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My Tips For Homemade Marinara Sauce

I've received enough e-mails over the years from readers asking why I don't have a marinara sauce recipe on the blog that I've finally done it.  It's such a simple little thing to throw together, I really didn't think much of it but I do have a couple little tips that you may find helpful.  

There are so many ways to make marinara sauce and everyone has their personal preferences. Marinara sauce can be whipped up fresh pretty quickly - it's not like a sauce which has meat in it that you want to simmer for hours.  I guess the biggest question is what kind of tomatoes to use.  I definitely prefer canned San Marzano tomatoes or Cento Passata in glass jars, which is San Marzano tomatoes that are already pureed.  Unless you have really exceptional fresh tomatoes, these two choices will be your best bet. These tomatoes are picked at their peak in the Campania region of Italy, where they grow in the volcanic soil. They are a low acid, meaty tomato and make an excellent tomato sauce.  Most grocery stores carry the canned San Marzanos now.  If you can't find them or don't want to use them, I think the next best canned whole tomatoes are from Muir Glen. You can usually find these in most stores, also.  


If you use tomatoes that you feel are a little acidic, the trick is to add just a little sugar to the sauce.  My mom used to do this all the time.  (So did Anna Tasca Lanza.) It softens that acidity. Adding a little grated carrot does the same thing. 

My best tip for making a marinara sauce, though, is to puree it.  Some people think it's bad to puree the sauce, but I think that's just wrong.  If you are using canned whole tomatoes, there is something about pureeing the sauce that deepens the flavor.  I don't know if it's because you grind up the seeds or something else, but I have found this to be true also when I make my homemade tomato soup.  It makes a big difference. An immersion blender is the handiest thing to have for this.  If you don't have one, get one - you will love it.  It can be very messy to transfer hot soup or sauce to a blender.  

The herbs you add are just totally up to you.  I like oregano and thyme but sometimes I add fresh basil.  

The sauce freezes very well.  I like doing that instead of canning it, just because it's so much easier.  I just pour the sauce in a ziplock and throw it in the freezer. 


Just for fun, when I was in the grocery store the other day I took a photo of a marinara sauce label on a gourmet jar that was selling for $9.99!  Here are the ingredients.  Nothing magical and nothing that you can't make on your own:


Homemade Marinara Sauce

for a printable recipe click here

you can add a little red hot chili pepper to this sauce if you want a little zip in it.

makes 2 cups


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 cup grated carrot
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano Tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoons dried thyme
  • a few fresh basil leaves (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional) 


adding some grated carrot can help soften the acidity of the tomatoes



In a large heavy pot, gently heat olive oil, onions, sea salt and a little freshly ground pepper (and the chili pepper, if using) and saute over low heat until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add carrots and saute another 5 minutes.  Add the San Marzano tomatoes and their liquid and break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon (or just crush them with your hands, like I do).  Add the herbs and sugar, if you are using it.  Simmer gently, uncovered, for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.  

Puree the tomato sauce either with an immersion blender right in the pot, or transfer the sauce to a blender and puree until smooth.

If you want to make a double batch, the sauce freezes very well.


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Reader Comments (68)

Elaine, you are correct. The best marinara is made with the best tomatoes. I mash my tomatoes in the pot with a potato masher. I find that the immersion blender or food processor turn the tomatoes an orangey color.

October 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Ambrosino

Thank you Elaine! I love reading recipes for sauce. Yes and I agree NO GARLIC- eliminating it allows the pure taste of the tomatoes to shine through. Being stranded in today due to the storm you have inspired me to make a batch with my girls. Keep the tradition alive!

October 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Funny, I've been trying to find "the perfect ", simple sauce recipe... here it is!

October 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBlog is the New Black

The recipe is almost identical to mine, but I must confess, we have to have the garlic. What can I say, I think my mother put garlic in my baby food. It wouldn't be sauce without it.

October 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth K

I agree with using the best tomatoes you can, after all, marinara is all about the tomatoes. I love it during the summer to make large batches of a basic sauce with fresh garden tomatoes and to have it in the freezer for those winter months. I never use sugar or carrots in my sauce as I like it slightly acidic..but usually my garden tomatoes are sweet enough! Cheers in good cooking...

October 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindySez

Recipe is really close to mine, but I have to admit our family includes the garlic; we think of it as part of the base flavor like the onion. We also use a bit more fresh basil, which we find cuts the acidity, rather than using sugar. I've used carrot on occasion, too.
Thanks for the recipe and info--marinara is delicious so it should get the attention it deserves.

October 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNina

It's gravy - not sauce!

October 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCaterina

Actually, the sauce/gravy debate all depends on where you live/come from. I grew up and my family, as well as every other Italian-American family I knew, calling it sauce. There are some parts of the country where it is referred to as "gravy." I remember reading an article or chapter in a cookbook about this, just can't think of where I saw it at the moment. To each her/his own!

October 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth K

I know a lot of people who call it gravy too, but I am Italian and always grew up calling it sauce and still do. This looks so good! Thanks for the tips on the good tomatoes to use :)

October 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterashley @ wishes and dishes

I have also heard the pros and cons of gravy vs sauce and it seems to me that the gravy option was if the sauce included and was made with meat. Here in heavily Italian RI, a meatball sauce was always referred to as a gravy.

October 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

I've been making marinara sauce since 1957...the year I married Mr. Rosso. Me and every Italian I've ever known uses garlic in this sauce. (I've never heard it called "gravy" which to me, is a meat-based sauce made with a roux and meat stock, and rarely [almost never] made with tomatoes.) I also know certain Italian cooks who believe that adding oregano to pasta sauce is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! They say "oregano is for pizza, not pasta sauce." I add chopped fresh basil to my marinara sauce at the end of cooking since basil is so fragile and its flavor richest when it's barely cooked. Since I like a chunky sauce, I've never considered using my immersion blender but it sounds like a good idea...a new trick for this old dog. :) I think I'll see how I like a smooth sauce next time I make it without meat. Just realizing there are different techniques and different ingredients in Italian marinara sauce, I have a feeling that regional tastes and old family recipes are highly dependent on what part of Italy cooks (or their forebears) hail from. In any event...all's all good, isn't it? Thanks for the recipe.

October 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterArlene

In the South, gravy is never made with tomatoes but instead a topping for biscuits, pot roast, chicken fried chicken, etc. I had never heard the sauce for pasta called gravy until I met someone who is Italian and from RI. So Caterina, it may be gravy to you but it is sauce to many others.

October 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSunnydaze

I love tomato-based sauces and agree that good canned tomatoes are the way to go. Here in Australia we have a brand of canned tomato called 'La Gina' and I only just discovered that the Italian man who founded the product named it after Gina Lollobrigida. My latest blog post has more info:

November 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmbra Sancin

Actually, my Nani called it sugu, though I have seen it spelled sugo. It always has garlic, and I Like seeing some of the chunks of tomatoes, so we would never purée it. Also, it would not be August without basil. Oregano makes it bitter, and we have never used thyme.

November 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSecond generation Jo

Here is my version of Marinara Sauce (a chinese version), when the onions get soft, I add minced garlic and a tablespoon or 2 of tomato paste and cook until the olive oil separates, then I add Marzano tomato puree, i.e is done with a moule (not sure of spelling), to remove the seeds, sometimes I find the seeds slightly bitter. I do not add any herbs.
For Indian curry, i use this and add yogurt, almond powder or cream, etc, besides the curry ingredients;
For Chinese Mapo tofu, I add some ground meat, spring onions, flake chilles, etc;
For Italian pasta, I add basil (when in season)
For Greek, I add oregano & cinnamon on the sauce;
For breakfast, I poached 2 organic eggs and ladle the sauce over, with a little cheese & baguette;
Or over baked white fish, etc,
For Persian dish, I use some to add to the celery beef stew, eggplant beef stew, lamb shank etc,
This is my favourite sauce, and I also store it in ceramic or glass container, never plastic, because of acid.

November 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfaye

Looks like I am the only Male in this group. I tryed the sauce just like you said. Never used grated carrots befoe. Two basil leaves & some chili pepper flakes. I did used a blender. Very good. Bear

November 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergusthebear

Fantastico...perfetto! Lo dico da Italiana!
Saluti da Milano :)

November 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlessandra

Looks absolutely delicious ! Once I have a bigger kitchn (student two hobs job at the moment :( ) I am definitely trying this recipe :)

Thanks for everything. Please keep posting :)

November 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersarah

I also puree the tomatoes rather mashing them in the pot or crushing them through my fingers..

I honestly feel the tomato flavor is deeper and richer when the tomatoes are pureed. I've tried the manual method and found the sauce to be watery and less flavorful.

I got my recipe from my Mom and it's almost identical to yours. She also pureed the tomatoes. Even though we're Italian, she would never make a tomato pasta sauce that had chunks of smashed tomato floating in their watery juices. From her I learned that a tomato sauce should be thick so that it coats the pasta well.

November 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPurrlGurrl

I also puree the tomatoes rather mashing them in the pot or crushing them through my fingers..

I honestly feel the tomato flavor is deeper and richer when the tomatoes are pureed. I've tried the manual method and found the sauce to be watery and less flavorful.

I got my recipe from my Mom and it's almost identical to yours. She also pureed the tomatoes. Even though we're Italian, she would never make a tomato pasta sauce that had chunks of smashed tomato floating in their watery juices. From her I learned that a tomato sauce should be thick so that it coats the pasta well.

November 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPurrlGurrl

Thank you for sharing, didn't even think about adding carrots to my sauce! Will try!! I always added sugar but the tomatoes seemed too acidy!!

thanks again

November 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjaclyn

I tried this recipe and I loved it. The marinara sauce was perfect. Can we post it on our facebook page for Italian Food Lovers? We are Italy in a Box, an Italian Gourmet Box Scheme.

November 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteritalyinabox

From The Italian Dish:

italyinabox: Sure, as long as you link back. :-)

November 26, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Our lower east side NYC Sicilian family made marinara sauce (the Neopolitans in the neighborhood called tomato sauce "gravy" which my friends said their mothers did to try to be more "American") with a bit of olive oil to saute the fresh garlic, tomatoes, salt & pepper, cook quickly and serve with fresh basil. I'm 3rd generation and I make it all of the ways listed above, for whatever mood i'm in - with oregano, with pepperoncini, chunky, pureed, whatever. Marinara is supposed to be a quick sauce, not cooked a long time, like you would cook a meat sauce. Often, when my great-grandfather got fish from the fishmarket, my Nonna would add it and say,"Mangia polita!"

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterQueenie

Queenie you have it correct. Gravy is made on Sunday with alot of meat; meatballs, sausage, ribs, etc, and simmered all day long. Marinara is meatless; made with garlic, olive oil, the best tomatoes, fresh basil, and can be finished in 15 minutes. Marinara is not gravy and gravy is not Marinara. Of course this is only what I have grown up with but I love the discussion and hearing what other people have to say on this topic or any other one involving food and traditions. Great blog, keep it up.

December 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChief

Loved reading through all these comments...and seeing how everyone does it differently.

I never heard sauce called gravy till I moved to Florida, go figure. My parents and grandparents came off the boat (literally) from Sicily, and it was always sauce to us - as well as the area in NY where we lived. My grandfather swears he doesn't add garlic to his sauce either, though I have a hard time not adding it to mine (I go back and forth). Sometimes I add oregano, sometimes just basil. I love the San Marzano tomatoes, they truly make the freshest tasting sauce, and I love your tip on pureeing it. At my parent's restaurant, my job was often to run the sauce through a huge food mill, there were big chunks of tomatoes and carrots and onions I believe, it was quite the job for a teenager :)

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAggie

I make it Jan 06 2013. The best that I ever made. Mash tomatoes in pot and after cooking put in food prociesser. Came out just fine. My wife loved it. Gus Bear

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergusthebear

I tried this recipe for dinner and it was pretty good. I would recommend taking out the carrot because the acidity cutting through the starch in the pasta and fat in the meatballs is really appetizing and the sauce got a little lost without it. I chose to omit the sugar and I'm glad, I like the sweetness as it was. It was a good simple marinara sauce and I would definately make it again.

January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVEGGIES R US

Have you ever tried Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce recipes? The easiest and nicest one I think is made simply with tinned tomatoes, a whole onion, butter, a touch of sugar and seasoning. It makes a versatile and tasty sauce which can be used on pasta or added to other dishes like Melanzane alla Parmigiana or any other tomato based dish. Your recipes sound great and I look forward to trying some of them out.
Ingrid, South Africa.

February 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIngrid Wilson

Befor put in the blender I removed the basil leaves. 3rd time makeing and we all love it. bear

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergusthebear

I made marinara sauce today, from a recipe I saw on Cook's Country on television over the weekend. It tastes very sweet, maybe because the recipe calls for 2/3 cup tomato paste? Is marinara typically sweet? Anyway, does anyone have ideas about what I might add to cut the sweet taste?

February 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhopeamerica

in Italy (and of course here in Campania, too) we use garlic, not onions... that wouldn't be marinara without it.
Onions are used in all the other different tomato sauces but definitely not in marinara sauce.

March 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterflapane

Glad to read that your mom was from Naples, by the way.

March 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterflapane

What extra steps would be necessary if you want to can this for storage?

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMC

How is this Italian without garlic?

March 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

This is the best marinara by far. I will never buy canned marinara or spaghetti sauce ever again. I have used this recipe many times but with additions. I have to have garlic, lots of fresh basil (yum) and italian seasonings. I have also tried fresh and fire roasted tomatoes (fire roasted was amazing). I was not going to add carrots the first time I made it but was glad I did. Yummy and delicious you will not regret making this. Thanks so much for the recipe!

March 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMiss P

I am about to make my own sauce/gravy for the first time. I want to thank everyone for their suggestions. I think I'm going to try a little bit of everything. I bought a HUGE can of crushed tomatoes at Costco (6 lbs, 10 ozs) so I will have a lot of sauce to freeze. Just one question: What is the difference between spaghetti sauce and marinara sauce? They both seem to have the same ingredients. Again, thanks to all! ...Judy H.

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJudy H.

I am so excited that I just made homemade marinara! Followed the recipe exactly, using the fresh basil and sugar. Very easy and delicious. I cannot wait to try some of your other recipes!

April 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGretchen

I am from New Orleans, where we really know our foods. We call it gravy. You read the definition - Gravy is a sauce, made often from the juices that run naturally from meat or VEGETABLES during cooking. In North America the term can refer to a wider variety of sauces. This recipe rocks.

April 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRonsta

I find like 2 - 3 recipes, then I combine ingredients from them and add my own twist to them.

The results are amazing! Tomorrow marinara sauce!
I can't wait.

August 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertony

My ITALIAN family calls it sauce!
(Marinara is a pasta sauce, Judy.)

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJojo

Gravy .... sauce ... no matter what you call it, as long as you have fresh ingredients and it's made with love. :)

September 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMbt

I've cooked something similar since I was shown how to cook it at school. Eqaul'ish quantities of tomato's, onions, celery and carrots, roughly chopped and then strained through a sieve. I can eat this at every meal and then some :) The straining for me makes the sauce more flavoursome.

I was told this was a Napoletana sauce... sounds like this might not be the right name for it. Looking around the interweb, seems this is what they do in Sardinia.

I make batches, and it makes for quick and easy meals, added to basil, garlic, chilli, red wine, sometimes even a touch of Dijon mustard (shock)

October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean

This recipe sounded so simple that I wasn't sure if I should make it, but I'm so glad I did! I made it exactly as directed (with the sugar because I couldn't find the suggested brand of tomatoes) and it was lovely! Easy and delicious! My toddler kept asking for spoonfuls out of the blender before I'd even put it on pasta. It's nice to have a recipe the whole family likes. Thanks for sharing!

October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Thank you for the recipe. I've just made it and it tastes so good! Never have thought making (tasty!) pasta sauce is so easy. I think the grated carrot added to the sweetness of the sauce. I didn't add in garlic as some may not like its strong taste. Thanks again from Malaysia. :)

January 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYen

Great blog and must try this marinara sauce! My mother (whose parents were from Abruzzo) called it "sugo" and she never used fresh or canned whole tomatoes, but rather her sauce was simply tomato paste and water simmered for a long time. As well, we never had just the sauce with the capellini (all she ever used), but she would sautee bone-in pork chops in olive oil flavored with only one clove of garlic (garlic was discarded, and careful not to burn the garlic or the chops). She would hen place the pork chops in the sauce and simmer them for hours and hours and then serve them with the pasta. It was really, really good, as I remember. I never had tomato sauce as I know it now until I was well into adulthood...

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDroolmomof3

Why do you add grated carrots to your sauce?

January 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSilvia

From The Italian Dish:

Droolmomof3: Wow! I love to hear that because that is exactly how my mom used to make sauce so much of the time - with bone in pork chops simmering for hours! Thanks for that.

Silvia: In the post, I explain how the addition of grated carrots helps cut the acidity of the tomatoes - the same thing a little sugar does. Hope this helps.

January 21, 2014 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

The Sicilian side of my family calls it 'usuggu; the Piemontese side, bagna; when we're speaking English it's gravy....

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGian Banchero

I tried for months to make my Italian mother-in-law's marinara sauce and called her several times for the recipe. She made it with lobster and it was to die for! I never could get it to taste like hers, even though it was a very simply mixture of tomatoes (She used fresh and seeded them), Lobster, olive oil, garlic and basil. The umpteenth time she gave me the recipe, she mentioned a pinch of cayenne, That was the missing ingredient! Try adds a wonderful flavor....just don't use too much.

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

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