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  • Writer's pictureRock Rousseau

Italian Marinara Sauce

Updated: May 25, 2020

Red marinara sauce originated in Naples, Italy. By the time large numbers of southern Italians emigrated to America in the early 1900s, the sauce was such a way of life that they made it a classic in this country as well. In the early 1900s, it became known in America as “Sunday Gravy”. This recipe dates back over a hundred years from my family who lived in Naples and immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. Our family added a few ingredients over the years that improved the taste for those who like their sauce more sweet than sour. This marinara sauce is a grand Italian opera of simple, unadorned deliciousness. Nothing is more delicious and comforting! It is so good you’ll never want to buy jarred supermarket brands again.

Marinara is an Italian word that translates to "seafaring" in English, which makes you think this is a sauce that contains seafood or fish, but that is not correct. It's earliest reference in an Italian cookbook written in 1692 suggests Marinara sauce is named for the sailors (marinaio, which is the 17th century. Wives of sailors who lived in Naples quickly made marinara sauce for their sailor husbands when they returned from the sea. Since their wives couldn't know in advance when to expect their husbands, they kept certain ingredients on hand that did not spoil quickly, such as olive oil and dried herbs. Along with fresh vegetables from their gardens, such as tomatoes, garlic, and onion-- these ingredients could be assembled quickly and easily, in about the same time it took pasta to cook. Therefore, when sailors’ wives spotted homeward bound ships on the horizon, they hurried to make this sauce with pasta so their hungry men could have a hot meal the minute they walked in the door. The two together made a tasty, filling and inexpensive meal for their men at sea.

Homemade marinara is almost as fast and tastes immeasurably better than even the best supermarket sauce — and it's made with basic ingredients. The secret to the classic Italian sauce, lies in slowly simmering the tomatoes with onion, basil and garlic until thick and reduced and the natural sugars have concentrated their flavors. The water evaporates quickly, so the tomatoes are just cooked through as the sauce becomes thick. There is no heavy cream, no wine and no anchovies in an authentic marinara sauce.

The quality of your marinara sauce will be directly proportional to the quality of the tomatoes that you use. If you can find fresh San Marzano tomatoes , use those. If not, I recommend using canned Cento San Marzano crushed tomatoes imported from Italy as they render a rustic, hearty, and flavorful marinara sauce.

  • 4 lbs. San Marzano tomatoes, crushed (If you cannot get them fresh, I recommend two 28 oz cans of Cento San Marzano Crushed Tomatoes or two 26 oz boxes of Pomi Organic Chopped Tomatoes)

  • 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped

  • 6 cloves fresh garlic, minced

  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • 1 (6-ounce) can or jar of tomato paste

  • 1 cup red Italian Chianti wine

  • 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, finely chopped

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 2 TBSN oregano

  • 2 TBSN dried basil leaves, finely chopped

  • 2 TBSN fresh parsley, finely chopped

  • 1 TBSN dried thyme

  • 1 TBSN balsamic vinegar

  • 1 TBSN marjoram

  • 2 TBSN honey (optional)

Large pot with lid, mixing spoon, measuring spoons, measuring cups, ladle, hand blender (optional), Mason jar for storage.

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 75 minutes on stove top Ready: 95 minutes

Serves: 6-8

Before you handle any food, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Clean your kitchen work area and pull back your hair or wear a cap. You want to avoid contaminating your meal with harmful bacteria that could cause food illness.

To make Italian Marinara Sauce:

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.

2. Add chopped onions and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.

3. Add minced garlic and saute for another minute.

4. Stir in crushed tomatoes, red pepper, and tomato paste.

5. Add all spices, honey, balsamic vinegar, and Chianti.

6. Cover pot and stir every few minutes. Bring to a rolling boil.

7. Reduce to Low heat, cover and let simmer for 60 minutes to let flavors meld.

8. After 60 minutes, taste the sauce. If the taste seems acidic (or if you prefer a sweeter sauce ) add 2 TBSN of honey and stir.

9. Remove bay leaves. If you prefer a chunky sauce, it is ready to serve.

TIP: If you prefer a smoother sauce, puree the sauce right in the pot with a hand blender and puree the sauce until it's as smooth as you like it.

TIP: If you prefer a thicker sauce, adding pasta water is a great addition to the sauce. Add a 1/2 cup or ladle full of pasta water to your sauce before adding the pasta. The salty, starchy water not only adds flavor but helps thicken the sauce.

10. Serve hot, but do not ladle sauce on top of a plate of pasta.

TIP: Cook your pasta just until al dente (which means “to the tooth” or “to the bite" which is before it’s completely cooked), drain it, and toss the pasta into the sauce to finish cooking and absorb the sauce. This will also help you to avoid overcooking your pasta. For more tips of cooking pasta, check out our post: DIY Perfect Pasta .

11. Refrigerate any leftover sauce in an airtight Mason jar up to 7 days.

1 serving: 155 calories, 7 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 16 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrate (3 g sugars, 2 g fiber), 6 g protein.

Pasta sauce is a great way to add more vegetables into your diet; helping you eat the recommended 2.5 cups each day. Eating enough vegetables helps lower your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity and Type 2 diabetes because of the fiber, vitamins and minerals they contain. Getting plenty of fiber in your diet helps you fill up with fewer calories and keeps you from getting constipated, as well as lowering your risk for heart disease.

Eating pasta sauce is also a great way to up your vitamin intake. Niacin is important for making hormones and improving your circulation, and vitamin A helps with immune function and vision. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and helps with immune function, and vitamin K helps your blood clot and strengthens your bones. Marinara pasta sauce also contains lycopene, an antioxidant which may lower your cancer risk, and plant chemicals that help keep your eyes healthy.

You get essential minerals as well as larger amounts of potassium. f you use store-bought pasta sauce it can be high in sodium. You can make your pasta sauce healthier by chopping up extra vegetables in a variety of colors and adding them to your sauce; color indicates which beneficial compounds are in different vegetables. Try adding red peppers, grated carrots, chopped spinach and mushrooms for a good mix of nutrients.

Chianti, a dry red wine made primarily from the sangiovese grape. Chianti produces a medium-bodied ruby-red wine with an aroma of wild berries and flavors of black cherry and raspberry that blend well with the acidic quality of red sauce.


Check out our Playlists on YouTube for perfectly themed music to set the ambiance of your meal!

Spicy Arrabiata Marinara Sauce

This is a spicier version of the basic red marinara sauce.

Replace balsamic vinegar with red wine vinegar. Add 1 TBSN of crushed red pepper flakes and 1/4 cup fresh grated carrot when adding tomatoes. Serve with cooked penne pasta and fresh parsley.

Puttanesca Marinara Sauce

This is a more robust version of the arribiata sauce.

Replace balsamic vinegar with red wine vinegar. Add 1 TBSN of crushed red pepper flakes, 1/4 cup fresh grated carrot, and 6 anchovy fillets anchovies when adding tomatoes. After 60 minutes, stir in 1 cup of pitted and crushed kalamata olives and 3 TBSN capers. Serve with cooked spaghetti and fresh parsley.

Veggie Celebration Marinara Sauce

This adds more veggies to your basic marinara sauce.

Add a 1/3 cup of mushrooms, 1/3 cup grated carrots, and 1/2 cup cooked spinach when adding tomatoes. Serve with vegetable lasagna or stuffed shells.

Vodka Marinara Sauce

This is a hearty, creamier sauce that blends in Vodka, heavy cream, and butter.

Add 3 TBSN butter when sauteing onion and garlic. After sauce comes to boil and brought to simmer, add 3 TBSN Vodka and 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Stir to mix well. Serve with chopped fresh basil. This sauce is ideal with seafood and stuffed pastas, such as tortellini, ravioli, or mezzaluna.

Marinara Meat Sauce

This sauce adds ground sausage or ground chuck for a meatier sauce.

Add one pound of ground Italian sausage or ground chuck and saute with the garlic, Olive Oil, and onion until browned. Do not drain before adding tomatoes and herbs; fat residue will thicken and add additional flavor to the meat sauce. Perfect when served with cooked spaghetti.

Bolognese Sauce

This sauce combines ground beef, bacon, and veggies for a chunkier, flavorful sauce. Add one pound of ground beef and saute with the garlic, Olive Oil, and onion until browned. Do not drain before adding tomatoes and herbs; fat residue will thicken and add additional flavor to the meat sauce. When adding tomatoes, add four strips of cooked bacon, crumbled into the sauce. Add 1/3 cup of mushrooms and 1/3 cup of grated carrots to sauce.

Perfect when served with cooked spaghetti.

Smoked Marinara Meat Sauce

This sauce perfectly balances the right amount of smokey flavor and tender meat. When sauteing onion and garlic, add 1 lb of boneless beef short ribs and sear until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and basic recipe ingredients. Cook 3 hours until short ribs are tender and separate using a fork. Use a hand blender to blend the meat and sauce until slightly smooth while retaining some texture. Serve with cooked rigatoni pasta.

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