thick and saucy (and more interesting than plain tomato sauce), and the tomato paste adds depth and sweetness. Want to sub whole canned tomatoes for the diced? You can cut them up right in the open can with kitchen shears or a small knife.
• Aromatic vegetables, including yellow onion, carrot, fresh fennel, and plenty of garlic cloves, add earthiness and layers of flavor to this marinara. No fresh fennel available? You can substitute a tablespoon of fennel seeds to contribute that delicate taste of licorice, or leave it out entirely.
• Marinara sauce spices. Martha seasons her sauce with a sweet, herbaceous, and spicy combination of fresh basil leaves, fresh rosemary, and crushed chile flakes. If you don’t have the fresh herbs, try about a tablespoon of each herb dried, and adjust to taste partway through cooking. In the mood for oregano instead of basil or rosemary? Go for it.
How to make marinara sauce from scratch
In addition to the ingredients, a few simple techniques bring out the flavor in Martha’s easy recipe.
• Sauté the aromatic vegetables (Martha finely chops them in a food processor to keep the prep time short) in olive oil over medium-high heat to mellow them.
• Toast the tomato paste (again, in olive oil) to deepen its flavor.
• Simmer twice: Add the tomatoes and remaining ingredients to the veggies and tomato paste and cook them together for 45 minutes in a covered frying pan (rather than a large pot). Then uncover and give it another 30 minutes simmering to reduce and thicken the sauce, for about 1 3/4 hours total time for the recipe.
• Season to taste. Another bit of sugar, salt, or chile flakes? Some black pepper? Give it a slurp and see what you think.
Homemade Marinara Sauce with Fresh Herbs
More on marinara
Before you claim this as your new best marinara sauce recipe, here are answers to a couple more questions you might have.
How long does marinara sauce last?
The marinara keeps 5 days in the refrigerator. You can freeze the marinara sauce up to 2 months.
What can you make with marinara?
You can use your homemade marinara sauce for all your favorite Italian recipes like lasagna or ravioli, soft polenta, and of course, as a spaghetti sauce with meatballs. This recipe is thick enough that you can use the marinara sauce for pizza. How about trying it in sub sandwiches, or as a dipping sauce for crusty bread with a sprinkle of Parmesan?