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Perfect marinara sauce

June 18, 2010

Here’s a blast from the past for you: my second-ever blog entry. Cute, right? When I first started this thing almost two years ago, I had no idea what I was doing with it. If anything, I figured it’d be my food diary, a place where I’d record my daily noshings as well as my random thoughts, ideas, or curiosities about food. Within a few short months, I’d begun posting recipes with step-by-step photos accompanying the instructions, interspersed with posts about eating out or road tripping. It evolved very organically (no pun intended), and though it’s become so much more than I expected initially, I’m nothing but proud of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown as a home cook, vegan, and food blogger in general.

Anyway, back to that second entry. In it, I mentioned growing up eating Ragu Old World Style marinara sauce on all my [nutrient-stripped white] pasta. During and after college, I tried every other jarred marinara on the market, and cooked dozens of my own, but none of them satisfied me like smooth, salty, overprocessed Ragu. Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since I wrote that post, and haven’t cracked open a jar of Ragu in well over a year. Despite numerous hopeful attempts, however, I had yet to find a suitably flavorful, yet fast and easy, recipe for homemade marinara—until now. This sweet, herby, garlicky sauce is a mélange of so many other recipes and techniques that I can only call it my own. So without further ado, I present to you…my quick-and-perfect marinara sauce.

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, roughly chopped
10-12 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic cloves and sauté, stirring often, until softened (about 6-8 minutes). They should be golden and translucent, but not browned. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor.

Add all remaining ingredients except the parsley. (Variation: if you have an open bottle, try replacing the balsamic vinegar with 1/4 cup of fruity red wine!)

Purée until smooth. Add the parsley and pulse until just incorporated. Taste for seasoning, and if the sauce seems a little acidic, feel free to add a tablespoon of agave nectar.

Perfetta! Use immediately, or transfer to a large container and refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for up to 2 months. Ladle it over any kind of pasta, put it in lasagna, or just use it as a dip for crusty bread. Better yet, make a batch this weekend, stick it in the fridge, and then check back here Monday for the perfect dish to serve it with!

Yield: Half gallon (12 servings).
Per serving (about 2/3 cup): 92 calories, 2.8g fat (trace sat), 16.5g carbs, 4g fiber, 3.3g protein.

If you like this, you might also like…
Rotini with walnut sauce (×2)
Spaghetti with raw tomato sauce
Tofu parmigiana alla marinara

36 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2010 1:23 am

    Oooh! I can make this! (I know that sounds odd, but my mother is allergic to tomatoes, so for 23 years I've been unable to make tomato-based pasta sauces. In fact, any pasta really, as it took a long time for good gluten-free pastas to show up here.)
    Also, it really was written in the stars that we'd become friends, because who else would be able to tell you that WHEN you come to Australia, beware the "marinara" title – in Australia, marinara refers to a seafood-filled tomato sauce 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 2, 2010 4:32 pm

      I remember you saying that about your mum; such a shame! But now you can go tomato-crazy, not to mention add nice splashes of red ‘cross the cerulean palette of Smurf Kitchen :]
      And re: “marinara,” that is good to know! Given the etymology of the word, it does make perfect sense.

  2. June 19, 2010 10:32 pm

    this looks fabulous! i love a good sauce 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 2, 2010 4:33 pm

      Ditto! With pizza, pasta, etc. it’s all in the sauce for me.

  3. June 20, 2010 12:27 am

    damn girl look at all those sauce linkbacks you gave…you're the saucy queen!if you make the crackers and fully dehyd them, lmk how it works…I havent the patience. I HATE The sound of the dehyd and use it as little as possible.:)

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 2, 2010 4:34 pm

      I’ll let you know! The hardest thing about plan-ahead cooking for me is having to be at work for 9 hours a day, unable to check on or flip anything I’m dehydrating. But sometime soon, when I have a free weekend day…

  4. June 19, 2010 11:25 pm

    That's it????? I can't believe how easy this is! I like the 10 to 12 cloves of garlic! and the balsamic vinegar or wine kick. All in all it is a marinara I want to try because i can see so many uses for it~even with poached eggs.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 2, 2010 4:33 pm

      The garlic is my favorite part too 😀 The recipe’s so simple, yet it’s out-of-this-world flavorful. I’d love for you to try it!

  5. June 20, 2010 2:31 pm

    SO simple and SO easy! I bet it would freeze well too! 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 2, 2010 4:35 pm

      It does! It’s a great thing to have on hand; like tasteofbeirut said, the uses for it are endless.

  6. June 21, 2010 1:09 am

    Believe it or not, I've never made my own red sauce. I think it's about time to change that! I'll definitely be using your recipe when my crop of tomatoes finally comes in. 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 2, 2010 4:35 pm

      That IS hard to believe! I’d love it if you tried my recipe! I bet it’d be divine made with fresh summer tomatoes.

  7. June 21, 2010 2:13 am

    Looks/sounds perfect. You can't go wrong anytime you're creating with onions and garlic!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 2, 2010 4:35 pm

      Agreed; it’s definitely one of the culinary world’s greatest combos.

  8. June 21, 2010 4:25 am

    Yum! I love making homemade marinara sauce! Your recipe sounds good! 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 2, 2010 4:35 pm

      Thanks! I can hardly believe it took me so long to quit buying jarred sauces when homemade marinara is practically just a can opener away :]

  9. June 25, 2010 3:45 am

    As soon as she was done with it, we ate it with a large french roll and it was superb. I'm a huge fan.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 2, 2010 4:36 pm

      Aw, thanks honey! I like when you comment and confirm the tastiness of a dish, as it helps prove that I’m not just hyperbolically inclined when it comes to food description ;]

  10. Kelley permalink
    March 22, 2012 1:08 am

    Ooooooh Amber I feel like we know you, I’m off all my meds and 50% less insulin in my pump and hubby is down 80 pounds and looks amazebolls. I’m SO happy for this recipe, thannk you ❤ But…ummm….is that a package of Oreos in one of those pics? Just sayin'…lol.

    • March 22, 2012 9:26 am

      Oh my gosh, you’re right! Haha! Those must’ve been some I got for free somewhere and was planning to pawn off on Matt or my mom. Even though they’re tasty as can be, I haven’t eaten Oreos since I was a kid…even though they ARE vegan, believe it or not! 😛

  11. April 19, 2012 10:22 am

    Okayyy…holy yum! Made this sauce for my hubby, who’s a canned sauce junkie, and it got a triple thumbs up! I managed to forget the tomato paste at the store, but 1/4 cup of sundrieds did the trick…oh, and FYI, this sauce was the maiden voyage for my NEW & very first Vitamix!!! Perfect marinara over brown rice pasta (with pizza kale chips on the side) was such a fun way to celebrate.

  12. Kathleen permalink
    June 23, 2012 11:23 am

    going to try this tonight. I have tried several other recipes but have not found one I like… I grew up with jarred sauces and love prego! I have not bought it in ages and just deal with not liking the homemade as much… but I have high hopes for this one since its from another jarred sauce lover!

  13. Dana permalink
    November 2, 2012 9:16 pm

    Hey Amber. This might sound like a silly question but I’m never really sure which onion to choose when a recipe calls for one (yellow, sweet, brown, or white). It seems I always go for the sweet onions but these can also get as large as softballs (I can’t imagine that is what you are referring to when you say two large onions in this recipe). (?) So could you clear up this ridiculous dilemma of mine and perhaps give me a guesstimation in approx. diameter of the onions you’re using here? Oy veeey. I know, I know. But yes, THIS marinara sounds heavenly and I can’t wait to make it! 🙂 Thanks so much!

    • November 3, 2012 9:23 am

      Dana, I think that’s a great question! And you’re right, it’s something chefs don’t tend to address often. If a recipe doesn’t specify onion type, you can use any kind you like. I tend to go for the yellow and/or sweet ones, myself. Size-wise, it’s all relative, but I’d say the softball-sized onions you referenced could be between large and extra-large. An onion the size of an average apple would be medium to medium-small. Another way you could calculate it is 1 medium onion = 1 cup chopped. 1 large onion would be closer to 1 1/2 cups chopped.
      Hope that helps! Enjoy the marinara! 🙂

      • Dana permalink
        November 3, 2012 11:35 am

        Yes, that helps tremendously. Thanks so much Amber! …and I know I will (enjoy the marinara). 🙂

  14. Dana permalink
    November 3, 2012 12:14 pm

    Hey Amber, me again. As I was looking over your recipe once again (I was just about to share my excitement of finding your recipe with my girlfriend, because we were JUST talking about wanting a really good marinara sauce) and while looking at your photos, (I like to sort of study and analyze things (lol)), in the third to the last photo, I could swear I see rosemary in the mix of seasonings…and what’s funny, it even looks like you threw in some buckwheat groats in there to boot (lol) which I KNOW can’t be. That’s got to be the oregano. I do realize one could pretty much personalize any recipe by adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that to their liking but, I am curious to know if that is what you added here (rosemary)? I love rosemary but also know that could change the intended flavor of your sauce if I add it.

    • November 3, 2012 12:17 pm

      Hey Dana! It does look like I threw a little rosemary in there. I might been out of basil at the time, or something. I’ve made this a dozen or more times, and I tweak it in little ways every time. I frequently leave out the fresh parsley, since I don’t have it on hand at all times, for example. Anyway, always feel free to adjust the recipe to your taste! If you love rosemary, go ahead and throw some in there. 🙂 My recipes are never prescriptive or set in stone.
      PS – I promise that’s oregano, not buckwheat 😛

      • Dana permalink
        November 3, 2012 12:23 pm

        Oh how funny, I thought I saw rosemary. Sounds great! Will be making this tomorrow. And how funny about the buckwheat … 🙂 (I believe you!). 🙂

  15. Dana permalink
    November 4, 2012 3:33 pm

    Hey Amber, gosh, I apologize for bugging you, yet again, with another Q, but I’m about to make your wonderful sauce and noticed that all I have on hand are “fire roasted” crushed tomatoes. I’m hesitant to use them since they might alter the flavor (?). Don’t know if this would be a good thing or not. Just curious to know IF you happened to ever use them and if so, did you enjoy the flavor as much. I’m running out to the store anyway so it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to pick up the reg. non-fire roasted. Hope you get this soon as I’m planning to leave shortly. If not, I think I’ll pick up the reg. ones anyway. I have a feeling I will be making this sauce often. :). Thanks for your time! Dana

    • November 4, 2012 3:35 pm

      Hehe, no problem 🙂 I’ve never used the fire-roasted in this particular recipe because I’m not a very big fan of “smoky” flavors in my food. However, if you DO like the fire-roasted variety, you’d probably enjoy them in this sauce, too! I just can’t personally vouch for that variation.

  16. Dana permalink
    November 4, 2012 3:46 pm

    I guess I’ll have to leave that decision up to my girlfriend (geesh). She’s the one who also leans away from “smoky” foods/flavors. Good to know and again, thank you!!! Have a great rest of your Sunday. 🙂

  17. Dana permalink
    November 4, 2012 7:26 pm

    Hey Amber ~ I just wanted to tell you that we finished dinner about a 1/2 hr. ago and you were right on the money with this sauce. FAAANTASTIC! Thanks to you, I have finally found a very tasty AND ridiculously easy marinara that will be used over and over again. Thank you! …and by the way I bought your cookbook about 3 wks ago and LOVE so much about it (especially the hummus chapter! High five to hummus!). 🙂 …so looking forward to making many of your dishes/concoctions. …don’t have my dehydrator yet but plan on getting it real soon (Excalibur for sure).

    • November 4, 2012 7:28 pm

      Yay! So happy to hear that 🙂 Double high-five for hummus and marinara! Glad you’re enjoying my recipes and cookbook!


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