A fantastic, simple tomato sauce in 20 minutes.
Tomato sauce falls into two general categories. The first is the fresh, quick variety. The second category is the time-consuming, day-long Sunday sauce. This perfect 20-minute marinara sauce recipe falls into the former. It is a simple, authentic marinara with surprising depth of flavor, ready to be tossed with pasta or used for anything you’d like.
Sunday sauce — or gravy in the Philly region where I come from — tastes incredible. My mom makes an excellent Sunday gravy. Gravy involves tomato sauce stewed with meatballs, two types of Italian sausage (hot and sweet), ribs, and braciole if you are lucky. But for anyone craving pasta or a simple meal on a busy Wednesday? Let this marinara save the day.
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What is marinara? How do I make a perfect marinara sauce in 20 minutes?
Marinara is a simple tomato sauce with few ingredients and no meat. This recipes uses only garlic, onion, olive oil, a little fresh basil, and seasoning. Marinara makes a great base for pizza, a simple pasta sauce, and a component in many other dishes.
Making marinara is not complicated, but there are a few important notes — especially if you want to get it right in limited time.
Here are the tips:
- Use a big skillet, instead of a small pot. Even though this recipe calls for only one large can of tomatoes, the wide surface area helps it cook more quickly.
- The onion will add aroma and flavor only. Leave the onion in quarters; do not dice it and stir it into the tomatoes. Then, remove the onion quarters from the marinara before serving — I actually love to eat it.
- Additionally, any Italian cook will tell you to slosh some water around in the empty can of tomatoes. Then, add the tomato water to the sauce as it cooks. This will ensure that 1) you are not wasting any tomato, and 2) the sauce does not over-reduce.
Finally, to properly serve pasta marinara, do not just put plain pasta in a bowl and pour sauce on top. This is a no-no. Rather, add some sauce to the pot of pasta and stir it in. More sauce can be added on top once the pasta gets plated.
20-Minute Marinara Sauce
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into large quarters (root base attached)
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 28-ounce can unsalted San Marzano whole tomatoes
- large sprig fresh basil, plus more to garnish
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
- 1 generous pinch red pepper flakes
- generous pinch sugar, optional
- Crush the tomatoes by hand or by sticking kitchen shears in the can and snipping until the whole tomatoes are broken up into chunks. Set aside.
- Heat the olive oil with the onion quarters over medium heat in a large skillet.
- When the onion starts to gently sizzle, add the garlic, tomatoes, salt, red pepper flakes, and basil. Swish about a 1/2 cup of water in the empty tomato can to get the rest of the tomatoes out, and add the tomato water to the skillet. Stir gently.
- When the tomatoes come to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Taste for seasoning. Depending on the acidity of the tomatoes, you may want to add a pinch or two of sugar, and maybe a little more salt. Remove onion pieces -- which should be falling apart -- before serving, but do not discard. They are delicious on crusty bread, or on their own.