Simple Marinara Sauce

Makes 6-8 cups

30 minutes

  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon garlic purée or 5-6 cloves minced garlic

  • 2  28oz. cans (whole, diced, or crushed) tomatoes or 3½ pounds fresh tomatoes

  • 1 heaping tablespoon prepared pesto or a couple spoonfuls Italian seasoning

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Melt the butter (or heat olive oil) in a tall stockpot over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until oil is sizzling. (Don't let the garlic burn. You may need to turn down the heat.)

Cut the top off of a tomato and squeeze the juices in the pan to deglaze. If using canned tomatoes, spill a splash of juice into the pan.

Add the rest of the tomatoes, pesto, salt, and tomato paste. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until any whole tomatoes have burst open, the sauce has thickened, and it tastes ready to eat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Turn off the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil.


  • Use a long-handled wooden spoon to press any whole tomatoes against the side of the pot to break them open as they cook. Don't look down into the pot if you're pressing little grape tomatoes, because they can burst and shoot up into your eye. It hurts.

  • If your tomatoes are still too chunky for your taste, hit them with a few pulses of stick blender. If you're multiplying this recipe so you'll have some to freeze, the stick blender will be a lot more efficient than smashing tomatoes with a wooden spoon. 

  • You can use any mix of tomatoes you happen to have on hand—beefsteak, Roma, grape, cherry, whatever. I often make marinara to use up over-ripe tomatoes from the fridge. You can even mix fresh and canned.

  • If you make too much sauce, just freeze it. You'll use it for something.

  • I made this recently with some oregano and basil pesto I'd made with a handful of herbs that were about to go bad. If you happen to have those things lying around, make some pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays to be used later for seasoning.

  • As for the tomato paste, you can use more. You can also use less, or skip it entirely. It adds some depth, but sometimes I just use it to add color and taste to a sauce I made with tomatoes that weren't quite ripe enough. My point? Don't go to the store in the rain for this one ingredient.