This classic marinara sauce for pastas, pizzas and more comes together in no time, and it’s the best marinara you’ll ever taste. A vegan, soy-free, nut-free and gluten-free recipe.
A classic marinara sauce is a great recipe to have in your toolbox for those days when you want dinner to be a quick, healthy — yet delicious — affair. That’s why I want to share with you today my favorite recipe for a very traditional marinara that needs all of five ingredients, hardly any prep, and that comes together in one pot in under 30 minutes.
I confess I was never a huge fan of marinara until I started to make and eat this sauce, based off a recipe I found many years back in the New York Times, and which I’ve tweaked a bit over the years.
I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone when I first made it. I’d tried countless marinara recipes before, with and without onions, with meat, with fake meat, with wine, with eggplant and everything in between, and never really loved them. So how could a recipe with just a few basic ingredients actually beat all of these?
It did, and still does, to this day. In fact, I wouldn’t dream of making marinara again any other way.
Here’s the thing though: you knew that was coming, didn’t you? While I hate to go all Ina Garten on you and say you need to use the good tomatoes for this sauce, in this case, please do.
Tomatoes are really the key here and what you need is good San Marzano tomatoes which are sweeter and have a deeper tomato-ey taste than regular canned plum tomatoes.
It’s true that San Marzano tomatoes can be a little pricey compared to regular canned plum tomatoes, but at Costco I buy a three-pack of 28-oz cans for around $9. I sometimes even get them cheaper at my neighborhood mom and pop grocery store (and you thought those were mythical).
You’ll need one can for this recipe, so about $3 in tomatoes, and it easily feeds around six people, so …not a bad deal at all.
There’s very little besides the tomatoes in the recipe. There’s olive oil, of course, and garlic, and salt, and red pepper flakes, and an herb, usually basil or oregano. In summers, when I have basil growing in my backyard, I go with basil. In winters, when a warm, savory herb like oregano seems more welcoming, I use dry oregano. You can switch them up or even use both. I don’t really have a preference, they both make the sauce taste — slightly differently — great.
Tips for making the best marinara sauce you ever ate?
- Once again, use the best San Marzano tomatoes you can find and afford. It’s the tomatoes that give you most of the amazing flavor in this marinara. However, if you absolutely can’t — or won’t — use them, you can use canned plum tomatoes. I can’t promise your sauce will be as good, but it’ll be good.
- Using your fingers, break the San Marzano tomatoes down into chunky bits. This is the fun part, and the one that needs to be done with really clean hands. Don’t make the tomatoes too smooth — you want some obvious hunks of tomato in there.
- You need eight cloves of garlic in this recipe, although I’ve been known to go with more at times because I love garlic. I crush the garlic first and then slice it thinly, to extract the most flavor. And I put it in a cold pan with the olive oil and heat the two together, again, to extract the most flavor.
- You can use red pepper flakes to spice up your sauce, or black pepper, and both work just as well. But I like to use both — a little of both. So, for my family, which has a moderate love for spices, I’ll use half a teaspoon of black pepper and half a teaspoon of the red pepper flakes. That may be a lot for some, and too little for others, so use more or less of one or both based on your preference.
- There’s very little prep work involved in this marinara, besides chopping the garlic and opening the can of tomatoes and crushing them, but you do have to be patient and let the sauce cook for a full 15 minutes after it begins to boil. The sauce will be a bright red when it’s done. Even so, you don’t need more than 30 minutes to make this sauce. And you can boil your spaghetti while it’s cooking.
- You can vary this sauce up a bit to pump up the protein by adding some meatless meat crumbles or vegan sausage to the pot as soon as the garlic turns blonde. Saute for a couple of minutes and then add the tomatoes and continue to cook for a delicious meat sauce for your pasta.
What can you serve this marinara with?
- Spaghetti is the classic choice, of course, and if you put spaghetti together with this marinara, you don’t need anything else at all. You could add a dash of vegan cashew parm, or, if you’re looking for something more hearty, stir in some meatless beef or sausage into the sauce according to instructions in the recipe notes below.
- Use it for your vegan pizza. Of course!
- Serve it with gnocchi, or any pasta, really. Ravioli is great with marinara. And how about a traditional and classic vegan lasagna?
- Marinara is probably the kid friendliest sauce if there ever was one, and it’s healthy, so use it to make fun dishes for your kids, like my Vegan Pizza Rolls or Vegan Cheesy Garlicky Pull Apart Pizza Bread.
- Use it as a dipping sauce for garlicky bread sticks, the possibilities are endless.
- You will also need this marinara for this delicious and healthy vegan manicotti recipe pictured below.
Ingredients for marinara sauce:
- San Marzano tomatoes, canned
- Olive oil
- Red pepper flakes or ground black pepper or both
- Basil or oregano
Looking for more tasty vegan sauce recipes?
- The Best Vegan White Pasta Sauce
- Vegan Alfredo Sauce with Mushrooms
- Basic Tomato Onion Masala Sauce for Quick Curries
- Magic Cheesy Sauce
- Slow Cooker Lentil Bolognese
Marinara Sauce Recipe
Vegan | Nut-free | Soy-free | Gluten-free
Marinara Sauce Recipe
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic (crushed with your knife, then finely sliced)
- 28 oz San Marzano tomatoes (canned. You need both the tomatoes and all the juices)
- 1 tsp oregano (or basil. Use dry or, if using fresh, bump up to 1 tbsp. In summers I like using fresh basil. Use a sprig with about five large leaves of basil, whole)
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or more if you like your sauce spicier)
- Ground black pepper (optional. You can use some of this instead of the red pepper flakes, or use half of each)
- Salt to taste
- Empty the can of San Marzano tomatoes into a bowl and, using your fingers, crush the whole tomatoes into the juices. Leave a few chunks. Add a cup of water to the can, swirl it to mix in any tomato sauce that's sticking to the sides of the can, and empty into the bowl. Mix once.
- In a large, wide saucepan, place the olive oil and the garlic and turn on the heat. Stir and let the garlic cook over medium-low heat until it starts to just turn blonde.
- Add the prepped tomatoes and stir to mix. Stir in the oregano or basil and red pepper flakes or ground black pepper. If using fresh herbs, don't chop them. Drop in the sprigs of oregano or basil whole, stir them in, and then fish them out of the sauce before serving.
- Once the sauce comes to a boil, turn the heat so the sauce simmers gently, and let it cook 15 minutes. The sauce should be a bright red when it's ready. Stir a few times during cooking.
- Fish out any fresh herbs, if you used them before serving.
- To make this marinara heartier and pump up the protein in the recipe, add 12 to 14 oz of ground sausage or meatless meat to the pot after the garlic begins to turn blonde. Once the sausage or faux meat browns a bit, add the tomatoes and proceed with the rest of the recipe.
- To add meatballs to your sauce, saute the meatballs separately in a tablespoon of oil, then add them to the sauce toward end of cooking. Turn off the heat after two minutes.