Marinara Sauce (Basic Red Sauce)

In August of 2017 our oldest, Ian, became engaged to his wife, Amanda. As part of Amanda’s family tradition, the two families prepared and shared a meal together to celebrate their engagement. As part of the meal Amanda’s stepfather prepared marinara. I asked for his recipe, and he said he really didn’t have one. It was just the sauce he had learned to make from his family. That isn’t unusual in Italian families. Having watched him prepare the sauce, this is my best guess at the recipe.

Homemade marinara is so much better than even the best supermarket sauce — and it’s made with basic pantry ingredients. It can be used as pasta sauce, with spaghetti and meatballs, pizza sauce, lasagna, and the list goes on and on.

You can use this sauce immediately, refrigerate it and use within about 3 days, or freeze it to use later. Before you refrigerate or freeze, let the sauce sit on the back of the stove or counter until close to room temperature. Putting the really hot sauce in the fridge or freezer raises the temperature of the fridge or freezer for a while.

This makes approximately 2 quarts of sauce.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or microplaned

  • 1 small can tomato paste

  • 1 large (28 – 30 ounces) imported San Marzano whole tomatoes

  • 1 large (28 – 30 ounces) imported crushed tomatoes or tomato puree

  • 2 sprigs fresh basil leaves

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1 tablespoon sugar, more if you like your marinara sweeter

  • 1 sprig fresh basil, leaves removed and chopped


  • Place a large non-reactive Dutch oven or large pot over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil, onions, garlic, about 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and toss until coated. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat until the onions and garlic are soft but not colored, 8 – 10 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste and stir it into the onion and garlic mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high. The mixture will obviously be a bright red/orange at this point. Continue cooking, stirring often for about 5 minutes to develop the flavors and the color will darken. You don’t want to burn the mixture, you’re just trying to bring out the intensity of the flavors. Add all the tomatoes to the pot. Crush the whole tomatoes with your hand before you add them. Increase the heat to high. Add the 2 whole sprigs of basil, the salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and sugar. Stir everything together until well combined.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot, but leave the lid slightly ajar. Stir the sauce occasionally; make sure it isn’t sticking. Simmer for 1 – 2 hours. Remove from the heat and remove the 2 whole sprigs of basil. Stir in the chopped fresh basil leaves. 

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