Classic marinara sauce does not need to be difficult. Ever. In the time it takes to boil pasta, you can prepare an easy marinara whose taste will rival that of any Italian restaurant, and the smell will have your dinner guests swooning. There are some times when simple = better. And when it comes to this weekday sauce, the simpler it is, the better it will taste.
There is no need to use a ton of ingredients to achieve a fragrant and delicious sauce.
In fact, the ingredients used for this recipe are likely staples you already have on hand.
As with many recipes that require only a handful of ingredients, such as our spaghetti carbonara, you'll want to make sure the ingredients you are using are top-quality.
By top-quality, I'm referring to San Marzano or another high-quality canned plum tomato, and a good-quality pasta, such as De Cecco.
Fun fact: The D.O.P label you may see on tomatoes, pasta, cheese or other Italian ingredients stands for Denominazione d'Origine Protetta, or Protected Designation of Origin.
This guarantees that the product is produced and packaged in a specific geographical zone, in accordance with tradition, and is regulated by the Italian government.
This recipe calls for fresh garlic, and while I do believe there is a time and place for garlic powder, I would really only use this here in a pinch. You will be missing out on huge flavor if you do not use fresh garlic.
Besides, my favorite part of marinara is eating the bits of the slightly golden, almost sweet garlic.
You'll also need some tomato paste, olive oil for sauteeing said garlic, and a handful of bright, fresh basil.
Hot red pepper flakes are optional, as is a side of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to grate on top of your pasta.
How to make it
Note: This is a quick tomato sauce. If you're looking for a longer cooked sauce, check out our roasted cherry tomato sauce. For an all-day slow cooked sauce, our authentic Italian meatballs and Sunday sauce recipe will hit the spot.
- Slice 6 cloves of garlic. Or as many as you like!
- Hand crush or blender pulse one 28 ounce can of plum tomatoes.
- In a large pan, over medium-low heat, saute the sliced garlic in a ¼ cup of olive oil. Once the garlic turns lightly golden (about 2 minutes), add the tomato paste and cook out for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently. If using the crushed red pepper flakes, add a half-teaspoon at this point.
- Add a touch of water (1-2 ounces to loosen the paste) and add the plum tomatoes. Continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes over a simmer and taste test to see if any adjustments are needed, specifically with salt, pepper or crushed red pepper. Now would also be a good time to add your pasta to salted boiling water. Once your pasta is al dente, remove about half the sauce and add the pasta directly to the pan. If necessary, add a bit of pasta water (1-2 ounces at a time) to loosen up the sauce. Add the remaining sauce if required. It's better to start with less sauce than add more as needed. Finish by hand-tearing the basil leaves and add to the pasta immediately before serving. I suggest serving this with plenty of grated cheese, and a loaf of crusty, seeded Italian bread.
- Hand crush or lightly pulse your tomatoes to retain their bright red color. Over blending will add oxygen to the tomatoes and turn them orange.
- Watch your garlic closely to ensure it doesn't burn. Cook on low to medium-low heat. You want the color to be lightly golden but not burnt.
- Cook your pasta al dente and reserve some pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce a bit when finishing in the pan.
Marinara and more
Once you've nailed your sauce, a whole world of possibilities is open to you.
You can use this marinara as a foundation for things! You can add a variety of ingredients and experiment with flavors you love.
For example, add some sliced sausage, or olives and mushrooms, or a touch of heavy cream and watch what unfolds.
The sauce works particularly well for a fast weeknight meal with frozen homemade gnocchi.
And if nothing else, this sauce is just perfect for dipping some bread, while you sip a glass of chianti and enjoy life.
If you’ve enjoyed this easy marinara sauce recipe or any recipe on this site, give it a 5-star rating and tell us about it in the comments below.
We would love to hear how you did and it’s nice to show others as well. Thanks!
- 1 28 ounce can San Marzano or high-quality plum tomatoes hand crushed or blender pulsed
- 3 ounces tomato paste
- 6 cloves garlic sliced
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 pound pasta of your choice
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper optional
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt to taste
- In a large pan over medium-low heat, saute the sliced garlic in a ¼ cup of olive oil.
- Once the garlic turns lightly golden (about 2 minutes), add the tomato paste and cook out for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently. If using, add ½ tsp of crushed red pepper flakes at this time.
- Add a touch of water (about 2 ounces) to loosen the paste and give it a stir. Add the plum tomatoes.
- Cook for 5-10 minutes, simmering.
- Taste teste and adjust salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper levels before tossing with the pasta.
- Remove half the sauce and add the al dente pasta to the pan, cooking for 1 minute on medium- low heat. If necessary, add a bit more sauce to get the sauce level just right. Add a couple ounces of pasta water to loosen if required.
- Hand tear basil leaves and add to the pasta right before serving. Serve with grated cheese and crusty Italian bread. Enjoy!
- Be sure to either hand crush or lightly pulse your tomatoes to retain their bright red color. Blending will add oxygen to the tomatoes and turn them orange.
- Watch your garlic closely to ensure it doesn't burn. Cook on low to medium-low heat - you want the color to be lightly golden.
- Cook your pasta al dente and reserve some pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce a bit.