How To Make Basic Marinara Sauce

Foodista Cookbook Entry

Category: Main Dishes | Blog URL:

This recipe was entered in The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest, a compilation of the world’s best food blogs which was published in Fall 2010.


2 large yellow onions, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, minced (about 2 Tbsp)
2 tablespoons dried herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, 1/2 cup red wine
12 cups peeled and seeded fresh ripe tomatoes**
salt and pepper to taste


In a large soup pot, heat up the olive oil.
Add the onions and cook slowly, on medium heat until they start to caramelize. They should be evenly brown and soft. Cooking them this way brings out the natural sweetness in the onions.
Add the garlic and dried herbs and cook for 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the 1/2 cup of red wine and cook for 2 minutes more.
Add the tomatoes and their juice and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook on low, stirring occasionally for about 2 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Dried herbs hold their flavor much longer than fresh herbs so when slow cooking. If you want to use fresh herbs, add them at then end of the cooking process, just before serving.
If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, you can use 2 (28 oz) cans of crushed tomatoes, 1 (28 oz) can of whole tomatoes and 1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste. When I use canned tomatoes, I always add a couple tablespoons of sugar to counteract the acidity of the canned tomatoes. I find I don’t have to add any sugar with the ripe tomatoes from my garden.


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There are as many recipes for tomato pasta sauce as there are Italian grandmothers. My Sicilian grandmother used to make her sauce every year from the tomatoes in her garden. Much of the time the sauce had meat in it but I don’t think it was ever exactly the same twice. A child of the depression, my grandmother would throw into the pot whatever she had on hand; scraps of a roast, pieces of cooked pork, sausages, rinds of parmesan cheese. You never knew what you’d find in the sauce, but it was always good.

This is really a base pasta sauce recipe, meant to adapt to whatever you want it to be.
Like meat in your sauce? Add a tough cut and let it cook down to make a Bolognese.
Want to keep it vegetarian? Enjoy the recipe as it is or add some diced up vegetables.
Like Pasta alla Norma? Add red chili flakes and diced eggplant to the sauce.
Mushrooms or meatballs, it’s all up to you.

While the photo shows the sauce in a jar, I didn’t can this sauce. There are only so many ways to photograph tomato sauce, and stacks of tupperware just don’t make that pretty of a picture. But the sauce does freeze well, so you can enjoy the taste of freshly made sauce a few months from now, once the weather turns cold.

I’ve had a few people comment that the name “Marinara” refers to a tomato sauce with seafood in it. Just about every definition I could find disputes this. I hope the information below clears up any confusion.

The New Food Lover’s Companion defines Marinara as “A highly seasoned Italian tomato sauce made with onions, garlic and oregano. It’s used with pastas and some meats.” Epicurious uses this same definition.

Even more interesting from a historical perspective was this one from
“Marinara sauce originated with sailors in Naples in the 16th century, after the Spaniards introduced the tomato to their neighboring countries. The word marinara is derived from marinaro, which is Italian for “of the sea.” Because of this, many people mistakenly believe marinara sauce includes some type of fish or seafood.
However, marinara sauce loosely translates as “the sauce of the sailors,” because it was a meatless sauce extensively used on sailing ships before modern refrigeration techniques were invented. The lack of meat and the sheer simplicity of making tasty marinara sauce were particularly appealing to the cooks on board sailing ships, because the high acid content of the tomatoes and the absence of any type of meat fat resulted in a sauce which would not easily spoil.”


12 cups


Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 8:30pm


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