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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)

Mom, who comes from Castrofilippe Sicily used to use a dash or two of Cinnamon to sweeting the acidic taste of onions and reduce use of sugar.

March 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph Bonaccorse

I love to puree my sauces! One of the best compliments I ever received was from an Italian-American rocket scientist from Brooklyn. I pureed the sauce with meat (ground veal) and he said, at a dinner party, that my sauce was the some of the best he'd ever had. He said it was a treat! I love pureeing because the flavors are so more integrated. At the same time, you can still taste all the individual flavors.

April 30, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpaizley

When the ingredients are fresh it is to die for.

May 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNat

Hello there - close to my recipe. For a more complex sauce, I add some finely diced pancetta to the olive oil and render out the fat, removing pancetta once crisp and reserve for a scrambled egg, later. I sauté onions 1/2 carrot shredded and garlic in oil with red pepper flake then add some tomato paste to "rust" and red wine until loses alcohol flavor. I then add the Cento Passata (exactly!) and simmer for appx. 1 hour. Delicious!

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Hi everybody!! I'm new to this blog and I love it. I am cooking a pot of marinara now and used the tips and ingredients provided here. Can't wait to surprise my husband for Father's Day.

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLauraAshley

Couple of hard-won suggestions after decades of making various marinara sauces...

[1] Use 1 can of CONTADINA brand tomato paste. Hunts is OK, but Contadina is bright red, fully ripe tomatoes. Most Marzano tomatoes aren't strongly colored as they used to be.

[2] Use a "electric stick blender" to puree the sauce. If you don't have this too, get on amazon and get one. They're the most-used tool in my family's kitchen. Don't blend to death, either. Leave a few chunks in for texture.

[3] Instead of "a pinch of sugar" use the suggested grated carrot. 2 small or 1 large.

[4] instead of salt... use soy sauce! For other sauces, this serves the "umami" that either dried porcini mushrooms (not fresh!) or anchovy paste (not canned!) does. Adds the 5th flavor, the mouth-feel. The tomatoes and garlic, onions and pepper are strong enough to obliterate soy sauce's aroma (which doesn't detract either). Try it. Just once. Complain later.

[5] Consider the "alla funghi" version from Calabria: 2 to 4 ounces of dried porcini, rehydrated in white wine (crumbled before rehydrating). Yes, the sauce changes, but it becomes remarkable in its own way.

[6] Consider the "con agnello" version from Sardinia: 4 shoulder-blade lamb chops, added to sauce after it is pureed, and simmered at lowest heat for 1.5 hours. At end, remove chops, let cool, then with fingers debone. Return flaked lamb to pot. Try this once, and you'll never forget it. No need for soy.

Yours, and Old Italiano with an Irish name.

July 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBob Lynch - CA/USA

Best marinara sauce recipe! I could drink it, it's so good!

July 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChelsey

I'm putting together a list of must-have gadgets for the kitchen. Now that I've made your 60 Second Pie Pastry (my children thank you!) I want to make apple pies and would like to get the peeler, corer, slicer that you recommend. I normally cut the apples in wedges, but the machine cuts them into 1/4" thick rounds. Do you have a favourite recipe?

August 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Do you really mean 1/8 cup of grated carrot? That must mean a few strands.

January 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Using canned tomatoes is not healthy. Cans are lined with BPA's and acidic foods like tomatoes are the worst for contamination. I suggest tomatoes in glass jars.

January 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Love your website! In this particular post for marinara, I am wondering about your grater. Is it a microplane, or what brand. Very nice! Thank you!

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie

Love the recipe. Thank you for sharing. Here in my part of the south anything that goes on or can be eaten with bread is considered a gravy - although we call marinara a sauce. My grandmother always made tomato gravy. She had a sweet version and a salty version. The only difference is in one she added sugar, cinnamon and cloves; while my favorite, the salty one had onions, oil, salt and pepper only. I will be making your recipe often.

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

Shredding the carrots is such a great idea. It takes the acidity out and puts the sweetness in! I have started doing when I make chili, and I highly recommend it. That you for this recipe and making what I cook at home so much better.

April 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

My maternal grandfather, Nicholas LaPietra, was born outside of Naples. He came to the US when he was about 12 and he was the eldest of 11 siblings. Only he and his sister Mary were born in Naples. I grew up spending summers with him in NJ. He had a beautiful garden growing lettuce, beans, zuchinni, tomatoes, eggplant, corn, etc. My love of gardening is because of him. Anyway I would watch him make sauce and he put raisins in his meatballs to add a little sweetness to the sauce. He would fry his meatballs cooking them partially then let them finish cooking in the sauce. Soooooo good!

April 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Try this one too....1-1/2 litres of tomato sauce (passata in glass bottles if you can find it, otherwise San Marzano tomates, pureed or not per your preference - one medium onion, 1/2 as much celery, 1/4 as much grated carrot, 1-1/2 -2 tsp salt, olive oil, sweat veggies in olive oil, add tomatoes, add some water throughout cooking, based on your thickness preference - cook about 45 miutes, stir frequently.

This is my daughter's mother-in-law's recipe. We live in Campagnola Emilia in the Reggio Emilia region of northern Italy. Her mother in law is from Abruzzo and here it is "sugo". With meat, "sugo" becomes "ragu". A tiny bit of pepperoncino just picks it up that little bit more.

NEVER any green herbs unless we are making pizza sauce, then oregano...oh, and some capers with their juice...yum! Basil only if you name it in the recipe "Sugo Basilico" so Nono will know what to expect and not spit it out because it is not "normale" !

We are originally from Westerly, Rhode Island and we ate "gravy".

Whatever you call it and however you make it...what would we do without our marinara?

June 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTVW

I was wondering if you have any information on canning this recipe, perhaps in a pressure canner. I make this sauce quite often and it would be nice to make a large batch a few times a year.


August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJessie

I just made this for my wife and kids. They loved it. And my 3 & 5 year olds can be picky eaters. I just went to a dinner party in Scranton PA and got treated to an authentic Italian ravioli. Now that I've got a sauce down I'm going to try one of your ravioli recipes next. Do you have a favorite?

January 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Burroughs

Hi. I tried a new variation of marinara sauce that called for 2 finely diced carrots. I find that my sauce taste like carrots which I don't care for. How do I fix this.

June 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJ Wilson

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