How to Make the Best Marinara Sauce
Set aside the store-bought jars and learn how to make the best marinara sauce.
If you were lucky enough to grow up with a Nonna who made big batches of pasta sauce every Sunday, you know that from-scratch marinara is the common denominator for dinnertime magic. Bringing a depth of flavor that blows away store-bought sauces, it’s the ultimate complement to spaghetti and meatballs, manicotti and other many classic Italian dishes.
Here at Taste of Home, we know a thing or two about pasta sauces. After all, our Test Kitchen has tested and perfected over 120 recipes sent in from home cooks just like you. So, when Shannon Roum, Taste of Home’s Senior Food Stylist, brought in her homemade marinara recipe, we knew it was something special. (If you’re wondering when to use marinara vs. tomato sauce, we have the answer.)
What Makes It the Best?
Shannon created this recipe by combining fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes and herbs with garlic, onions and tomato paste for a bright and balanced sauce that the Test Kitchen couldn’t stop raving about.
She originally developed this recipe with a friend to make the most of a bumper crop of tomatoes. Because of this, Shannon likes to make huge batches—we’re talking 220 pounds of tomatoes huge—which she cans and gifts with a pound of pasta around the holidays. “It’s just the thing where you know you have the best possible ingredients and you know you can feel good about giving it to your family,” she says. “It’s so much better than going to the store and buying something for somebody when instead you can give them a part of yourself.”
A recipe that special needs to be shared, so keep reading to get Shannon’s tips for making the best marinara sauce you’ve ever had. (And luckily, she downsized the recipe for us, too.)
Don’t forget to check out some of our other homemade pasta sauce recipes.
How to Make the Best Marinara Sauce
Here’s What You’ll Need:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1/3 cup minced garlic, divided
- 12 pounds plum tomatoes, quartered
- 2 cups water
- 1-1/4 cups minced fresh basil, divided
- 1/4 cup minced fresh oregano
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- 1/4 cup plus 1-1/2 teaspoons bottled lemon juice
- Large stock pot
- Food mill—find one here
- Three 24-oz. canning jars—find them here
Makes 9 cups.
Step 1: Saute and simmer
Start off by adding the olive oil to a large stockpot over medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add the chopped onion and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Then, add two tablespoons of garlic and cook for a minute longer. Once the garlic is aromatic, add the quartered tomatoes, water and 1/2 cup of the basil to the pot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until the tomatoes have completely broken down, which will take about an hour. During this time, be sure to give the pot a few good stirs to prevent anything from burning.
Test Kitchen Tip: Be sure to start off with fresh whole tomatoes—seeds, skin and all. Not only does this save you the step of peeling and deseeding, but it adds a ton of flavor to the sauce. Also, make sure the tomatoes are fresh from the garden or a farmers market. If you can’t find plum, choose another type of tomato that’s good for sauce.
Step 2: Remove the skin and seeds
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When the tomatoes have broken down, press the sauce, one ladle at a time, through a food mill ($50) and into a large bowl, discarding the skin and seeds.
Test Kitchen Tip: If you don’t have a food mill, you can process the tomato mixture in a blender instead, and then press it through a fine sieve to remove the skin and seeds.
Step 3: Simmer again
Return the tomato mixture to the stockpot, adding 1/2 cup of basil, the oregano and remaining garlic. Bring the sauce back to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer until it’s thickened, about 3 1/2-4 hours, stirring occasionally.
Test Kitchen Tip: Get by with a little help from your friends! Herbs will taste differently depending on where they’re planted, so Shannon likes to gather the basil and oregano for this recipe from a few friends’ gardens for a good blend of flavors. You can also pick up bunches from different vendors at a farmers market for the same effect.
Step 4: Boost the flavor
Next, stir in the tomato paste, remaining basil, salt and pepper.
Test Kitchen Tip: Shannon adds the tomato paste at the end of the simmer to really enhance the tomato flavor of the sauce without having to reduce it down too much. The tomato paste also helps the sauce keeps the marinara from separating when served. Use these substitutes for tomato paste if you don’t have any on hand.
Step 5: Can it
Add 1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice to each of the three hot 24-oz. jars. Ladle the hot sauce into the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe the jars’ rims of any sauce, center the lid and screw on the bands until they’re fingertip tight.
Test Kitchen Tip: Canning is probably the only time Shannon reaches for bottled lemon juice over the fresh stuff. This is because bottled lemon juice has a standard pH that is more reliable in canning than a fresh lemon. Plus, the lemon juice won’t flavor the sauce, so you shouldn’t feel squeamish about using bottled juice.
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Step 6: Water bath
Place the jars in canner with simmering water, making sure that they’re completely covered with water. Bring the water to a boil and then let the jars process for 40 minutes. Remove jars and cool completely.
If you’re new to canning, be sure to check out our canning 101 guide. It has everything you need to know about canning, from supplies to different methods and the mistakes almost everyone makes when canning.
Test Kitchen Tip: If you have another method for canning, feel free to use it with this recipe. Shannon prefers this aluminum steam canner from Victorio ($39) over water bath canning, especially when working with a large volume. Just be sure to sure to double-check that your method results in a food-safe seal.
Step 7: Store or enjoy!
Store your sealed jars of sauce in a cool, dry place, like a cabinet or in your basement. Or, serve right away with chicken parmesan, lasagna or any number of Italian dishes.
Test Kitchen Tip: Since the sauce is separated into 24-oz. canning jars, you can easily swap this sauce into any recipe that calls for a store-bought jar, since they’re the same size.
Looking for some ideas? Check out these dinners that start with a jar of pasta sauce.
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