Grandma's Classic Marinara Sauce Recipe Cooks in 15 Minutes by Donna John

Grandma's Classic Marinara Sauce Recipe Cooks in 15 Minutes

My grandma was 100-percent Polish, but she could still make a mean homemade marinara sauce. While she did have a jar of spaghetti sauce in her pantry at all times, she would not have freaked out if she didn't and wanted to make spaghetti. She would have grabbed a can of tomatoes and made homemade marinara sauce from it.

This classic marinara sauce recipe has just a handful of simple ingredients: canned whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), olive oil, fresh garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, sea salt and fresh basil. The ingredients simmer for about 15 minutes on the stovetop or until the red sauce turns a deep, rich color and thickens. The basil is removed so just the essence is in the sauce.

If possible, try to buy certified D.O.P. canned tomatoes for this Italian sauce recipe. D.O.P. is short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin). What that means to cooks is that the product is certified locally grown and packaged. If you don't have fresh basil, you can use about 1/4 teaspoon of dried oregano or dried basil instead.

Serve this rich homemade tomato sauce over pasta, meatballs, in casseroles, on pizza, as a dip for breadsticks, toasted ravioli or pasta chips, and in other recipes that call for marinara or spaghetti sauce. Store the leftover sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator. (With eight grandkids, grandma never had leftovers.) This tomato sauce recipe can easily be doubled.

Pro Tip: Put the 1 cup of water into the empty tomato can and swish it around to get all the juices out of the can and into the sauce. 

Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4


  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil 
  • 8 cloves garlic, cut into slices
  • crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 large fresh basil sprig

Here's how to make it:

  1. Put the tomatoes into a bowl and crush them with your hands or a potato masher.
  2. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, water, crushed red pepper flakes, sea salt and basil sprig. Simmer the sauce until thickened, about 15 minutes. 
  3. Discard the basil, taste and add more salt, if needed.

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Love the tip to swish the water in the can of tomatoes. I do that all the time!
Donna John
Yes! I do that with a lot of canned and jarred products. Waste not, want not, right? :)
Elisa Schmitz
Homemade sauce is just the best. And because it's so easy to make, why the heck not? Thanks for sharing the yum!

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