How To: A Must Have Marinara Sauce

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marinara sauce, tomato sauce Have you ever tasted or smelled something and it immediately brings you back to a memory – a completely different place…or a long ago time in your life?  It always amazes me when this happens.  It feels like I’ve jumped into a time machine to another part of my life.  This exact thing happened to me over the weekend.  Dario and I decided to order in a pizza and the second I took a huge bite into my slice, the sauce  immediately registered in my brain.  Mmmm Grammie’s sauce!  It reminded me of being back at her house eating her homemade pasta and sauce.  There I was…at her big round kitchen table, excitedly digging into her little ravioli covered in a smoky tomato sauce.

My grandmother’s tomato sauce is something else!   It’s one of my favorite flavors of all time.  And of course my top favorite tomato sauce!  Grandmother’s always seem to make the best food, don’t they?   And I bet, right at this moment, you’re getting excited at thought of getting a legit family recipe here.  But…I’m actually going to give you my marinara sauce recipe instead.  I know, what a let down!  But my grandmother frequently adds pork to her sauce, and as a vegetarian I just can’t do that.  If I want her sauce at home, I needed to figure out a way to achieve the same depth of flavor.  Just pork free.
What the pork provides to that sauce is a huge hit of “umami flavor”.  Ya know, that fancy term for the meaty flavor of foods?  So in my attempt to make my own marinara sauce, I knew I would need to start with ingredients that could seriously add some of that so-called “umami flavor” to my sauce.  Something that would give it a deep and complex richness.  Something like this:
  • First, use some red wine.  Once cooked down, red wine leaves any sauce with a full-bodied and rich flavor.  It’s amazing how well this can flavor tomato sauce.
  • Second, add in sun-dried tomatoes (saw this on America’s Test Kitchen).  Because they are completely dehydrated, sun-dried tomatoes are just little nuggets of pure tomato flavor.  And they don’t dilute the sauce with the excess moisture like regular tomatoes.
  • Another tomato product to use is tomato paste – it gives a great umami flavor to the sauce.  Especially when browned well.  This is pretty common in most sauces, but if you add slightly more than an average it really bumps up the flavor.
  • Lastly drizzle in a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar.  Again, once cooked down balsamic vinegar adds a nice depth and an interesting flavor note to the sauce without making it tangy or tart.


Ready to get started?  Here’s my recipe for a great homemade marinara sauce!  I’d say a runner up to Grammie’s sauce!

  • 1 28. Oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 diced medium carrot
  • 1/2 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup red wine (Merlot or Cabernet)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar


  1. 1/3 cup vegetable stock (more or less depending on desired consistency)
  2. In a large heavy bottomed pot add in the olive oil, carrots, onions, oregano and salt and pepper. Cook for about 5-7 minutes or until vegetables are lightly browned and softened.
  3. Add in the minced garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Add in the sun-dried tomatoes and tomato paste and cook for 1-2 minutes or until tomato paste has lightly browned.
  5. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and balsamic vinegar. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to pick up any browned bits of vegetables. Cook until mixture has thickened – about 1 minute.
  6. Add in the tomatoes. Break up each tomato roughly with your hands. Bring mixture to a boil.
  7. Cover pot and reduce to low. Cook on low heat for 1 hour.
  8. With an immersion blender (or counter top blender) purée the tomato mixture. Add in any stock if sauce is too thick. Cover again and cook over low heat for an additional 30 minutes.
  9. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for 1 week or freeze sauce up to 6 months.

You tell me!  What’s your favorite way to use marinara sauce?  What types of vegetarian ingredients do you use to create rich flavors in your meals?  What’s your favorite type of pasta sauce?



  1. JulieD

    March 28, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Looks awesome, I love a good marinara!

    • mewinebrenner

      March 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      Me too! So good for dipping!!!

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