Making Homemade Marinara Sauce from scratch with authentic Italian taste is easier than you think, and cheaper than store-bought red sauce! To get the best flavor, use high quality canned tomatoes, fresh herbs, and a good strong red wine. Use on pasta, as a pizza sauce, or as a dip, and make in bulk to freeze.
Having a go-to recipe for marinara sauce can save you lots of money, and it’s way more delicious than most of the jarred stuff you find at the store!
Marinara sauce is so versatile, and when made from scratch with quality ingredients, it can elevate any pasta dish to new heights.
Don’t get me wrong- using store-bought marinara sauce is a great shortcut when you don’t have anything homemade on hand and you don’t have time to make it. I always recommend Rao’s (which is pricey, but worth it).
But with a little planning ahead, you can make a batch of this marinara sauce and freeze it in portions- it makes the equivalent of about 4 jars of store-bought sauce! That’s four meals you can get out of this batch of homemade marinara.
Tips for making the best homemade marinara sauce
After trying a few recipes over the years, I’ve learned a few secrets to making the ultimate marinara sauce. Here they are (in order of importance):
- Use Quality Canned Tomatoes. Don’t buy the cheapest or the grocery store brand of crushed tomatoes. Imported from Italy is best. My favorite brand is Tutto Rosso, followed closely by San Marzano.
- Cook low and slow. This recipe does not have added sugar, but has a slightly sweet flavor. When you cook on low heat for a few hours, the onions have a chance to caramelize, releasing natural sugars into the sauce.
- Use plenty of strong red wine. Zach and I love red wine, but we bought a chianti a couple of weeks ago that was just too strong to drink alone. It was overpowering. I kept it corked in the fridge to use for cooking and used it to make this sauce. Buy a good, strong red wine, preferably chianti, and add plenty of it to the sauce.
- Use fresh herbs. And add half in the beginning and half toward the end of cooking. When you add them in the beginning, the flavor will be sucked out of them and become part of the sauce. Yes, “sucked out of them” is the technical term. When you add them in the end, they will retain more of their flavor to add an extra kick. Use any combination of italian herbs- basil, parsley, oregano, thyme. Be generous with the amount you use. (Note: I’ve made sauce with dried herbs before and it was also extremely tasty. If you don’t have fresh herbs on hand, you should still make this recipe with dried- it will be delicious. Promise!)
How to make homemade marinara
- First things first- finely dice the onions.
- Then, sauté the onion in olive oil. The onions should brown and become translucent. If some are sticking to the pan don’t worry too much- the wine should take care of that in a sec! You will end up cooking the onion for about 10 minutes minimum.
- Once the onions look done, add four large cloves of minced garlic to the pan and sauté for one minute. Garlic cooks (and burns) extremely fast, so you don’t want to add it until that last minute. I use a microplane zester to mince garlic.
- Add red wine to the onion garlic mixture. Stir- anything that was stuck to the bottom of the pan before should come up from this addition. Let it simmer for a few minutes so some of the liquid evaporates.
- Add crushed tomatoes, some fresh herbs, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste.
- Stir, put the heat on low, cover, and simmer for one, two, or three hours. Or more! I usually aim for three. This gives me plenty of chances to do some quality control (aka, get spoonfuls of it and taste it frequently just to make sure nothing is going wrong. This is very important and delicous.)
- Finally, just chop up any remaining herbs you want to include and add to the sauce, continuing to simmer on low for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow to cool before storing.
Storing and Freezing the Sauce
This recipe may take a little while to cook, but I have so much sauce to use this upcoming week, which is going to make busy work-night dinners a breeze.
This recipe makes enough sauce for approximately three meals. I divide mine into mason jars and store in the refrigerator or the freezer, and defrost when necessary.
Make sure your jars aren’t filled completely, as the liquid will expand in the freezer. You can also freeze it in freezer bags, which can make it easy to store if they are flattened out.
Tips and Tricks
- If you think your sauce is too thin, leave the lid ajar for a while. The steam will escape and the sauce will thicken up. Or, you can always add some tomato paste to the mixture.
- If the sauce is too thick, add just a little bit of water, or more wine!
- For an extra rich taste, stir in 2-4 tablespoons of butter at the end and let it melt into the sauce.
- If you use dried herbs, add them with the garlic. This will allow their flavors to bloom before adding the rest of the ingredients.
Recipes that use marinara sauce
You can keep it simple and serve the homemade marinara sauce over spaghetti or another pasta, try one of these recipes:
- Spoon the marinara over low-carb instant pot spaghetti squash
- Stuffed portobello mushrooms
- Roasted eggplant parmesan stacks
- Baked Gnocchi
- Easy Pasta Bolognese
- Baked Eggs with Potatoes, Spinach, and Marinara
- Chicken Parmesan Sliders
- Vegetarian Lasagna
- Quick and Easy Spaghetti and Meatballs
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Homemade Italian Marinara Sauce
- 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup strong red wine like chianti
- 56 oz. canned crushed tomatoes like Tutto Rosso (2 large cans)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped herbs parsley, basil, thyme, and/or oregano
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste
- Saute onions in olive oil on medium-high heat until browned and translucent, approx. 10 minutes.
- Add minced garlic and saute for another minute.
- Add wine, stir to life any browned onions/garlic from bottom of the pot, and simmer for a couple of minutes.
- Add tomatoes, half of the herbs, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Stir, and let simmer on low heat for 3 hours, stirring and tasting occasionally. Add seasoning as needed.
- If sauce is looking too thin, leave lid ajar for a while.
- During the last 10 minutes of cooking, add rest of the herbs.
- Use the sauce immediately or store in containers/mason jars for months in the freezer or about a week in the refrigerator.
- The provided nutrition information does not include any added sodium from seasoning to taste, any optional ingredients, and it does not take brands into account. Feel free to calculate it yourself using this calculator or by adding the recipe to Yummly.