How To Make Marinara Pasta Sauce

updated Jan 29, 2020
How To Make Marinara Pasta Sauce
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Credit: Leela Cyd

Forget jars of red sauce — homemade marinara is where it’s at. This tomato sauce takes 20 minutes to make and requires zero planning. If marinara doesn’t already have a spot in your repertoire of easy weeknight recipes, it will soon. Here’s a step-by-step look at how to make this super-simple sauce.

Credit: Leela Cyd

What Kind of Canned Tomatoes to Use?

Puréed tomatoes might feel like the obvious choice here, but I recommend using whole peeled tomatoes for your marinara sauce. These break down into perfect sauciness in about 20 minutes, but still retain a little substance, which gives the sauce some body — something sauces made with purée can lack.

I’ve also used diced tomatoes, but find that these generally don’t break down as easily or quickly; they’re fine to use if you don’t mind (or if you prefer!) a chunkier sauce.

Really, any canned tomatoes you have in your pantry can be used in a pinch, up to and including tomatoes that you’ve canned yourself. I’d only avoid tomatoes that have flavorings or herbs added to them — your sauce will be a hundred times better if you add these things yourself.

Credit: Leela Cyd

How to Use Homemade Marinara

This marinara isn’t just for pasta, although that’s often its destination in my kitchen. You can also use this basic sauce for pasta casseroles like lasagna, to top homemade pizza, or to serve with roasted meat. You can even give it a quick purée and make a pretty darn good bowl of tomato soup!

The main takeaway here is that marinara is an easy, versatile sauce. With a few cans of tomatoes in your cupboard, you’ll never need to buy jarred sauce again.

Want to Make Tomato Sauce with Fresh Tomatoes?

Yes, you can certainly make tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes! Check out our easy 3-ingredient fresh tomato sauce recipe.

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To make marinara sauce, you will need 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 small finely diced yellow onion, 2 to 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, 1 bay leaf, fresh thyme, basil, oregano, or other herbs (Image credit: Leela Cyd)

How To Make Marinara Pasta Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 1

    small yellow onion, finely diced

  • 2 to 3 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • 1

    (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes

  • 1

    bay leaf

  • 1/4 teaspoon


  • Fresh thyme, basil, oregano, or other herbs

  • Parmesan cheese, to garnish, optional

  • Cooked pasta, to serve


  • Sauce pot or high-sided skillet

  • Spatula


  1. Sauté the onions and garlic: Warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

  2. Crush the tomatoes and add to the pan: Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pan with the onions. Crush the tomatoes in your hand as you add them, or smash them against the sides of the pan with your spatula. Alternatively, you can cut the tomatoes with kitchen shears while they're still in the pan.

  3. Add the bay leaf and fresh herbs: Add the bay leaf, salt, and fresh herbs like thyme and oregano to the pan with the sauce. If you're adding basil, wait to add it until the end of cooking.

  4. Simmer for about 20 minutes: Bring the sauce to a rapid simmer, then lower the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue simmering until the sauce is slightly reduced and thickened, about 20 minutes.

  5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta: While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta, toss together a salad, or finish any other meal components.

  6. Serve the sauce: Remove the bay leaf and any herb stems. Serve the sauce immediately over pasta with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Leftovers will keep refrigerated for about a week or can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Recipe Notes

Dress it up! Dress up this simple sauce with a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar, throw a few more veggies in with the onions, or cook up some ground beef or mushrooms for a more substantive sauce.