Want to learn how to make authentic Italian marinara sauce? This recipe is for you. It calls for simple, fresh ingredients with no canned tomatoes in sight!
If you think I’m going to share a marinara sauce recipe that uses canned tomatoes, you are so wrong! Today is all about making an authentic Italian marinara sauce with a super fresh tomato flavor, velvety texture, and richness from high-quality olive oil. Aside from being delicious, having a batch of marinara ready to go opens up a world of possibilities. You can make pasta dishes, eggplant parmesan, chicken parmesan, pizza, and more. Since authentic Italian marinara is a simple 5-ingredient sauce, quality ingredients are crucial and should be the focus when sourcing the ingredients. Now is the time to head to the farmers’ market to buy tomatoes, nurture one of the living basil plants you can get at grocery stores so you can harvest at home, and increase your olive oil budget.
Why You’ll Love Authentic Italian Marinara
Easy to make – Making authentic marinara sauce may sound like a very involved process that calls for hours in the kitchen and many Italian culinary secrets when it’s quite a simple one. Your sauce’s success heavily depends on the ingredients and the method used.
Well-developed flavors – The sauce simmers for a while to give the flavors time to develop – specifically the flavors from the tomatoes. The water cooks off, and the umami notes become more concentrated. Tomatoes are high in natural glutamate, which is mainly responsible for their well-rounded flavor.
Great make-ahead – Authentic Italian marinara sauce is one of those sauces you want to make in advance because when you do, you’re one step closer to many delicious dishes. The best part is, once you take the time to source the ingredients and make the sauce, all you have to do is store the marinara in jars and refrigerate.
Option to can – To preserve your authentic Italian marinara sauce for up to a year, sterilize jars, add a tablespoon of citric acid to each, fill, then process in boiling water for 30-45 minutes. If you’re going to can the marinara, consider tripling the recipe.
Authentic Italian Marinara Sauce Ingredients Notes
- Tomato: Tomatoes are the main ingredient here; therefore, it’s important to choose wisely. First and foremost, avoid using canned tomatoes because they have a processed aftertaste that will compromise the finished sauce. Moreover, select plum tomatoes (preferably on the vine) to ensure freshness and the best possible flavor. These are tips directly from an Italian chef whose cooking class I was fortunate enough to attend while visiting in Italy, so this advice has merit.
- Garlic: Garlic adds a pleasant softness and mouthwatering aroma. I didn’t realize this, but apparently, garlic has a much shorter shelf life than I thought, but the fresher the garlic, the less you need. One indicator of garlic a little past its prime is green sprouting at the center of a bulb.
- Basil: With basil, my first tip is to buy a plant to keep on your windowsill. You can get one for $3-5 at the grocery store. The living basil in containers is fine too. You know, the ones with the soil and roots at the bottom? All you have to do is bring it home, transfer it to a small pot with more soil, and keep it on your windowsill. I use basil in almost everything, so having a regenerating source is convenient. They’re also easy to care for. Just ensure basil plants get adequate sunlight and do not let the soil dry out. My second tip deals with how to wash basil. To clean, fill a small bowl with cold water, pluck the leaves from the basil, and add them to the water, leaving them to soak until you are ready to use them! This method is easier and more effective than running them under the tap.
Find the complete marina sauce ingredients list with amounts in the recipe card below.
How to Make Authentic Italian Marinara Sauce
- Score the tomatoes: Use a paring knife to cut a shallow “X” in each tomato. Cut through the skin, not the flesh. Many advise making this cut at the bottom of each tomato; however, as you can see in the photo, the stem end works as well.
- Blanch: Bring a pot of water to a boil, then, once boiling, add 2-3 tomatoes at a time. Leave for 30 seconds, then carefully remove them and transfer to a large bowl. A mesh skimmer strainer works well for this. Unlike other recipes suggest, do not transfer them to an ice water bath. Remember the Italian chef I mentioned earlier? Well, they advise not to shock the tomatoes in ice water since the tomatoes will absorb more water, which will, in turn, water down the sauce.
- Remove the skin and puree: Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, use the score marks to peel off the skin (they will come off with ease). After you’ve peeled the tomatoes, process them with garlic, basil, oil, and salt until smooth. If it has some texture, that is completely fine.
- Simmer: Pour the sauce into a saucepan, bring it to a simmer over medium heat, and leave to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The flavors will become more concentrated during this time, and the sauce will thicken.
- Store: Cool your authentic Italian marinara sauce to room temperature, then store in airtight containers until ready to use.
Variations, Substitutions, and Cooking Tips
Use canned tomatoes – If you want to make authentic Italian marinara sauce but tomatoes are out of season, canned tomatoes are an option. Use San Marzano tomatoes from the Agro Sarnese Nocerino area of Southern Italy for the best results. They are by far the best canned tomatoes you can buy.
Try dried herbs – Heartier herbs like oregano and marjoram hold onto their flavor when dried, and that flavor is slowly released when added to simmered sauces. However, never use dried basil. Unlike others, the herb is very bland once dried.
Spice it up – Although not in traditional recipes, a pinch of chili flakes wouldn’t hurt. Add them when it’s time to finish the sauce for some spice.
And there you have it! A super simple, but completely authentic recipe for Italian Marinara! And if you’re curious about how to serve this pasta sauce, check back tomorrow for another recipe about which noodles really go with a red sauce (hint: it’s NOT spaghetti).
- 8-10 tomatoes on the vine
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup packed fresh basil
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Meanwhile, wash the tomatoes and score twice, forming two very shallow perpendicular lines, lengthwise.
- Once the water is boiling, add the tomatoes, about 2-3 at a time, into the water and let sit for about 30 seconds, then remove and place in a large bowl.
- Let cool for about a minute, then use your fingers to peel off the skin (this is where the cuts you made earlier come in!)
- Place the peeled tomatoes into a food processor and add the garlic, olive oil, salt, and basil and pulse together until completely smooth (this may take a few minutes).
- Once blended, add the mixture back into a large sauce pan and bring to a simmer.
- Cook for about 20-30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
Storage: Keep in an air tight container for up to a week.
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