The best weeknight recipe for Italian marinara sauce. Made easy with a quick simmer of canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, and more!
DINNER IS BETTER WHEN EVERYONE’S ON BOARD
Spaghetti with Italian marinara sauce is a universally accepted dinner by children across the globe, and a dish both Italian and American mom’s serve up with ease. Cause let’s face it: Life with littles is way easier when we don’t have to listen to them gripe over our dinnertime selections.
Growing up, my mom made us spaghetti dinner on a weekly basis, and these days, it’s a dinner I know I can serve up to my own picky little eaters with zero complaints echoing from the background. Less complaining and more eating. Yes, please.
Dinner is just better when everyone is on board, isn’t it?
The marinara my working mom topped our spaghetti with was always store-bought, and it was only at grandmother’s place that we were given the gold — the good stuff, if you will. It was a homemade Italian marinara sauce that would knock your socks off, and there wasn’t a jar on the planet that could compare.
Now, I’ve heard how the old-school Italians do marinara — simmering away for a day and even allowing it to sit overnight to just keep-on, keeping-on building flavor. That’s all fine and grand, and if you have a day and a night to dedicate to sauce, more power to ya. But over here in this kitchen, we gotta get dinner on the table just a lit-tle bit quicker than that.
My grandmother managed to knock out a pretty stellar marinara in less than an hour, and that’s exactly what we are going to do here today.
HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE ITALIAN MARINARA SAUCE
Italian marinara sauce is easy to make from scratch. You’ll need a red bell pepper, a yellow onion, garlic, canned tomatoes, seasoning, and fresh herbs (if you’d like). Let’s start with the most important part — the tomatoes.
USE CANNED TOMATOES
All canned tomatoes were not created equal, and some boast much more flavor than others. If you are a foodie at heart, you know good and well that San Marzanos are the creme de la creme in the tomato world when it comes to marinara sauce. The base of our sauce will consist mainly of crushed San Marzanos. Crushed tomatoes will give your sauce more body (than say a can of whole tomatoes) in less time.
In addition to crushed San Marzanos, we’ll be pulling in one more type of canned tomatoes, and this, my friend, is our secret weapon to making the best weeknight Italian marinara sauce this side of the Atlantic ocean.
Fire roasted tomatoes impart a massive amount of flavor in a very small amount of time, and they take this homemade marinara from “pretty good” to “the best you’ve ever had.” Use crushed if you can find them, but diced works just fine for this recipe as well.
START WITH FRESH INGREDIENTS
So we’ve all heard the saying “fresh is best,” but as we just learned, when it comes to making a weeknight dinner featuring a homemade Italian marinara sauce, canned tomatoes are the way to go. To get the best of both worlds, we’re going to spruce up those canned tomatoes using fresh ingredients.
Savory, aromatic ingredients like diced red bell pepper, yellow onion, and lots of fragrant minced garlic are used to start our marinara sauce off in the right direction. Then, in goes the crushed San Marzanos, the fire roasted tomatoes, and it’s time for a little spice.
SPICE IT UP
The spices you need for an exceptional homemade marinara sauce are simple, and you likely already have them in your spice cabinet. Kosher salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and granulated sugar are all you need. Sugar not only balances out the savory aspect of the sauce but also helps to offset any metallic taste from the canned tomatoes.
Many Italian marinara sauce recipes will actually call for carrots to sweeten the sauce. However, this is a simple weeknight marinara sauce, and I guarantee, you will not be missing the carrots.
LET IT SIMMER. BUT, WHY?
Once all of the ingredients have come together, it’s time let it all simmer and allow those flavors to meld into one another. Simmering also helps to cook out any residual metallic flavor from the canned tomatoes, deepens the overall flavor, and thickens the sauce. About 25-30 minutes of simmering is really all you need for a great homemade marinara sauce.
Note, a simmer is different than a boil. You do not want to allow your sauce to burn on the bottom, and you may want to consider using an enameled cast iron Dutch oven for cooking your marinara sauce. They are an even conductor of heat and are far less likely to burn on the bottom than a stainless steel saucepan.
ADD SOME FRESH HERBS
When it comes to herbs, the fresh is best mentality remains. Toward the end of the cook time, feel free to throw in herbs like basil and/or oregano. You can either mince them or throw in a few sprigs and fish them out before serving.
PUREE…OR DON’T. YOUR CHOICE.
If you prefer a smooth marinara, you can either ladle the sauce into a blender or use an immersion blender. The immersion blender is less work and my go-to choice for a perfectly smooth marinara sauce.
ADD SOME MEAT AND SIMMER SOME MORE
Once your marinara has reached completion, feel free to add a pound of seasoned ground beef or some of these Easy Baked Meatballs to your sauce.
If you’re adding meat to the marinara, be sure to let the meat simmer in there for an additional 15-20 minutes so those flavors have time to meld.
Mmmmmmm…can you hear the children clapping yet?
PUT AWAY THE JARS. FOR GOOD.
Oh yes, the children will indeed be singing your praises for this one. Actually husbands too. You know what? Why don’t you go ahead and pat yourself on the back while you’re at it. Because this is one heck of a weeknight dinner, and you just threw it together in less than an hour.
Time to put away the jars, ladies. With a weeknight marinara this good, we certainly won’t be needing them anymore. Please, enjoy.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper seeded and finely diced
- 1 yellow onion finely diced
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 (28 ounce) can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced or crushed fire roasted tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons freshly minced basil (optional)
- 2 teaspoons freshly minced oregano (optional)
Add the olive oil to an enameled cast iron Dutch oven or a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the pepper and onion, and sauté 5-8 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more.
Add the canned tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and allow to come to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 25-30 minutes with the lid ajar, stirring often. If using fresh herbs, add them after about 20 minutes of simmering.
If desired, puree using an immersion blender or a blender with the feed tube removed and a dish towel covering its place.