Classic Marinara Sauce

Although I have a favorite spaghetti sauce recipe in my arsenal already, sometimes I need a red sauce that is lighter, meatless and perfect for, say, dipping fried cheese sticks, wontons, crispy parmesan chicken fingers, breadsticks, and so on and so forth.

Simple to prepare, the secret of this marinara sauce is the simmering action that develops the flavors of the sauce, thanks to the aromatics and veggies that start the whole shindig rolling. Blended to a wonderfully smooth consistency, this sauce is slightly sweet and tart and silky and downright delicious.

I have used this sauce for everything from smothering lasagna rolls and manicotti to dipping any of the aforementioned items. The options are endless and this is definitely my go-to marinara sauce when I want to keep things light, simple and, well, dippable.

One Year Ago: Blue Cheese and Cheddar Scalloped Potatoes
Two Years Ago: Cookie Dough Truffles

Classic Marinara Sauce

Yield: Makes about 7 cups of sauce

Classic Marinara Sauce


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 (28-ounce each) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter (optional but delicious)


  1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat until hot and rippling. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring very frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the celery and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until all the vegetables are slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano and bay leaves and simmer, covered, on low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to make sure the sauce isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot, until slightly thickened and the vegetables are completely tender. Stir in the brown sugar. Taste the sauce. Add salt and pepper as needed. Add the butter and stir to combine if you want to round out the flavors and add a dimension of silkiness.
  2. Remove the bay leaves. In a blender or food processor, blend the sauce (in several batches, if necessary) until it is smooth. The sauce can be frozen once it is cooled completely in freezer-safe ziploc bags for up to 6 months.

Recipe Source: inspired by Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe

67 Responses to Classic Marinara Sauce

  1. Gideon Nel says:

    I always add a capfull of red wine vinegar to same sauce, just adds a little zing to it

  2. Becca says:

    Would replacing celery with zucchini make a noticeable difference? Celery has a pretty strong/distinct flavor but I’m all out πŸ™

  3. becky says:

    I am confused about the calories. If there are 7 servings in this recipe that would be over 1000 calories for the batch. The small amount of evoo and butter don’t add up to over 1000 calories. 150 calories per serving is a lot for a marinara sauce. How big is a serving?

  4. Danielle Little says:

    Have you tried canning this or any of your other tomato based sauces? I have tons of garden tomatoes that I am trying to use up!

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t tried canning this, Danielle – I usually freeze it. I get a little nervous to can recipes like this that haven’t been tested as canning recipes. I know I’m a little paranoid but I get worried about pH levels and food safety. I think the vegetables in this sauce would make it unsafe for water or steam canning.

  5. Britt-Marie says:

    This saved dinner tonight! Thank you so much. I’ve made your “favorite spaghetti sauce” before (and my husband loves it!) but I didn’t have any ground beef on hand so I tried this one and it was loved by everyone. You always come through for me!
    I only had diced tomatoes so I added some tomato paste and then blended it all in my Blendtec. Worked out wonderfully (I think my little ones liked that it had a smoother texture). I will be buying some crushed tomatoes to have on hand so I can make this in the future. Thanks!!

  6. Heather says:

    If I halve the recipe, do I have to reduce the amount of time the sauce simmers?

  7. Mary says:

    Hey Mel, it is all right if I leave out the carrot and celery?

  8. Jena says:

    Have you had any luck trying to “can” this sauce?

    Thank you!

  9. mike says:

    This is the best by far. Pasta with a red sauce is my favorite and this marinara can’t be better. I make mine in a slow cooker. When the veggies are nice and tender (after 3-4 hours) I remove the bay leaves. I then add a little liquid and blend the veggies. I add the tomatoes, butter, and check for seasonings. At this point I simply stir the sauce and shut off the heat. The tomatoes seem to remain fresh and bright tasting if they’re not cooked too long. When it’s time to serve the marinara I heat it in the microwave until it gets hot and bubbly. Any leftover sauce tastes fantastic a day or two later.

  10. I can’t wait to try this marinara sauce sounds great! I have a question that Mel might beable to answer for me. My sister(that has since passed away) had a recipe for salsa that was a smooth consistency. Would you have a recipe for a salsa similar to this?

  11. Lewis says:

    I made this the first time last week, have since made it a further 3 times and love it !!!
    The best marinara sauce I have ever tasted. This is now a firm favourite, love the idea of adding butter.

  12. Ashley says:

    Awesome recipe! Thanks! I doubled the recipe and sprinkled in just a bit of red pepper flakes. Divine!! I will definitely be making this again and again!

  13. Laura Gail says:

    Making this right now – it’s crazy good. I freeze it in 1 cup portions and use for everything. It’s such a versatile sauce. Mel – I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for your blog. Everything that I make from your site is simply divine. I have become known as the best cook amongst my friends all because of you. Most of my weekly recipes are yours and anytime I entertain or take food to a new mom – I get voted best meal. I love that! As a mom with two little ones, I often feel that I don’t have much to give in this current season of life to others, but I know when I deliver a meal to someone that includes your recipes then it’s sure to bless them in a big way. Please don’t stop blogging and testing recipes! Thank you from Birmingham, Alabama!

  14. Mel says:

    Katie – it’s up to you whether or not you want to blend it or not. I like it blended so it smooths out all the vegetables.

  15. Katie says:

    Looking forward to trying this tonight! Do I have to put it in the blender? Seems like it might be pretty smooth already with the crushed tomatoes. Thanks!

  16. Rebekah says:

    Thank you so much for this recipe, just made it today to go with a baked chicken parmesan casserole. Can’t wait for the finished product tonight for dinner. The sauce is way yummy!

  17. Laura Gail says:

    This was very good! I froze most of it to use over chicken parmigiana next week but we ate some over cheese tortellini for dinner. It was very light but creamy and smooth as well – I think it’s the butter that does that. Never used butter in marinara sauce b/f but I thought this recipe turned out great and will be using it from now on. It sure does beat Hunts tomato sauce in a can! πŸ™‚

  18. Kellie says:

    I made this to go with Stromboli tonight, just like Kathy. : ) After we ate, my husband noticed the marinara sauce in the blender and was shocked that I had made it myself. Thanks for making me shine in my husband’s eyes!

  19. Kathy says:

    I made this tonight to go with Stromboli. The sauce was delicious! I also used your French bread recipe for the Stromboli. That was delicious too! So much better than using frozen bread that I normally use.

  20. Angela says:

    I love your blog. I have really liked everything I’ve tried. I’m looking for a way to use up tons of garden tomatoes… not a bad problem, but would this recipe work? How do I use them in it?

    • Mel says:

      Angela – I’m not sure exactly, but the best way to figure it out is google a recipe/method for making crushed tomatoes from fresh tomatoes and then use the equivalent in this recipe. Good luck!

  21. Whitney says:

    Just made this tonight with some ravioli and I loved it! My husband loved it too which is a plus! Thanks so much for all of your recipes, I’ve tried several from your blog and I’ll keep coming back for more!!!

  22. Chris B says:

    For the brown sugar – light or dark? I’m guessing the difference is subtle, but I was just curious as to what you use.

    Also, do you have a particular brand of crushed tomatoes that you use? I know the texture varies with brands so I was wondering what you preferred. Muir Glen? Hunts?


    • Mel says:

      Hi Chris – I’ve used both light and dark and can’t tell a huge difference either way. I almost always use the Hunt’s crushed tomatoes and like them really well.

  23. Carlin says:

    P.S. I am not opposed to using butter. I LOVE butter! I’m just too cheap to buy it for cooking:)

  24. Carlin says:

    HOW do you do it? How is every recipe you post so completely fabulous?! I am almost getting used to my husband saying, “Wow, this tastes fantastic!” at every meal. I made this as a dipping sauce, and it was scrumptious! This will definitely be my go to red sauce. I am excited to try adding some extra veggies in there. I did it without the butter this time, because I only have margarine. Must it be real butter?

    • Mel says:

      Carlin – my recommendation would be to yes, use real butter. It has a richness and butteryness (pretty obvious!) that margarine can’t quite achieve. I’m glad you loved the sauce – thanks for the sweet comment!

  25. Yummy! Made this for our meatball sub dinner tonight. We love Giada, so I knew we would like this recipe. Thanks for posting it!

  26. Danielle says:

    Sorry, that was supposed to be making, not baking.

  27. Danielle says:

    What a delicious sauce! You are right about the brown sugar and butter. They bring this sauce to the next level. I baked some penne pasta with this sauce and some cheese. Yummy! I’m thinking of all the other ways I could use this and regretting not baking a double batch. Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      Danielle – I’m so glad you love this simple sauce…I love how it transforms an easy dinner into something that tastes like it took a long time!

  28. Jennifer says:

    This is the best sauce and to make it even better it is so simple and quick to make! Thank you for sharing!!! I added some crushed red peppers to give it a little more kick.

  29. CaSaundra says:

    Love the sounds of this sauce! It’d be good to add a little parmesean cheese in there too I bet!

  30. Kim says:

    I made this the other day and it is soooo good. I had roasted some peppers from our garden for another recipe and threw the leftovers into the marinara sauce and I couldn’t stop eating it. Thank you for a great recipe!

  31. Tami Lyn says:

    This would be the perfect spaghetti sauce at our house since my daughters and I prefer a smooth sauce versus one with chuncks of tomatoes. Copied it into my recipe program and can’t wait to try it

  32. Mel says:

    Jo-Ann, Melissa, Christie, Vicky – thank you all for commenting on this recipe! Glad it worked for all of you!

  33. Vicky says:

    Thanks for the recipe. I’ve been wanting a simple marinara recipe for a while and this was really good. I found it was easy to double using a big (106 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes from Costco and I froze the extra in bags for later. I also added some crushed red pepper because we like things a little spicy.

  34. Christie says:

    I made this sauce last night!! It was so yummy!!

  35. Perfect timing, I have been doing a lot of Pita bread pizza for my kids school lunches and looking for a good marinara. Trying this one soon!

  36. Kim in MD says:

    Your photo is gorgeous, Melanie! I love Giada’s recipes, and her marinara sauce looks so good. I love the addition of the brown sugar and butter! YUM! πŸ™‚

  37. I loved your recipe so much – thanks for posting. I made this today with my 3 year old and 5 year old. It made enough to use 1/2 for dinner and give 1/2 to my neighbor as a thank you for helping us with our yard work. Thank you — it tastes great.

  38. Jo-Ann says:

    I made this sauce today, it is really good! I kept sampling it as it was cooking, but even better after the addition of the sugar and butter.!!

  39. Jennifer says:

    Do you take out the bay leaves before blending?

  40. Tanya says:

    Sounds wonderful! I’ve been looking for an easy marinara sauce and this fits the bill perfectly. Thank for sharing!

  41. Tori says:

    Mel, What is in the picture with the marinara? Looks yummy.

    • Mel says:

      Tori – sadly, those little babies were a new recipe I tried for baked ravioli/wonton-type of things. They were awful. But the sauce was great. πŸ™‚

  42. Kim says:

    Wow that sounds great! Would you post your recipe for lasagne rolls? I’ve been thinking I’d like to try them but couldn’t find a recipe I’d trust.

  43. Ciara says:

    Hi Melanie! We love your Best Spaghetti Sauce so I have no doubt that this will be wonderful as well. I prefer my sauce meatless so I know this will be great. Thanks for another great recipe!

  44. Sharon says:

    I have been looking for a go to recipe for Marinara Sauce was going to make Fried Ravioli this would go great!!! Thanks !!

  45. Looks like mine except I add zucchini instead of the celery & carrots. Always looking for ways to get rid of zucchini…..

  46. StephenC says:

    Your mention of lasagna rolls reminds me that I made a version of them many months ago. I’ve been thinking about them lately and you may just have given me the motivation I needed.

  47. This sounds excellent! And a great way to hide those pesky veggies!

  48. Lisa says:

    That looks so delicious and sounds so easy to make. To think, I’d never have to buy jarred pasta sauce again.

  49. Liz K. says:

    I saw Giada make this on food network years ago. You really can’t go wrong with any of her recipes. It really is the best marinara sauce. We love it here.

  50. I love when you post classic recipes like this. This looks exactly like my version of marinara, but mine has been missing something lately. I think the brown sugar and butter will help! Thanks!

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