Classic marinara sauce should never be difficult. In the time it takes to boil pasta you can prepare an easy marinara sauce whose taste will rival that of any restaurant. All you need are some canned tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, fresh basil, olive oil, and a pasta of your choice. There are times when simple equals better, and when it comes to this weekday marinara sauce, the simpler it is, the better it will taste.
Editor’s Note: Originally Published on April 20, 2020. Updated with full process shots and expanded info.
I’m often asked if there are any jarred sauces I’d recommend. The short answer is a resounding “no”.
Not only will jarred sauce never taste as good as a homemade marinara, but making your own marinara sauce requires so little effort but yields maximum gains.
In about 15 minutes you can have a beautiful plate of penne with marinara sauce (or any pasta of your choosing) that tastes a million times better than any jarred sauce.
And the best part is that marinara sauce requires just a few simple ingredients, like fresh garlic, and canned tomatoes.
This is the marinara sauce recipe you’ll want to bookmark and return to time and time again when you just want something good and easy!
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, brick-colored sauce, our Sunday sauce recipe will be sure to hit the spot.
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- For these pictures, I used crushed canned tomatoes. If using whole canned tomatoes, hand crush or blender pulse 1 28-ounce can of San Marzano or high-quality plum tomatoes and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil (2 tablespoons of kosher salt per gallon of water). Slice 6 cloves of garlic and in a large pan over medium-low heat, saute the garlic in 1/4 cup of olive oil.
- Once the garlic turns lightly golden (about 2 minutes) add 3 ounces of tomato paste and cook the paste for 5-7 minutes stirring frequently.
- After the 5-7 minutes are up, add the optional crushed red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Next, add about 2 ounces of water to loosen the paste and give it a stir. Add your pasta to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute less than al dente.
- Add the crushed plum tomatoes and cook for 5-10 minutes, simmering. Taste test and adjust salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper levels.
- Remove about half the sauce at this point to prevent oversaucing the pasta.
- Add the pasta and allow it to cook for a minute longer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until al dente.
- If necessary, add a bit more sauce back to get the sauce level just right. Add a few ounces of pasta water to loosen, if required, but you probably won’t need it.
- Hand-tear about a 1/4 cup of packed basil leaves (use more or less to personal taste) and add to the pasta right before serving. Serve your penne marinara with grated cheese and crusty Italian bread. Enjoy!
Top tips for the best marinara sauce
- The tomatoes. Since there are so few ingredients used in marinara sauce, I recommend using the best quality tomatoes your budget allows, such as San Marzano tomatoes. If you’re using whole canned tomatoes, be sure to hand crush or lightly pulse the tomatoes. Over blending will add oxygen to the tomatoes and turn them orange. You can also use good-quality crushed tomatoes such as Mutti or Sclafani brands.
- The paste. Tomato paste will add more depth to this quick marinara sauce. That being said, you can omit the paste entirely. If you skip the paste, the sauce will be looser so you may need to cook a little longer to thicken it.
- The herbs. The only herb I use in a quick marinara is fresh basil. If you don’t have fresh basil, you can omit it entirely. I do not recommend replacing it with dried basil, dried oregano, or anything labeled “Italian seasoning”.
- Pasta water and pasta. As with all our pasta recipes, I recommend reserving pasta water in case you need to loosen up/reconstitute your marinara sauce. I love penne with marinara sauce so I used it for this recipe but you can definitely use any pasta shape you’d like!
More simple pasta recipes
Because of its ease of preparation, marinara sauce is ideal for weeknights. Here are a few more simple weeknight pastas that require little time but yield maximum flavor!
- Penne puttanesca – Pasta with olives, capers, and anchovies in a tomato sauce.
- Linguine al limone – Pasta with lemon, Parmigiano Reggiano, and fresh basil.
- Linguine aglio e olio – Quite simply, pasta with garlic and oil, plus red pepper flakes.
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Easy Marinara Sauce
- 1 28 ounce can high-quality whole or crushed plum tomatoes hand crushed or blender pulsed
- 3 ounces tomato paste
- 6 cloves garlic sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh basil about 10 leaves, hand torn
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 pound pasta of your choice
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper optional
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- In a large pan over medium-low heat, saute the sliced garlic in a 1/4 cup of olive oil.
- Bring a large pot of salted water (2 tablespoons kosher salt per gallon of water) to boil and cook your pasta for 1 minute less than al dente.
- 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 a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes towards the end of cooking the paste.
- 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 pasta to the pan, cooking for 1 minute on medium- low heat or until al dente. 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. Alternatively, you can use canned crushed tomatoes.
- 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 a bit less than al dente and reserve some pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce a bit.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
This recipe was originally published on April 20, 2020. It was completely updated on August 5, 2022.