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What Is Marinara Sauce?
In Italian, pasta alla marinara means "sailor-style pasta," but it contains no seafood. Instead, the name marinara is likely a reference to the place where the simple tomato sauce originated—coastal Naples. Marinara sauce is made with just four ingredients: ripe whole tomatoes, fresh garlic, olive oil, and herbs. Cooked briefly and left somewhat chunky, homemade marinara sauce has become a classic not just in Naples, but around the world.
How to Use Marinara Sauce in Your Cooking
In Naples, the birthplace of pizza, marinara is also a style of pizza, topped simply with tomato puree, thinly sliced garlic cloves, a pinch of oregano, and a spiral of olive oil. Outside of Italy, marinara sauce is widely available as the ubiquitous red sauce of Italian American cuisine, canned for use as pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, dipping sauce, and as an ingredient in everything from sloppy joes to chilli. You can serve traditional Napes-style pasta alla marinara with meatballs, or you can serve marinara with vegetarian lasagna, zucchini noodles, or chicken parmesan sandwiches.
4 Essential Marinara Ingredients
Marinara sauce is vegan by nature, with just four simple ingredients:
- Tomatoes: Only use fresh tomatoes in marinara sauce if they are truly ripe. Canned tomatoes, whether whole, crushed, or diced, are a great option. Avoid using tomato paste.
- Garlic: Garlic is the sole allium in this Italian recipe. There are two common methods for incorporating garlic into a marinara sauce: toasting whole garlic cloves to make a garlic-infused oil, or simmering finely minced garlic in the tomato sauce.
- Herbs: Flavor your marinara with herbs such as fresh basil leaves, oregano sprigs, or fresh parsley.
- Olive oil: Fatty olive oil balances acidic tomatoes for a winning flavor combination.
Classic Marinara Sauce Recipe
Prep Time10 min
Total Time30 min
Cook Time20 min
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes or crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano tomatoes, roughly diced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, or parsley
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm olive oil until shimmering. Add garlic cloves and sauté until lightly browned, about 3–4 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove garlic and discard.
- Reduce to medium heat. Add diced tomatoes and salt. Use an immersion blender to blend the sauce to a slightly chunky consistency.
- Bring the tomato sauce to a boil. Reduce to low heat and continue simmering until the sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed.
- Remove sauce from the heat and fold in fresh herbs. Serve warm or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
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