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Perfect 20-Minute Marinara Sauce

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A fantastic, simple tomato sauce in 20 minutes.

bowl of pasta with marinara sauce and ricotta and basil

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.

You will also like: Sheet Pan Pasta Pomodoro and Pasta With Chicken, Zucchini, and Mint

bowl of pasta with marinara sauce and ricotta and basil

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.

bowl of pasta with marinara sauce and ricotta and basil

Here are the tips:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

bowl of pasta with marinara sauce and ricotta and basil

bowl of pasta with marinara sauce and ricotta and basil

20-Minute Marinara Sauce

A perfect, simple tomato sauce recipe for pasta, pizza, and more.
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Course: dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Keywords:: garlic, italian, italian food, marinara, tomato, tomato sauce, tomatoes
Servings: 2 cups sauce, approximately


  • 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.


  • Erin Erle

    5 stars
    I love this sauce and have made it several times. It is now my “go-to” for pasta night. So simple and delicious.

  • 5 stars
    This marinara was absolutely delicious! I used a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes rather than whole tomatoes. Very easy and perfect flavor. This is now my go to!

  • 5 stars
    I’m so sorry for another text but I had to share w/ you my guy & I Loooooved the addition of ricotta!!!!!??
    YUM! Seriously a big YUM

    Also… I’m sorry I mistakenly tap a question mark when I intended it to be an “!”

    I seem to have done that a few times ?

    Enjoy the long weekend!??

    • Unpeeled

      Yea! So glad you enjoyed! I hope you enjoy the weekend as well!

  • 5 stars

    Hi Lisa ,
    this has become my “go -to” marinara. It’s quick & easy, and always very good.

    I have a question: what is the “scoop” of cheese in the photograph used for this recipe?
    It looks like it could be ricotta?

    I’m curious about the how & why of including it?
    I lived in Europe during the ‘80s after high school, and specifically a lot of time spent in Italy. I don’t remember a scoop of cheese plated on the plates w/ pasta and I’m really curious ??

    Love your site and all the info included (and of course your recipes!).

    I hope you put together a cookbook soon??!


    • Unpeeled

      Thank you, Lisa!!! It’s mine, too 🙂 Yes, that is ricotta. (And I’m jealous about you living in Europe with lots of time in Italy!) I included it for two reasons: 1) I thought it made a really pretty element to the photo, and 2) That’s how we always had it at home growing up. I think it may be more of an Italian-American thing to serve some ricotta with pasta, but I’m not positive. It certainly was how my family did it! Thanks again. I am starting to work on a little e-cookbook for subscribers. A “real” cookbook is my life’s dream, but you need TONS of subscribers and followers to get one…this is still a fairly new website but I’m working hard. Feel free to share Unpeeled with everyone you know and tell them to subscribe!!

      • 5 stars
        Lisa thank you for the explanation about the cheese! I’m about to plate out dinner, and I’m including a scoop on each plate. I love the idea. And I agree with you, it does make for a great presentation.

        Regarding your cookbook….you’re such a talent & wealth of information! I won’t be at all surprised when the day comes you announce you’re writing a cookbook.

        I’m looking forward to including it in my cookbook collection ?

        And I’ll continue to gladly share your site!?

        Thanks again

  • Frankie

    5 stars
    🙂 A++++ Tasted like my aunt’s! That is a compliment. Very good 😉

  • Johanna

    5 stars
    perfect and simple. thanks!!!!!

  • 5 stars
    Came out great! I did add a little sugar.

4.80 from 10 votes (2 ratings without comment)

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